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Frida Kahlo is Latin America’s best-known 20th-century painter, and a key figure in Mexican art. She has also become a kind of cultural legend. She was born in Mexico in 1907, the third of four daughters, and when she was six she caught polio, a disease which left her with one leg shorter than the other. Her second tragedy came when she was 18: she was riding in a bus when it collided with a tram. She suffered serious injuries, which affected her ability to have children. Although she recovered, she was in pain for much of her life and had three miscarriages. But it was this accident and the long periods of recuperation that changed Frida’s career plans: she had wanted to study medicine, but instead she started to paint. This work is an unfinished one – you can see patches of bare canvas behind the row of women at the bottom of the picture and some of the faces have been painted over, suggesting she may have wanted to repaint them. Frida started it in 1949, five years before the end of her short life – she died in 1954 at the age of 47. She actually carried on trying to finish it on her deathbed, which suggests that it had a strong meaning for her.

As with many of her other works, the image contains at least one self-portrait: she is the third woman from the left in the bottom row, but the unborn child next to her may also be a representation of her – it is placed below her father, to whom she was very close. The painting is a kind of visual family tree: at the top are both sets of grandparents. On the left are her father’s parents, whose ancestors were German-Hungarian.

On the right are her maternal grandparents: her grandfather Antonio had American Indian origins, while her grandmother Isabel was the great-granddaughter of a Spanish general. Her parents Matilde and Guillermo, who were dead by the time this picture was painted, are in the middle of the picture.

Their portraits are based on photographs and it is interesting that they are shown turning away from each other – their marriage was an unhappy one. They appear with their dead parents in a kind of cloud above their four daughters. From left to right the daughters are Matilde, the eldest, then Adriana, followed by Frida herself (with her niece Isolda) and then, with a blanked-out face, her sister, Cristina. Frida was very close to Cristina, but also jealous of her, especially because she had an affair with Frida’s husband, the painter Diego Rivera. The next figure is Cristina’s son Antonio, but it is not clear who the last, unfinished face in the very bottom right-hand corner might be.