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Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, created powerful and emotionally charged self-portraits that continue to captivate art enthusiasts worldwide. “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” is a particularly iconic work that has garnered widespread attention.

Frida Kahlo’s iconic painting, “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” is a captivating masterpiece that reflects her pain, resilience, and unwavering spirit.

In this post, we’ll delve into the analysis of this remarkable painting, exploring its symbolism, techniques, and the artist’s connection to the artwork.



Frida Kahlo’s “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” Analysis

The painting features Frida Kahlo with a thorn necklace, symbolizing the pain she endured throughout her life. The hummingbird, known for its resilience and agility, hovers near her neck, adding a touch of delicacy to the composition. The vibrant colors and meticulous details showcase Kahlo’s mastery of surrealist art, inviting viewers to contemplate the depths of her emotions.


Most Famous Self-Portraits

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940 by Frida Kahlo – Located in Harry Ransom Center.


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Symbolism in “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird”


1- Thorn Necklace

The prominent thorn necklace encircling Frida Kahlo’s neck is a powerful symbol of pain and suffering. It represents the physical and emotional agony Kahlo experienced throughout her life, particularly due to a near-fatal bus accident she suffered as a young woman.

The thorns digging into her skin signify the constant discomfort and torment she endured.


Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird Analysis

Thorn Necklace – Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.


2- Hummingbird

The delicate hummingbird hovering near Kahlo’s neck provides a stark contrast to the harsh thorns.

Hummingbirds are often associated with love, joy, and beauty in Mexican culture.

In this context, the hummingbird can be interpreted as a symbol of hope, freedom, and the ability to find sweetness amidst pain. It represents Kahlo’s spirit, which remained resilient and vibrant despite her suffering.


3- Exotic Vegetation

The exotic plants and leaves in the background, resembling the lush flora of Mexican landscapes, add another layer of symbolism. These plants are reminiscent of the Mexican rainforest, symbolizing life, growth, and vitality. They contrast with the thorns, underscoring the coexistence of beauty and pain in Frida Kahlo’s life.


Exotic Vegetation – Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.


4- Monkey

In Mexican mythology and folklore, monkeys are often seen as protectors of the soul and guardians against evil spirits. The monkey’s presence in the painting can be interpreted as a spiritual guardian, shielding Kahlo from the pain represented by the thorn necklace. It signifies her ability to protect her soul despite the suffering she experienced.

Monkeys are playful creatures, known for their agility and curiosity. In this context, the monkey could symbolize Kahlo’s playful spirit and her ability to find moments of joy and humor even in the face of adversity. It adds an element of irony to the painting, contrasting the seriousness of the thorn necklace with the lightheartedness of the monkey.


Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird Analysis

Monkey in Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.


Monkeys are prevalent in Mexican art and folklore, often depicted in various forms of artistic expression. Frida Kahlo, deeply connected to her Mexican heritage, might have included the monkey as a nod to her cultural roots, infusing the painting with a sense of tradition and mythology.

Some art historians speculate that the monkey in this painting symbolizes Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s husband. Rivera, a fellow artist, was an essential part of Kahlo’s life, and he had a significant influence on her art. The monkey could represent Rivera’s presence in Kahlo’s life, acting as a guide and companion through her struggles.


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5- The Black Cat

The black cat is a symbol of bad luck and death, and Kahlo has also painted the cat to be gazing directly at the viewer.


Black Cat in Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait.


The black cat has an arched back, suggesting an agitated state.


6- Surreal Imagery

Frida Kahlo’s use of surreal imagery, such as the thorn necklace and the hummingbird, aligns with the surrealist movement.

Surrealism often explores the unconscious mind and dreams, using symbolic elements to convey complex emotions. In this self-portrait, the surreal elements intensify the emotional impact, inviting viewers to delve into Kahlo’s inner world.


7- Religious Symbolism

Some interpretations suggest religious symbolism in the painting. The thorn necklace has been compared to the crown of thorns worn by Jesus during his crucifixion in Christian iconography. This association could signify Kahlo’s martyrdom and suffering, elevating her pain to a spiritual and universal level.


8- Dual Nature of Existence

The juxtaposition of pain (thorns) and beauty (hummingbird, lush vegetation) highlights the dual nature of existence.

Frida Kahlo’s life was marked by intense physical suffering, yet she found solace and strength in her art and the beauty of the natural world. This duality is a central theme in many of her works, emphasizing the complexity of human experience.



Diego Rivera: Influence on Frida Kahlo’s Art

Kahlo’s tumultuous marriage to the famous muralist Diego Rivera greatly influenced her art. Rivera’s prominence in the Mexican art scene and his Marxist ideology seeped into Frida Kahlo’s paintings, adding layers of political and social commentary to her work. This influence is palpable in “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.”


1- Artistic Collaboration

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were both highly influential artists in their own right. They often collaborated on artistic projects, sharing ideas, techniques, and critiques. This collaborative environment allowed them to inspire each other and experiment with different styles and forms of artistic expression.


Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, 1933. (Foto: CordonPress)


2- Political Influence

Diego Rivera was a staunch Marxist and a political activist. His passion for social and political issues deeply influenced Kahlo. Through Rivera, Kahlo became involved in political movements, and her art began to reflect social and political themes.

Rivera’s influence can be seen in the way Kahlo incorporated political symbolism and messages into her paintings, addressing issues such as class struggle and indigenous rights.


3- Muralism and Surrealism

Rivera was a leading figure in the Mexican Muralism movement, which aimed to create public art that conveyed social and political messages. While Kahlo’s work is often associated with Surrealism, she also drew inspiration from muralism.

Rivera’s large-scale murals, depicting Mexican history and culture, likely influenced Kahlo’s sense of scale, composition, and the use of bold, vibrant colors in her paintings.


4- Depictions of Mexican Culture

Both Rivera and Kahlo were deeply rooted in Mexican culture and traditions. Rivera’s celebration of Mexican heritage and his use of indigenous motifs influenced Frida Kahlo’s artistic choices.


Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird

The Two Fridas, 1939 by Frida Kahlo.


Kahlo frequently incorporated Mexican folk art, indigenous symbols, and traditional clothing into her paintings, emphasizing her connection to her cultural roots—a connection that was also nurtured by Rivera’s influence.



Frida Kahlo’s ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird’ is a masterpiece that transcends time, inviting viewers into the depths of the artist’s soul. Through the symbolism of the thorn necklace, the delicate hummingbird, the watchful monkey, and her connection to Diego Rivera, Kahlo weaves a tapestry of pain, resilience, and enduring spirit.

As we dissect the layers of symbolism in this painting, we uncover Kahlo’s ability to transform her suffering into art, finding solace and strength in her creative expression.

The thorn necklace, a symbol of her physical and emotional torment, is juxtaposed with the hummingbird, representing hope and the sweetness of life. The monkey, a protector and guide, adds an element of playfulness to the profound narrative. These symbols, deeply rooted in Mexican culture and mythology, reflect Kahlo’s complex identity and unwavering connection to her heritage.

Moreover, Diego Rivera’s influence on Frida Kahlo’s art cannot be overstated. Their passionate relationship and artistic collaboration opened new avenues for Kahlo, infusing her work with political consciousness, social commentary, and a profound sense of identity. Rivera’s muralism, with its grand scale and vibrant imagery, inspired Kahlo’s use of color and form, enhancing the emotional intensity of her paintings.

In ‘Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,’ Kahlo’s brushstrokes echo her pain and resilience, her love and loss, and her unyielding spirit. It stands as a testament to the power of art to transcend suffering, to transform adversity into beauty. Through this painting, Kahlo invites us to confront our struggles, find strength in vulnerability, and embrace the complexities of the human experience.







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