Kahlo 'fakes' flood into Mexico

As a judge hears a forgery case, a second 'lost' cache is hawked as original work

Andrew Johnson
Sunday 10 January 2010 01:00 GMT
(afp/getty images)

Frida Kahlo's vibrant and surreal self-portraits have made her one of the world's most recognisable painters – as well as Mexico's most famous daughter and Latin America's most expensive artist. She is also rapidly becoming one of the most forged, experts say.

A court battle is raging in Mexico over a batch of "new" works discovered in 2004. Now a second trove has turned up in Mexico City.

The court case follows the US publication in November of a book by the independent curator Barbara Levine, which documents more than 1,000 "new" works by Kahlo, and her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera.

They were said to have been discovered in 2004 in Mexico City, but experts have dismissed the trove of diary extracts and paintings as fakes.

Now, another batch of "undiscovered" works is being touted around the Mexican capital having been unearthed in a trunk in an antiquarian book shop.

A journalist claims she was offered the "newly discovered" works while researching a story about the original batch of alleged fakes. "In a shop in the Plaza del Angel antiques market there is a trunk painted by Rivera and Kahlo in which there are hundreds of pieces: photographs, a dress, more painted boxes, a Virgin of Guadalupe with a signed Kahlo self-portrait behind. The dealer wants three million pesos (less than £200,000) for it," Galia Garcia Palafox wrote in a Columbian magazine.

She then asked the dealer where the works had come from. "The majority were works Frida gave her photographer and that I have kept for years," was the reply.

Ms Garcia Palafox said: "The Kahlo pieces are different than the other ones [involved in the court case]. I was offered them by an antiquarian who had them in his antique shop."

Kahlo died in 1954 relatively unknown, but her reputation has steadily risen to now outshine her husband. In 2002 she was the subject of an Oscar-winning Hollywood biopic – Frida – starring Salma Hayek.

James Oles, assistant professor of art at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and an expert on Kahlo, said that the "success" of the first batch of apparent fakes – in that they have been taken seriously enough to be collected together in a glossy book and presented as genuine works – is encouraging more forgeries.

"When it comes to art, somehow, people are more willing to believe they aren't being fooled, that they are smarter than all the experts. It is a farce," he said. "The 'success' of the first batch has merely encouraged the fakers to keep going."

Meanwhile, Rivera's grandson, Pedro Diego Alvarado, with the Kahlo Museum in Mexico City, has asked the courts to investigate the origin of the original alleged fraud.

Levine, however, is standing by her book. "Why would someone create such a compelling fictitious archive?" she said. "If the diary wasn't written by Kahlo, then who had such intimate knowledge of her life?"

The marketing director of Princeton Architectural Press, publishers of Finding Frida Kahlo, added: "It has always been our view that this material is in the process of being authenticated. The material has been authenticated by experts, but other experts disagree. Opinions run very strong."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in