Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird: Inside Kahlo’s Symbolism!

Self portrait with thorn necklace and hummingbird cover image

Who would’ve thought a Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird can also be a medium to channel divorce grief?

This was done by none other than the queen of self-portraits, Frida Kahlo! 

Kahlo is infamous for being an open book through her self portraits, depicting different events and emotions from her life. 

The Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird self portrait is one such painting that is packed with symbolisms for us to unfold. 

There is so much going on in this painting- not just on the subject, but also around her.

From the very eerie necklace to the butterflies on her hair, the monkey on one side and the black cat on the other, with a background that shows all green! 

Intriguing, isn’t it?

mona lisa ad of reproduction

In this article,  I will be taking you through the contextual and formal analysis of the painting while also briefly revisiting the artist’s life and achievements. 

So let us get digging and find out the meaning behind this interesting painting!

(Also read: The Wounded Deer Painting: Explaining Wounds of Frida’s Life)

Contextual Analysis of Frida Kahlo’s Thorn Necklace 

The Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird painting in the museum.
Name of ArtistFrida Kahlo
Year of Completion1940
Medium Used Oil on canvas
Genre of the Painting Magical Realism, Portrait Painting 
Dimensions62.5x 48
Currently Housed AtHarry Ransom Center, Texas, USA

 The self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird was created in the year 1940.

This period was not an easy one for Kahlo as it was a rather challenging phase. 

Let us look closer into the contextual and historical context of the painting. 

In the art community, whoever had known about Kahlo, also knew about Diego Rivera, her husband then.

The two were inseparable when it came to art, and Kahlo was in fact a lot inspired by the Mexican artist. 

Even then, their marriage was not something bound on an unmoving rock. 

Both Kahlo and Rivera were known for having their fair share of illicit affairs. 

But when Rivera got together with Frida’s sister, Christina, things touched a different nerve. 

It was in fact Rivera who requested for a divorce from Kahlo, and that left her devastated. 

This painting in particular expresses her grief, and acceptance of the suffering for the sins she did that led to a failed marriage. 

But the couple could not stay away from each other for too long, and even though it was a very complicated one, their love still won. 

After a year of divorce they remarried again in 1940, but because of the painting we know something about the turmoil she went through! 

(Suggested Read: The Two Fridas: Analysis of Frida’s Double Self-Portrait )

Igniting the Mexican Roots 

Now that we know the story that ignited the self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, let’s look right into the painting. 

Compared to the time she started experimenting with self portraits, Frida’s style of art had changed significantly. 

With what seems to have had a European touch in her paintings, later started to turn into being more Mexican. 

This is because of her dear Diego! 

Rivera helped Kahlo connect with her Mexican roots and embrace them. 

It is by experimenting with Mexican art styles she built her own style. 

That said, this particular self portrait of Frida Kahlo is packed with meaningful symbolisms. 

The Symbolism of Sin and Heartbreak 

Personally, I have always felt that Kahlo’s self portraits have a magical realism touch to it. 

Because the elements of art she uses are deeply rooted within her own life, combining with the beauty and symbolism of Mexican culture. 

Speaking of its symbols,this self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird depicts her suffering caused by divorce. 

While the thorn necklace is meant to slowly punish her, she also carried the dead hummingbird as a pendant. 

Starry Nights Reproduction AD

In Mexican culture, a hummingbird symbolizes resurrection, but here it seems like it’s lifeless. 

So is she holding onto hope that their marriage can be resurrected or is she accepting the fact of its demise?

The black spider monkey tugging onto the thorn necklace seems to be a direct connection with Rivera. 

Because in reality, Rivera had once gifted Kahlo with a spider monkey, which then became a symbol of suffering and sadness. 

A positive note to the painting is of course the butterflies, which symbolizes resurrection and a new beginning! 

Even the presence of the green wilderness, it could be her willingness to connect with nature while enduring suffering. 

But with all the symbols intact, we can’t help but notice Kahlo’s facial expression here. 

For someone who has painted herself 55 times, it is interesting that her face almost gives the same expression in almost all paintings! 

And yet, in each one of them, her face has a unique story to tell!

So without further ado, let us look into the formal analysis of the painting. 

Formal Analysis of the Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird 

The Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird painting
Image: Wikimedia

The self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Frida Kahlo is not art to quickly analyze. 

Even with all the symbols she has used, we know that there is too much to decipher from a single focal point, her face. 

Let us closely study the subject and what her body language conveys, while also looking at the hues used in the painting! 

The Subject

Focus on the thorn necklace and hummingbird
Image: Wikimedia

There is something so intriguing about the way Kahlo has depicted herself in the painting. 

Her eyes are solemn but also hinting being lost in her inner turmoil, or numb with pain. 

The gaze is ever so slightly downwards, indicating grief and pain. 

This could be suggesting that Kahlo was focussing on what was happening inside rather than outside. 

Even though her surroundings depict chaos, Kahlo seems to be lost in a world of her own, where she suffers in silence. 

Frida Kahlo has always been infamous and pioneering for expressing the woman’s turmoil at different stages of life. 

And here too, she plays with different emotions of grief, hope, surrender, and pain! 

The Colors

The color palette of the thorn Necklace painting
Image: Wikimedia

The hues used in this self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird by Kahlo will remind of a tropical theme!

Yes, with the colors yellow, green, brown, black and white predominantly, Kahlo has created a satisfactory sight.

The mixture of warm and cool colors induce hope in the hearts of the viewers.

But also the existence of the black monkey, black cat and the black hummingbird become reminders of the pain. 

(Suggested Read: 12 Famous Self-Portraits Every Art Lover Should Know!)

To Conclude: Kahlo The Queen of Self Portraits

A portrait of Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a phenomenal woman whose lifespan only lasted for four decades!

The art she created and contributed to the world through her life is still celebrated and has become a pioneering feminist icon! 

Her strength and talent to channel the inner agony of being a woman has always left her admirers in awe. 

Kahlo’s life was not simple, she went through a tragic accident at the age of eighteen, which left her in pieces and pain. 

She created The Broken Column as a reminder of this accident and the physical and psychological suffering that followed. 

Frida Kahlo’s paintings not only did address her personal struggle, but also reflected her thoughts on her heritage, politics and activism! 

She is, without doubt, one of my favorite artists and an inspiring female figure. 

I would definitely recommend indulging into studying the life and artworks of Kahlo and getting truly inspired! 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning behind Self portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird?

The pointing was created right after the divorce of Kahlo and Rivera. The intent or meaning behind the Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird is grief, agony and acceptance of the sins that led to her broken marriage.

What does the black monkey signify in the Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird painting?

The black monkey or the spider monkey was a gift to Kahlo from Rivera. In the painting, the spider monkey is seen pulling on the thorn necklace, signifying their troubled marriage. 

How many paintings did Kahlo create in her lifetime and how many of them were self-portraits?

Frida Kahlo has created around 200 in her lifetime, from which 55 of them were self-portraits. 

According to Kahlo, what are the two great accidents that happened in her life? 

According to Kahlo, the first great accident was when she was run over by a streetcar at the age of eighteen, and the second she mentions to be Diego Rivera.

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