If it wasn't for Dolores Olmedo, a great part of Frida Kahlo's legacy would now be lost and forgotten.
The Dolores Olmedo Museum in the South of Mexico City has one of the largest collections of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's work. The exhibit includes over 148 pieces by the muralist as well as the largest private collection of Frida Kahlo's paintings, made up from one eighth of her surviving work. But who was Dolores Olmedo?
A young Dolores Olmedo met Diego Rivera in 1928 in an elevator at the Ministry of Education in Mexico City. There, bedazzled by the her beauty, Rivera asked Olmedo's mother if he could hire her daughter as a model. Unaware that the artist had the intentions of doing nude portraits of the young woman her mother accepted. For many days, the muralist portrayed the Dolores' beauty in a series of 27 drawings that he gave to her as a present.
Olmedo grew up to be a successful entrepreneur and eventually became one of Mexico's leading art collectors. In the fifties, shortly after Kahlo's death, Rivera reencountered with his muse, who gave him a home where he would live his final years, full of financial troubles. In 1955, the muralist once again portrayed the beauty of Olmedo in a picture where she appears holding a fruit basket above her head.
During this period, Olmedo acquired from Rivera a great part of his paintings after realizing that these could suffer a terrible fate if they weren't acquired by a collection. In order to keep them away from danger and oblivion, she also bought from Diego 25 paintings by Kahlo, whose work wasn't as valued by the art community of the time. Olmedo, however, didn't really get along with Kahlo while she lived. As a matter of fact, she wasn't too keen on her art either. She even regarded Kahlo's work as "trashy", while she would openly admire and defend Diego's work.
Diego's muse and art collector once explained that her disdain for Frida Kahlo could be explained just with their different sexual preferences. Despite being a role model for womanhood, Olmedo always felt an attraction towards traditional macho displays of virility, which even led her to marrying a Spanish bullfighter. Kahlo, on the contrary, was openly bisexual, and her allure for the feminine was often shown in her work.
Still, despite her disdain for Kahlo, Diego's muse accepted to buy and safeguard more than twenty of Frida's paintings at her estate in the Xochimilco borough in Mexico City. Shortly before Olmedo's death, she opened this same house as the Dolores Olmedo Museum, which is dedicated to exhibiting the works of Diego and Frida that were a part of her collection.
During the nineties, Olmedo also looked after the restoration of the Frida Kahlo Museum, Frida and Diego's legendary cobalt blue house in the neighborhood of Coyoacan. The process of renovating the house, however, wasn't simple, and it was delayed for several years due to the lack of funding. Her detractors claimed that Olmedo tried to boycott the house's restoration forever because of her disdain for Kahlo, but once it opened, it quickly became one of Mexico's most beloved and visited museums.
Why did Dolores Olmedo apply so much effort to preserve Kahlo's legacy if she disliked her work so much? Maybe it was because of her love for Diego. Or perhaps it was her love of art. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: if it wasn't for her, some of the most amazing and sensual paintings of Frida Kahlo would now be forever lost.
Museo Dolores Olmedo
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