Frida Kahlo’s marriage with husband Diego Rivera was non-traditional, to say the least. Scandalous stories of their sex lives usually center on Frida’s bisexuality or Diego’s infidelity (however libertine they may have considered themselves, she was most certainly not okay with him sleeping with her sister), but Frida also had a lesser-known, incredibly intense affair with Spanish painter José Bartoli. He inspired over 100 pages of adoring, sometimes quite erotic love letters, all of which he kept, and the entire collection is now up for auction.
Kahlo and Bartoli met in New York, when a 39-year-old Frida was enduring spinal surgery, one of the many painful medical treatments she received throughout her life to deal with the debilitating chronic injuries sustained in a bus accident at the age of 18. The letters are desperately passionate, with Frida’s physical pain and emerging morphine use fevering her words, her desire for health and vitality entwined with her desire for Bertoli. Her marriage was predictably unhappy at the time of correspondence, and she found herself doubting her talent and unable to work. The thought of Bertoli brought her both longing and relief.
Not all of the letters are published, but the auction house has published excerpts and a synopses of Kahlo’s life at the time. Here are some of the more stirring parts.
“Bartoli—last night I felt as if many wings caressed me all over, as if your finger tips had mouths that kissed my skin. The atoms of my body are yours and they vibrate together so that we love each other. I want to live and be strong in order to love you with all the tenderness that you deserve, to give you everything that is good in me, so that you will not feel alone.
“From the little bed where I lay I looked at the elegant line of your neck, the refinement of your face, your shoulders, and your broad and strong back. I tried to get as close to you as I could in order to sense you, to enjoy your incomparable caress, the pleasure that it is to touch you…. if I do not touch you my hands, my mouth and my whole body lose sensation. I know I will have to [imagine you] when you are gone.”
apart from love-making I know there is something indestructible and positive that unites us. It gives me equal pleasure to kiss you, to make love, to listen to you, to look at you, to watch you sleep, to know your inner life…. Let me tell you how I delight in retaining in my senses your caresses, your words, how I feel full of an interior light when I hear you say to me, ‘my Mara, my dove, my Tehuana.’
My Bartoli-Jose-Guiseppe-my red one, I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty. I would like to give you the prettiest colors, I want to kiss you…[I want] our dream worlds to be one. I would like to see from your eyes, hear from your ears, feel with your skin, kiss with your mouth. In order to see you from below [I would like] to be the shadow that is born from the soles of your feet and that lengthens along the ground upon which you walk…. I want to be the water the bathes you, the light that gives you form, [I wish] that my substance were your substance, that your voice should come out of my throat so as to caress me from inside.… in your desire and in your revolutionary struggle to make a better human life for everyone, I [want to] accompany you and help you, loving you, and in your laughter to find my joy
If sometimes you suffer, I want to fill you with tenderness so that you feel better. When you need me you will always find me near you. Waiting for you always. And I would like to be light and subtle when you want to be alone.”
It was the thirst of many years contained in our body…. Forgive me if all these things that I write are perhaps for you stupidities, but I believe that in love there is neither intelligence nor stupidity, love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you. Mara”
Via The Observer