Book review: ‘The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris’ by Marc Petitjean

‘The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris’ unlocks two stories in one compact book. At its core is an in-depth look at the artist and her affair with the author’s father; simultaneously, the text delivers an intense close-up of the Paris in-crowd of artists and intellectuals in the years leading up to the start of WWII. 

The author, Marc Petitjean, seems to be trying to make sense of his deceased father’s rather glamorous life in Paris; a history with its own back-story.

Defined by the free love attitudes of upper-crust society surrounding Kahlo and Petitjean (the author’s father/Frida’s lover), this tale is a commingling of Paris art, politics, and lovemaking, all with a name-dropping celebrity that keeps the reader enthralled.

Frida Kahlo came to France in 1939, when Paris was just beginning to realize the stark reality of a pending war.

While everyone else in France was dressed in somber gray, black and blues, Kahlo arrived in her brightly hued Mexican apparel, her jewelry and long braids making waves long before the bohemian artist’s body of work caught fire. Unknown to most of Europe at that time, she was mostly celebrated for her marriage to superstar Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera. Their love-match was always a fiery one, each intensely loving and straying throughout the marriage.

In pre-war Paris… her brightly hued Mexican apparel, her jewelry and long braids making waves long before the bohemian artist’s body of work caught fire…

The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris‘ focuses on a short period of the artist’s life.

 Kahlo came to Paris in 1939 to promote her own still fledgling career.

She had an easy ‘in’ due to her position as Diego Rivera’s wife – but it was her theatrical bearing – those flashing black eyes, thick eyebrows, and fearsome attitude – that kept her in the thick of the Paris artist community.

She enjoyed living in the French capital as Frida Kahlo, not as Mrs. Diego Rivera, making influential friends with her unswayed determination to live life as a non-conformist, truly a woman with no regrets.

The book is also about her uncanny art that so many of us already know and admire. But as I zipped through the pages of this fast read, I couldn’t help but conclude her artistic genius came directly from visions of her own reality.

She was a picture of contradictions, a mashup of sexual freedom paired with her tragic physical disability.

Frida’s psychological disability was likely born of her difficult marriage to a powerful man but together, these issues made for powerful art.

Kahlo was puzzled when the French art community labeled her a surrealist artist; she insisted she was just painting her own reality.

Readers get to interact with Dora Maar, Picasso, André Breton, Salvadore Dali and Leon Trotsky to name a few, all part of Frida’s life in Paris.

It was the eve of World War II so the 3-week long affair was a sweet one, destined not to last.  But at least Frida Kahlo remains dignified to the end, Mexico’s spiritual and cultural treasure, who was at heart just a woman in love.

This is the story of an empowered woman who, much like true love, will last forever.

Whether you love Paris or you’re a fan of Frida Kahlo’s art, reading this book is time well spent.

What about you? Have you ever read about Frida or experienced a Frida Kahlo exhibition? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Image credits
Cover ‘The Heart: Frida in Paris’ by Marc Petitjean via Amazon

If you’d like to immerse yourself in more ‘Frida’:
1. View the 2002 trailer for the film ‘Frida’.
2. Read ‘Two Mexicans in Paris: Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera
3. Purchase ‘The Heart: Frida in Paris’ by Marc Petitjean
4. Check out ‘Ten Frida Facts.’

About the Contributor

Michelle Moggio

I've been experiencing the joys of Paris since the ripe old age of eleven. As a fan of duck fat, raw oysters and bad French movies, I'm forever busy planning my next blog and/or my next trip. My novel is called "The Paris Effect" and I write a monthly blog by the same name. KEEP IT FRENCH!

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