This is one of the first paintings Frida made in San Francisco. It's a portrait of Jean Wight, the wife of Clifford Wight, one of Diego's mural assistants. Jean posed for Frida at her studio in Ralph Stackpole's flat. In this 22 5/8 X 18 1/8” portrait, Frida connects Jean to both an indoor and outdoor space because a green curtain is pulled to the left side and held in place with a red tie, revealing a city scene with streamlined buildings and a light blue sky peeking through the top. While the smooth faced and brick buildings convey a city landscape, they are not of the popular Art Deco style; rather they are more modest, fitting for the Depression era. Yet, in front of these bland buildings sits Jean with her wavy short bobbed haircut, a throwback to the roaring twenties, long dangling gold earrings, and a red coral necklace. Jean’s face is slightly turned, while her torso faces forward. This slight angle allows Frida to create the illusion of a three-dimensional face. Jean’s high cheekbones, prominent jawline, deep-set eyes, and long thin nose, look naturalistic as Frida works with chiaroscuro, the modulating of light and dark tones, commonly employed in the Renaissance and Mannerist works of art that she admired.
Frida also admired retablos, small paintings made on metal that are created to give thanks to Christ, Mary, or a saint for saving a loved one due to illness or an accident. These religious paintings, created in a “folk” style by untrained Mexican artists, have inscriptions at the bottom detailing various types of information, such as the loved one's name and misfortune as well as an expression of gratitude for the loved one's recovery. Frida refers to this tradition with her use of a grayish blue scroll that runs along the bottom of Jean’s portrait. Upon it Frida writes an inscription in Spanish with neat red cursive letters: “Portrait of Mrs. Jean Wight, painted in January, 1931 in the city of San Francisco, California by Frieda Kahlo.”
© Celia S. Stahr 2014