Her deeply intimate and biographical paintings, as well as her tumultuous but passionate love affair with one of Mexico's most acclaimed muralists, helped make the talented Frida Kahlo an international feminist icon and one of the most recognized and celebrated artists of the 20th century.

Her paintings have sold for as much as $5.6 million and her image, which depicts the Mexican artist in the colorful indigenous clothing she favored, is emblazoned on T-shirts, handbags, postcards and posters.

Now a different, somewhat more intimate side of Kahlo is going on display as part of a rare traveling exhibition that will make its only California stop in Long Beach.

On Saturday, the Museum of Latin American Art opens "Frida Kahlo, Her Photos," an exhibition made up of more than 200 images chosen from thousands of photographs that had been sealed and unseen by the public for more than five decades at Casa Azul, the Coyoacan, Mexico, home Kahlo shared with her muralist husband Diego Rivera.

The exhibition runs through June 8 and includes several events at the museum related to the painter.

"It's really kind of a personal and private tour through her photos, which is what makes it so special. It's like sitting in her living room going through her photo album," said Stuart Ashman, president and CEO of the Long Beach museum. Ashman said the photographs are digital re-creations of the originals since, by Rivera's order before his death, the originals are not allowed to leave Casa Azul.

The exhibition is divided into six sections: La Casa Azul; Her Parents: Guillermo and Matilde; The Broken Body; Amores (loves); Photography; and Diego's Gaze. Some of the photographs were taken for Kahlo or by Kahlo; others were taken of her by friends and photographers.


The photos include images of Kahlo in daily life with her friends, family and while working on her paintings.

The exhibition includes an intimate image of the artist as she works on a painting of her father Guillermo Kahlo, a photographer who taught his daughter to appreciate the art form, which in many ways led to her fascination with painting self-portraits.

Dressed in her typical elegant indigenous dresses and decorated in jewelry, Kahlo sits on a chair holding a palette in one hand while adding the finishing touches to her father's tie.

Another shows Kahlo lying in a hospital bed with Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias at her side; Kahlo suffered lifelong medical issues related to injuries she received in a horrific bus accident when she was a teenager.

In the picture, an easel has been rigged to hold a canvas above her so she can continue painting in bed.

"That's a powerful image and shows a different side of Frida Kahlo that you don't see on the shopping bags. It's a very intimate side of Frida," said Edward Hayes, assistant curator at MOLAA.

Kahlo, who married Rivera at the age of 22, died in 1954 at age 47. During her life, she created vibrant and passionate folk and surrealist paintings that often explored the female form, something that wasn't done much at the time.

She also was active in politics and once was rumored to have had a brief affair with communist leader Leon Trotsky, who stayed with her and Rivera in Mexico. She also befriended artists such as Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

In 1953, Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico. She was bedridden at the time due to her ongoing health issues but still attended the exhibit by arriving in an ambulance and mingling with guests while on a bed that had been set up in the gallery. The incident was re-created in the 2002 film "Frida," which starred Salma Hayek as the painter.

After her death, more than 6,500 personal photographs were sealed under Rivera's order and put in storage at Casa Azul, which now serves as a museum housing her artifacts.

The collection was opened in 2007 by Mexican photographer and historian Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, who cataloged the images and created the exhibition that first launched in Mexico in 2010. The exhibit then moved on to Portugal, Washington, D.C., and Nevada before coming to Long Beach. From here, it moves on to Brazil.

"She was a fighter in life and she transformed her suffering into color and art. Even in her hospital bed we still see the spark in her eyes, in her life," said Hilda Trujillo, director of Casa Azul during a phone interview from Mexico.

Trujillo plans on attending the opening at MOLAA, and while people will see sides of Kahlo they haven't seen before, Trujillo expects the exhibition will spark even more curiosity about the artist.

"They're going to want more. They'll be more curious about her time and her world," she said.

With that in mind, museum officials have a number of events planned, including a free festival called Fridamania at 11 a.m. Sunday that includes an "art chat" with Trujillo, and a "¡Viva Frida! MOLAA Gala and Live Auction" on May 31.

"This is the last chance to see the show in the U.S. We're presenting a unique opportunity for everyone here in Long Beach to come check this out and we're expecting people from all over, too," Hayes said.