Portrait of Miriam Penansky1929 by Frida Kahlo

The subject in this early Kahlo portrait is Miriam Penansky, the sister-in-law of Salomón Hale. Hale, a leather importer, was a Polish-born Jew and a prominent member of the Jewish community in Mexico City. He was friends with Frida Kahlo and also an avid collector of modern Mexican Art.

Miriam was born in Chicago in 1908 and was the daughter of Polish immigrants. In 1929, Miriam traveled to Mexico City and lived with the Hales. She eventually moved there permanently to teach at Mexico's Music Conservatory. Hale introduced Miriam to Frida Kahlo who shortly thereafter painted Miriam's portrait. When the painting was finished, Kahlo photographed it, inscribed on the back the name "Salomón Hale" and filed it in her personal photographic archive. This photograph would later in 2012 be the key to confirming the authenticity of the painting.

The portrait is signed and dated in the upper left corner:

"Frieda Kahlo
Agosto 1929"

Kahlo signed it using the German spelling of her name, "Frieda", as she did in other paintings of this early period.

In an October 1950 interview, Kahlo spoke about this painting and other works that she had painted shortly after marrying Diego Rivera in 1929: "I painted portraits of Hale's sister-in-law (Miriam), of Guadalupe Marin and one of Diego which I did not finish. These three paintings…. who knows where they are?"

The Penansky portrait remained missing for decades until 2006 when it surfaced briefly. It was then that the owners showed a photograph of the portrait to Sotheby's Latin American Painting Department to have the painting authenticated. Without ever seeing the original work, Sotheby's told them that the painting, without any documentation to support its authenticity, was, in their opinion, not genuine. In July of 2012, one of the three authors of the 1983 Kahlo catalogue raisonné (Das Gesamtwerk), received a request to confirm the painting's authenticity. This time, with the recent discovery of Kahlo's photograph of the painting, its authenticity was confirmed.

The style and composition of this portrait are identical to one of Kahlo's own self portraits that she painted in the following year (Self Portrait - 1930). An infra-red scan of the Penansky portrait reveled that the background was either originally different or the portrait was painted over another painting.

Miriam, who never married, died in Mexico City at the age 36, from a brain tumor. At the time of Miriam's death, her portrait by Kahlo was given to her Aunt, who in 1989 bequeathed it to her daughter from whom the present anonymous owners inherited it.
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