Frida Kahlo painting diego and I sold $34.9 million, buyer Eduardo F. Costantini

Self-Portrait by Frida Kahlo Sells for $34.9 Million.

Tuesday's auction at Sotheby's set a new standard for Kahlo's work, since it was the most valuable item of Latin American art ever sold at auction.

Frida Kahlo's self-portrait, renowned for its raw emotional intensity, fetched $34.9 million at Sotheby's on Tuesday, setting a new auction record for the most expensive piece by a Latin American artist.

Completed five years before her death in 1954, "Diego and I" is one of Kahlo's final self-portraits and exemplifies the disturbing intimacy that has drawn collectors to her work. The piece provides insight into her tumultuous marriage to Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who appears in the picture directly above the artist's weeping eyes.

Frida Kahlo painting diego and I sold $34.9 million, buyer Eduardo F. Costantini
Frida Kahlo's 1949 painting "Diego and I" fetched $34.9 million at a Sotheby's auction on Tuesday.

Kahlo beat a previous record for a Latin American artist at auction established by Rivera in 2018, when one of his paintings fetched $9.76 million — or the equivalent of $10.75 million today, adjusted for inflation.

Eduardo F. Costantini, the founder of a museum in Buenos Aires, was named as the painting's buyer by a Sotheby's spokeswoman. The artwork was acquired for his own collection. The representative declined to reveal the seller's identify.

Anna Di Stasi, Sotheby's director of Latin American art, placed the winning bid of $34.9 million plus fees. Even before the auction began, Sotheby's had guaranteed a large sale with a house guarantee and an irreversible bid from a third party.

Mr. Costantini said Wednesday in an interview with The New York Times that he had put the irreversible offer on "Diego and I" and intended to exhibit the painting next year at the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires, or MALBA. "I had seen the artwork numerous times in publications and then it came up for sale," Mr. Costantini explained. "I had been fantasizing about purchasing the item." ]

Adriana Zavala, who directed a 2015 show of Kahlo at the New York Botanical Garden, stated, "This is a significant late work from a period when her physical suffering got more intense and her painting became unpredictable."

"She appears less polished and poised," Dr. Zavala continued.

Kahlo was born in Mexico City in 1907 and began painting in 1926 while undergoing treatment for chronic pain following a bus accident. She constructed a rich iconography that touched on the realms of life and death, often shocking spectators by challenging gender stereotypes. She died at the age of 47.

"Diego and I" is a museum-quality work, according to Brooke Lampley, chairman of Sotheby's and global head of fine art sales. She stated that while cultural organizations expressed interest in the artwork, private collector demand was high. "Frida has risen at the top of collectors' wish lists for great works of modern art."

"Diego and I" was last auctioned at Sotheby's in 1990, when it set a record for the highest price paid for a work by a Latin American artist. Since the 1980s, when one of Kahlo's portraits sold for $85,000, the value of her paintings has climbed significantly. According to several art historians, the price increase is due to the increasingly scarce supply of her paintings.

"Frida is quickly establishing herself as one of the world's most popular painters," stated Gregorio Luke, former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in California. He explained that Mexican law prohibits the majority of sales of important nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists, such as Kahlo, within the nation. "As a result, the price reflects a high level of pent-up demand in the artist and a scarcity of goods," he explained. "There are probably fewer than twenty to thirty of her paintings on the market."

Some viewers viewed Kahlo's ability to break her husband's record as a sign of the times. Oftentimes, the woman is ignored in married artist couples, according to Jorge Daniel Veneciano, senior curator of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles. "This is a positive development in terms of gender politics," Mr. Veneciano stated. "Now we may argue that Diego Rivera is Frida Kahlo's husband, because she has eclipsed him."