Roots, one of Frida Kahlo's most memorable self-portraits, has belonged to Houston collector Marilyn Oshman for a quarter century. But Oshman has decided to put it on the auction block. Sotheby's, in New York, predicts that Roots will fetch $5 million to $7 million at its auction next week.
"Someone will get a great painting," said Peter Marzio, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, who speculates that in the current hot market, Roots could in fact bring as much as $14 million. "When we had it on view here, people were just crazy about it."
Roots, from 1943, goes on exhibit at Sotheby's on Saturday and is up for auction Wednesday. One of about 150 paintings and works on paper Kahlo created, it's one of her rare full-body self-portraits. Twelve inches by 20 inches, the oil-on-metal painting shows her lying on her side, her head supported by her right hand. Leafy roots grow out of her body into the rocky ground, symbolically nourishing, and being nourished by, the earth.
"I feel that it was a gift to live with a painting of such magnitude and power for all these years," Oshman said. "It was an emotional decision to sell it, but it's time to let her go."
Carmen Melian, director of Sotheby's Latin American art department, described Roots as "a superb example of the great introspection and beauty in Kahlo's work. It is from the period when her paintings are most finished, when her work is most mature." Though legendary in Mexico, Kahlo wasn't well-known in the United States until 1978, when her work appeared in a traveling overview of 45 paintings, including Roots. The show, organized by Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, stopped at the Blaffer Gallery of the University of Houston. There, Oshman encountered Kahlo's work for the first time. Oshman, whose family founded Oshman's Sporting Goods, served on the board of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston from 1969 to 1978. Like other American art lovers at the time, Oshman was familiar with Rivera but knew nothing about Kahlo. "I was blown away by the paintings," she said. None was for sale. Like Rivera's and works of others, the works are considered national patrimony and required special export permits. Roots was one of several paintings on loan at the Blaffer from the Mexico City collection of Dolores Olmedo, a powerful figure in Mexican politics and art. She was one of Rivera's lovers and a trustee of his and Kahlo's estates. Olmedo sold Roots four years later through Mary-Anne Martin, whose New York gallery specialized in Latin American art. Oshman said she paid "five times" what she had paid for any work of art ever before, but nowhere close to its value now.