Sale of Frida Kahlo painting
Louise Noun began collecting art in 1930, and by the 1970s limited her purchases to works by women artists. Of her many important artworks, the Frida Kahlo painting Self-Portrait with Loose Hair was her favorite and the most valuable. She decided to donate it after she and Mary Louise Smith realized how long it would take to raise the $2 million needed for the archives.
“Women do not have the funds that men who are corporation heads do. It’s just very difficult to raise money for women’s programs from the usual funding sources. It was going to be a long, hard job even though both of us were willing to contribute. Meanwhile, I had this Frida Kahlo that was becoming increasingly valuable every year and I just thought, I’ve got an endowment hanging on my wall and I decided to give it.”
The painting was auctioned at Christie’s in New York on May 15, 1991, netting $1.5 million to endow the Iowa Women’s Archives. The purchase price set a record for a work by a Latin American artist; the resulting media coverage brought welcome publicity to the Archives and prompted some people to donate collections even before the Archives opened.