The Wounded Deer – A Detailed Analysis

Title: The Wounded Deer (El Venado Herido in Spanish, also known as The Little Deer)

Author: Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (Born, Mexico, July 13, 1907 – Died, Mexico, July 2, 1954)

Date: 1946

Genre: Self-portrait

Movement: Naïve art, Surrealism

Technique: Oil painting

Support: Masonite

Dimension: 8.8 × 12 in. (22.4 x 30 cm)

Location: Private collection of Carolyn Farb

“The deer walked alone very sad, and very wounded until in Arcady and Lina he found warmth and a nest.”

Frida Kahlo

The meaning of the word “Carma” is a “destiny” or “fate.” In most of her self-portraits, Frida depicts herself as being unable of altering her Carma in which sadness portrays itself.

Frida Kahlo is best known for her series of self-portraits, which often depict the artist in pain or vulnerability. The Wounded Deer (It is also known as The Little Deer) of Frida Kahlo is one such painting. In this work, Frida portrays herself as a deer that has been shot with multiple arrows. The image is intensely personal and reflects her Carma, the physical and emotional pain that she experienced as a result of her illness.

Frida KahloThe Wounded Deer (The Little Deer), 1946, Oil on masonite.

With this article, we will take a closer look at The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo and explore what it represents for Kahlo. So if you are ready, let’s discuss the meaning and symbolism of The Wounded Deer (The Little Deer), one of her most poignant self-portraits of Frida Kahlo.


Before diving into all the technical details, I would like to provide a brief of Frida’s life to understand the painting adequately.

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter who is best known for her self-portraits. When Frida Kahlo was a young girl, she was diagnosed with polio. Later in her life, a horrific trolley accident cut short Frida’s plans on September 27, 1925. An out-of-control trolley hit the bus she was riding. She nearly died that day. The disease and accident caused her to spend long periods in bed. And she often used painting as a form of therapy. Nevertheless, she promptly developed an inclination for art and also, prodigious talent. Frida coped with her physical and psychological sufferings with a light of art.

Frida KahloEx voto, 1943, Oil on metal.

Frida’s Life After Diego Rivera

At the age of 21, she met renowned muralist, Diego Rivera, and instantly she fell in love with him. On August 21, 1929, Frida Kahlo, age 22, married Diego Rivera, 42. Her marriage to Rivera was another huge influence on her paintings. Throughout the rest of her life, she suffered many health problems with her legs and her back as well as miscarriages. Her husband had affairs with other women as did she carry her own romantic affairs as well. Her health reached its lowest point when she had to have her leg amputated due to gangrene and her weight loss became so bad that she was bedridden for months.

Frida KahloFrieda and Diego Rivera, 1931, Oil on canvas.

In June 1946, Frida and her young sister, Cristina flew to New York where Frida underwent a bone graft operation. Four of her vertebrae were fused, and a metal rod was inserted to strengthen her spine. There was some evidence that the doctors fused the wrong vertebrae. She was in fierce pain and demanded massive doses of morphine. Taking drugs, as well as drinking large amounts of alcohol, became a daily habit in her final years. Whereas Frida Kahlo resumed painting.


In 1946, after almost four months of being bedridden, Frida decided to go to New York a prominent surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery who had been recommended by her friend Arcady Boytler. He also suffered from back problems. On May 3, one month before flying to New York, Frida gave Arcady Boytler and his wife, Lina The Wounded Deer as a thank them. And also there is a ballad as you can find below.

The deer walked alone
very sad, and very wounded
until in Arcady and Lina
he found warmth and a nest.

When the deer returns
strong, happy and cured
the wounds he has now
will all be erased.

Thank you, children of my heart,
Thank you for so much advice,
in the forest of the deer
the sky is brightening.

Frida Kahlo

In 1946, Kahlo created The Wounded Deer, a picture of a deer with Frida’s head, pierced and bleeding from many arrows. Frida used her own pet deer, Granizo, as a model for this painting. Frida expresses the disappointment which followed the operation on her spine in New York in 1946, and which she had optimistically hoped would cure her of her back pain. Back in Mexico, however, she continued to suffer both physical pain and deep depression.

Frida’s with her pet deer, Granizo. Photo by Nickolas Muray.

The Symbolism and Meaning Behind the Wounded Deer

The symbolism and meaning behind Frida Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer are many. Some interpret it as a metaphor for her internal struggle with polio, while others see it as an homage to the indigenous people of Mexico who were persecuted by European invaders during the Spanish conquest in 1492.  There is also symbolism related to the deer itself. For example, the deer is a symbol of strength and grace, and people often associate it with female power and fertility.

The wounded deer in Frida Kahlo’s painting may represent several different things: physical pain, emotional vulnerability, indigenous people who were persecuted by European invaders, or female power and fertility. Nobody’s interpretation is right or wrong, and the painting is likely to be interpreted in multiple ways. The Wounded Deer is an enduring masterpiece from one of history’s most acclaimed female artists.

The Theme of The Wounded Deer

In the story of the wounded deer, the deer is a symbol of vulnerability. It is easy to identify with the deer’s suffering and its need for the protection of the kind-hearted. The wounded deer inspires sympathy in the reader, the same way that children need the help and guidance of adults to protect them from the harshness of the world.

The deer is also a symbol of healing and redemption. Just as the deer heals its physical wounds, the reader can hope to find healing and redemption for their spiritual injuries. The story of the wounded deer is a reminder that no one is alone, the hearts of the kind and the good are always there to heal the broken.


The Wounded Deer is an intense self-portrait that reflects the physical and emotional pain she experienced as a result of her illness. However, the true meaning of this painting is open to many interpretations. Therefore, some say this painting portrays Frida’s inability to change her own destiny, or, Frida’s frustration over the failed surgery. So, let’s take an in-depth look at how Frida Kahlo used symbolism and color to explore themes such as pain, suffering, resilience, or resistance in her life.

The Movement of The Wounded Deer

The movement of The Wounded Deer is naïve art (primitivism). The movement began in the late 19th century and lasted until around 1950. Naïve art celebrates the innocence of the artist, and it often features simple, childlike drawings or paintings. The movement was an attempt to break away from academic art and return to simpler forms of expression.

The Wounded Deer is a great example of naïve art because it features a wounded deer and flowers, which are both simple images that evoke feelings of innocence or childhood. Naïve art is an attempt to escape from the world into one’s imagination. The movement was inspired by artists like Henri Rousseau who wanted to break away from academic art traditions and embrace childlike forms of expression.

The Technique of The Wounded Deer

Frida Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer is oil on masonite. It depicts the image of a wounded and bleeding deer with multiple arrows sticking out of its body. Kahlo employed oil paintings, and The Wounded Deer is a prime example of her use of the technique.

Frida performed The Wounded Deer in a realistic style, which gives the viewer an up-close and personal view of the deer’s suffering. It is a large painting, with dimensions measuring approximately five feet high by four feet wide. Moreover, the deer’s face and body take up the majority of the painting, with a forest and a sea in the background behind it. The deer’s eyes are open, and staring directly into the viewer’s eyes. She made this to create a connection between the viewer and the deer and to evoke an emotional response.

What Can You See in The Wounded Deer?

The Wounded Deer depicts a woman who appears to be in pain and crying out. Her long black hair turned into antlers. She appears to be a deer below her neck and has multiple arrows piercing her chest and her back. The background of the painting consists primarily of a blue sky with some clouds.

1. Kahlo’s Face & Deer’s Body

In The Wounded Deer, Frida presents herself with the body of a young stag and her own head crowned with antlers. Like Frida, the deer is prey to suffering, piercing by nine arrows. The use of arrows could represent the power of her emotional and physical anguish due to her numerous operations. Moreover, another analysis suggests that the painting is about Frida Kahlo’s internal struggle with polio. This interpretation suggests that the deer is a metaphor for the disease and the arrows represent the physical and emotional pain that Frida experienced as a result of her illness.

In Aztec belief the deer was the sign for the right foot, even with Frida’s various operations, the condition of her right foot continued to worsen. The Aztec culture, as well as other pre-Columbian people, considered the deer the primary fertility symbol. Therefore, the deer with arrows symbolizes her incapable of bearing a child and she represents her emotional pain by showing the physical pain from the arrows.

Still, others interpret the painting as symbolizing Frida Kahlo’s vulnerability as a woman artist or her strength in the face of great adversity. The meaning of the painting is open to interpretation and can be seen in many different ways.

2. Her Carma

The word “Carma” appears in the lower-left corner of the painting. Its meaning is a “destiny” or “fate” and in most of her self-portraits, Frida portrays herself as being incapable of changing her destiny as in The Wounded Deer. She referred to “in the forest of the deer, the sky is brightening.” in her ballad to Arcady and Lina. On the contrary, in the painting, far away is the stormy, lightning-lit sky meeting the sea which brings a little hope to her to change her Carma. However, it might be impossible things that the deer to reach the sea with his wounds. Therefore, Kahlo depicts that reaching her hope is unlikely. Moreover, the trees are surrounding the deer and trapped him, symbolizing a feeling of dread and hopelessness, with no way to flee from the trouble, which supports our previous comment.

3. Trees and Background

The deer’s youthful vigor contrasts with the decay of old tree trunks, whose broken branches and knots correspond to his wounds. Beneath him, a slender branch broken from a young tree alludes to Frida’s and the deer’s broken youth and imminent death. It may also refer to the pre-Hispanic custom of placing a dry branch on a grave to help the dead person enter paradise. With the resurrection, the dry branch is transformed into a green branch.

Where is The Wounded Deer Painting Located Now?

The painting was given by Frida Kahlo to her close friends Arcady and Lina Boytler, as a wedding present. Sometime after, the artwork was obtained by its latest holder Carolyn Farb, an art collector living in Houston, Texas, who obtained the painting by an auction for an unknown price.


Frida’s style of painting drew heavily on Mexican folk art traditions as well as European influences such as Cubism or Surrealism (which she learned from her husband). Frida Kahlo became an international celebrity after World War II because she was one of the few women artists at the time who had achieved such success. Major museums around the world collected her art and she is one of Mexico’s greatest painters. Frida died at age 47 from complications due to surgery for her chronic health problems.

Kahlo’s painting is a masterpiece that captures the essence of the human experience. The wounded deer represents all of us, struggling through life while dealing with our own injuries. Kahlo herself was no stranger to pain, and she used her art to express her feelings and connect with others. This painting is a beautiful representation of the human spirit, and it should be studied and appreciated by everyone.

All was said by me, yet, the one more thing left to be told by Frida Kahlo…

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Frida Kahlo
I have a few questions for you:
Which feeling does derive when you look at the painting? 
What title would you give this painting?

You can share your answers with us in the comments:)

To learn more about Frida Kahlo and her works, I recommend to you the book “Frida Kahlo: The Paintings” by Hayden Herrera.

Wanna continue to read more about Frida Kahlo’s artwork? Check out Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbirds, here.

Until next time, stay with art.. ????????✌

See Also:

1. 10 Facts about Frida Kahlo

2. The Wounded Deer – AURA Dance Theatre