In Mexican mythology, the monkey is the patron of the dance, but also a symbol of lust. Here, however, the artist portrays the animal as a living, tender and soulful being with its arm placed protectively around her neck. In this self-portrait and repeated in others to come, Frida uses a claustrophobic background of a tight curtain of leaves which pushes the image out towards the viewer. This was a style that she borrowed from another artist, Alfredo Ramos Martinez.
The painting was commissioned by A. Conger Goodyear, then president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, after seeing her exhibition at the Julien Levy's gallery in November of 1938. He originally wanted to buy the painting "Fulang Chang and I" from her exhibition but Frida had already given it to her friend Mary Schapiro Sklar.