Monkey is a symbol of lust in Mexican mythology. But in this painting, Self Portrait with a Monkey, it was depicted as a creature with his own soul. He is tender and gentle and put his arm around Frida's neck. It seems the money wants to protect her. In this portrait, as well as in some of her other portraits she painted later, she was using a background of big curtain of leaves. With this background , the subject in the painting was pushed towards the viewer. She borrowed this style from Alfredo Ramos Martinez.
This painting was commissioned by A. Conger Goodyear, who was the president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York at that time. Conger liked her painting after seeing her exhibition at the Julien Levy's gallery in October of 1938. His original intention was to buy another painting Fulang Chang and I but Frida has given that one to her friend Mary Schapiro Sklar so Frida painted this one for Conger .