Frida Kahlo: The Suicide of Dorothy Hale
FRIDA KAHLO (1907-1954)
'The Suicide of Dorothy Hale', 1939
(oil on board)
‘The Suicide of Dorothy Hale’ was commissioned by Clare Booth Luce, the publisher of the fashion magazine ‘Vanity Fair’ and a friend of both Dorothy Hale and Frida Kahlo, as a memento for the deceased woman’s mother. Dorothy’s husband, the artist Gardiner Hale, was killed in a car crash and left her without support. Overwhelmed by financial problems, Dorothy took her own life by jumping from her apartment building.
Frida paints the suicide with three consecutive stages of the fall in one image: first, a small figure of Dorothy leaps from a window high in the building; then a larger figure is portrayed plummeting through the clouds towards the ground; and finally the largest figure, the bloodied and broken body of Dorothy, lies prostrate on the sidewalk.
At the bottom of the picture, a trompe l’oeil inscription is written in ‘blood’, "In the city of New York on the 21st day of the month of October, 1938, at six o'clock in the morning, Mrs. Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself out of a very high window of the Hampshire House building. This 'retablo,' (a painted wooden relief) was executed by Frida Kahlo." To add to the horror of the image, the frame is painted to look like it has been splattered with bloodstains as a result of the fall.
On receipt of the painting Clare Booth Luce commented in her diary, ‘I could not have requested such a gory picture of my worst enemy, much less of my unfortunate friend’. Although she wanted to destroy the picture, she was persuaded to keep it.
Only someone like Frida Kahlo, who had personally endured and understood the effects of physical and psychological suffering could empathise with and respectfully address this distressing subject without appearing insensitive or sensational.