The Suicide of Dorothy Hale

Frida Kahlo produced this ‘retablo’ of her late friend, Dorothy Hale in 1939. The image portrayed on the canvas is the suicide of the socialite, actress and model, Hale. Kahlo was commissioned to paint a portrait of Hale for her mother by the editor of Vanity Fair, Clare Booth Luce. Initially, Luce was under the impression that Kahlo was going to paint a portrait of Hale in her own personalised style of portraiture. However, Kahlo was affected by the suicide and felt a deep connection with the death of her close friend. As a result, she painted the last scene of Hale’s life to record the devastating event as opposed to a portrait.

Frida painted the suicide rather than a portrait because she though Hale’s final act was very courageous and brave. Kahlo wanted to express the idea that Hale was in fact a heroic woman for committing suicide, rather than a coward. At the time she was painting this portrait, Kahlo shared the same feelings of despair and hopelessness after she divorced from her husband, Diego Rivera. Frida felt that she could empathise with Hale’s last thoughts and emotions. She too wanted to commit suicide at the thought of being alone, however, she never garnered the courage to do so. Kahlo wanted to express and incorporated her feminist views on how the society at the time didn’t allow single women to cope with the harsh demands of the economy.

Three figures of Dorothy Hale are positioned in a falling pattern, one after the other with the previous one smaller. The three figures are falling from the top of a building, The Hampshire House Building. Kahlo further conveys her feminism views within this painting by placing Dorothy in a victimized position because of her male partner.

All of Kahlo’s paintings were heavily influenced by her Mexican and European heritage. She particularly expresses her Mexican heritage by painting Dorothy Hale on a retablo. Retablo’s were popular in the Latin America, particularly in the Catholic faith. Kahlo showed...