Frida Kahlo’s Portrait of Dorothy Hale
“El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale”, (The Suicide of Dorothy Hale)
Myra Bairstow’s Discovery of the Life & Death of Dorothy Hale
In the early morning hours of October 21, 1938, actress Dorothy Hale was found dead on the sidewalk in front of her apartment building, the Hampshire House, on Central Park South in New York City. Her death was quickly ruled a suicide. Twelve days later, socialite and playwright, Clare Boothe Luce, met famed surrealist Frida Kahlo at the artist’s first solo exhibition in New York City. Both Luce and Kahlo knew Dorothy Hale. Frida Kahlo was asking questions about the apparent suicide when Luce spontaneously surprised the crowd at the Julien Levy Gallery and hired Kahlo to paint a portrait of Dorothy Hale as a gift for her grieving mother. After much deliberation, Kahlo painted one of her most famous paintings, “El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale”. But it was not a beautiful portrait of Hale as Luce had anticipated. Instead, the painting depicted the actual death sequence of Dorothy Hale falling in stages from her apartment window and landing on the sidewalk. Initially, Luce wanted the painting destroyed. Instead, she had sections of the canvas painted over and then placed it in storage for several decades before donating it anonymously to the Phoenix Art Museum.