The Eyes

The Eyes

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Frida Kahlo's Ghoulish Remembrance Portrait of Dorothy Hale

Dorothy Hale (January 11, 1905 – October 21, 1938) was an American socialite, aspiring actress, and Ziegfield showgirl. Hale was considered a remarkably beautiful woman with less remarkable talents, who was introduced to high society and luxury living by her husband. After his sudden death in an automobile accident and a series of failed relationships, Hale found herself dependent on her wealthy friends.

In the early morning hours of October 21, 1938, 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, Hale's friend—editor, playwright, politician, journalist, and diplomat—Clare Boothe Luce, met famed surrealist Frida Kahlo at the artist's first solo exhibition in New York City. Both Luce and Kahlo knew Hale. Kahlo was asking questions about the suicide when Luce spontaneously surprised the crowd at the Julien Levy Gallery and hired her to paint a portrait of Hale as a gift for her grieving mother. After much deliberation, Kahlo painted one of her most famous paintings, El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale

Luce imagined Kahlo painting an idealized memorial portrait of Hale and was doubtless expecting a conventional over-the-fireplace portrait for her $400. The completed painting arrived in August 1939. Luce claims she was so shocked by the unwrapped painting that she "almost passed out." What Kahlo created was a graphic, narrative "retablo," detailing every step of Hale's suicide. It depicts Hale standing on the balcony, falling to her death, while also lying on the bloody pavement below. 

Luce, who intended to give the painting to Hale's mother, was so offended that she seriously considered destroying it; but instead she had the sculptor Isamu Noguchi paint out the part of the legend that bore Luce's name. Luce simply left the work crated up in storage. She donated it anonymously to the Phoenix Art Museum, where it was eventually outed as a Luce donation. The museum retains ownership, although the painting is frequently on tour in exhibitions of Kahlo's works.

At the bottom of the painting, blood red lettering details the tragic event (the section of the work painted over by Noguchi is underlined) :
In New York City on the 21st of October 1938, at 6:00 in the morning, Dorothy Hale committed suicide by throwing herself from a very high window in the Hampshire House. In her memory painted at the request of  Clare Boothe Luce, for the mother of  Dorothy, this retablo was executed by Frida Kahlo.
The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1938)
Oil on Masonite with Painted Wooden Frame | 23 3/4 in. x 19 in.
Phoenix Art Museum | Phoenix, Arizona

Monday, April 20, 2015

Nineteen American Masterworks at Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Tournament--Tennis at Newport (1920)
George Bellows

Nineteen major paintings from the private collection of Thelma and Melvin Lenkin of Chevy Chase, Maryland, are on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from April 17 through August 16. The exhibition includes major oil paintings by Mary Cassatt, George Bellows, Martin Johnson Heade, John Singer Sargent, John Sloan, William Glackens, John La Farge, Everett Shinn, and others.

The artworks are installed on the second-floor galleries of the museum within the chronological flow of it’s permanent collection to create a narrative around the excitement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, a “coming-of-age” period in American art. Many of the works will be on public view for the first time. 

Each of these 19 artworks is a premier example of these artists’ most significant contributions to American art. The American Art Museum is thrilled to have the opportunity to exhibit them in concert with its own collection, where they help to more fully tell the story of such a vital period in our nation’s artistic development. Paintings by Bellows, Cassatt, and Glackens have been featured at retrospectives of those artists, but many of the other paintings have rarely if ever been displayed in public. 

Gilded Age expatriate artists such as Sargent and Cassatt pioneered impressionist styles abroad, challenging long-standing practice and rivaling their French counterparts. After 1900, artists on this side of the Atlantic such as Bellows, Glackens, Sloan, and Shinn also abandoned traditional studio techniques to portray New York City’s bustling streets and slice-of-life views of parks, shops, bridges and entertainment halls. Together these artists revolutionized American art, liberating it from academic strictures to become a dynamic mirror of life.

March Day, Washington Square (1912)
William Glackens