8 Women Who Took Their Own Lives In The Art World
January 6, 2017|Eduardo Limón
What drives some individuals to decide it will be better to depart from this world? What must happen for people to sign, by their own will, an unbreakable contract with death? Many would say that this desire to disappear is irrational and alien to the human condition, a drastic solution for temporal problems, almost fleeting. If one wished to judge said decision, then one would have to stand in the shoes of the departed, an impossible feat.
The profound depression, helplessness, and grave disorders that compose this destructive formula are undeniable. We rage and condemn their actions as selfish because the departed seem to be completely detached from the feelings of others and the effects of their actions on the lives of those who were close to them. We censure them because we cannot penetrate the bubble of raging emotions that trapped these people who rejected life. These words are not an apologia or an invitation, but a call for attention for those who dare to pass judgment on the painful decisions a person has made and the difficult road they had to traverse to reach such a sad conclusion.
This carapace is impenetrable, and on its surface, the art world has tried to make sense of this apparently senseless action. Throughout history, some feminine figures have starred in this complex process of finality. Art turns into a response to the silence of those who have departed and the anguish and pain they leave in their wake.
The Suicide (1926) Lindsay Bernard Hall
Lindsay Bernard Hall was known for his depiction of female nudes, and he certainly had a flair for drama. What must have driven this woman to the greatest depths of despair and to her suicide? The opulent fabrics, imposing architecture, stunning figure and well care for her hair hint that this woman was not only elegant, but perhaps a courtesan who took her own life after the abandonment of her latest lover, who kept her in such a lavish state. The former owner of this painting, Samuel Ewing, was uncomfortable with the theme of the painting, so he renamed it Despair, name under which this painting has been exhibited.
Ophelia (1852) John Everett Millais
This young noblewoman from Denmark has been immortalized by Shakespeare's words and Millais' paint strokes.Following the dictates of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Millais painted according to nature, and such intense interpretation led to some interesting adventures. In a letter to Mrs. Combe, he revealed he had trespassed a field and destroyed the hay in order to reach the famous pond; he was in danger of plunging into its depths because of the strong winds of that day. He recalled, "I am also in danger of becoming intimate with the feelings of Ophelia when that Lady sank to muddy death."
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook.
Dorothy Hale's Suicide (1938) Frida Kahlo
This work was commissioned by the editor of Vanity Fair and close friend of Dorothy. Kahlo painted this as a memoire to a beautiful and famous actress who plunged into the darkest pits of despair.
Lucretia (1530) Master of the Holy Blood
Lucretia is a famous historical figure dating back to Ancient Rome. She was the virtuous wife of Lucius Tarquinius and she committed suicide, as she could not endure the humiliation and anger of being raped by Sextus Tarquinius. She has been depicted as an example of virtue, but in this particular painting there is an element of violence, rage, and vengeance, as she is firmly grasping the dagger with both hands and stabbing herself in the heart while leaving her fashionable gown undone. She is completely alone in the painting, immersed in her own shell of pain and pent up anger whose only outlet is death.
Drowning Girl (1971) Roy Lichtenstein
This particular work is iconic in pop art and contemporary melodrama. Fragility, sadness, and a not so small dose of pride, this protagonist opens the doors to a unique story with a single phrase. She would rather succumb to her fate than depend on another person.
Unfortunate Family (1852) Gustave Tassaert
Was it hunger? Misery? Poverty? According to Alexander Sturgis in his Rebels and Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century, this particular painting shows a destitute mother and daughter committing suicide. This painting proved to be a success at the 1850-1 Salon and led to a number of works in a similar vein, which earned Tassaert the bohemian nickname "Correggio of the attic."
With her gaze firmly set on the horizon, accepting of her fate, this painting is both shocking and heart wrenching. The protagonist is completely detached from our own shock and repulsion, because she is completely immersed in her own reality. Rosie Taylor has received criticism and has been involved in several disputes with galleries that have covered up her work in order to prevent offense. Taylor says a lot of her work is influenced by surrealism. In her own words, "writing about my work is like trying to translate something from one language to another. You can never really explain what you are trying to say."
The Suicide (1920) Jeanne Hébuterne
The tragic air surrounding this painting is unmissable, and we cannot help but recall Jeanne's tragic fate after the death of Modigliani. Does it signal her intention to commit suicide? Was there no other alternative for this tragic artist? This is perhaps one of the greatest confessional works of art in the world.
Most societies are repulsed by suicide, and they severely punish those who have departed, as if they could somehow feel the sting of rejection. Those who take the moral high ground don't even have an ounce of empathy for those who sought to end it all and so escape their inner demons. These women, immortalized through paintings, are encased in their own despair, but perhaps, it is because of the sensibility found in art that we can catch a glimmer of the turbulent emotions that drove them to the very edge, in fact, to the ultimate edge: death.
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