Friday, November 16, 2012

The Laura Portrait

We're going to start out with a beautiful portrait of an absolutely gorgeous woman, Gene Tierney. It's from perhaps her most famous film, the classic noir movie, Laura from 1944. The portrait not only is a prop in the movie, it's actually a major plot point. A woman has been found murdered and the detective attempting to solve it falls in love with her (you guessed it) portrait.

I've been looking over famous film portraits and you'll find a solid theme in them, and this is pretty universally recognized. A common theme in paintings, in film at least, is love, usually obsessive love. That's not surprising at all when you think about it. If a painting is commissioned it's taken time and money, so obviously care is in it. This of course, it not always how it goes, but I progress...

In Laura, Detective McPherson (Dana Andrews) becomes obsessed with a seemingly dead woman. The painting elicits his love and becomes his obsession. Of course psychologically, the love of the dead is a problem all its own, but we'll ignore that for now.  In Laura, the obsessive love leads to no real harm. In other films (and you'll see shortly) that's not always the case.
Now, about the painting itself. First, it's not a real painting. It's a photograph, colored with oil paint of Gene Tierney. The photograph was created by a Fox photographer, Frank Polony, who did many photographic portraits of famous actresses. I believe that the director, Otto Preminger, chose the painted photograph over an actual painting so that the portrait would be almost photographically realistic and otherworldly. Well, it is a photograph, so he certainly got the effect.

14 comments:

  1. I also would like a print of this picture if it's available. This movie and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir are a few of my favorites.

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    1. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a print copy of this amazing portrait. Isn't that always the case- with the stuff you're willing to pay through the nose for, you can't even find a copy to pay for! If you're a fan of the Ghost and Mrs. Muir, I plan on covering that in the near future. Stay tuned, keep reading, and feel free to follow the blog!

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  2. I've always dream't of owning this portrait. It was probably thrown in the trash unless someone had the sense, and taste, to rescue it. So sad if it's long gone.

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    1. The painting is posted here.

      http://www.robswebstek.com/2012/01/gene-tierney-laura.html

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  3. The portrait is also clearly visible in the Danny Kaye film "On the Riviera" - this time in gorgeous color!

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  4. I cannot believe this has not been made into a poster if I could get the rights to it I"D be a rich man in a month

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  5. Does anyone know where it is? Was it lost or destroyed? Is it in a Hollywood collection?

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  6. This portrait is truly stunning. But there's more to the story of it. The movie is based on the book by Vera Caspary, published in 1942. The description of the portrait in the book is significantly different than this portrait. Notably, the description reads, in part, "Jacoby had caught the fluid sense of restlessness in her body, perched on the arm of a chair, a pair of yellow gloves in one hand, a green hunter's hat in the other." The difference is significant because the book version of the story paints (if you'll pardon the pun) quite a different picture of the three main characters: Lydecker, McPherson and Laura. In the film, Laura is all feminine elegance (as she is portrayed in the portrait) and McPherson is all masculine bravado. But the book (written by a woman, mind you) emphasized that Laura was a "modern woman" which was code at that time for a woman who lived with the freedoms of a man. And while the movie alludes to McPherson's leg injury, the book tells us that he spent a year in the hospital recuperating and that during that time, he read many books and became more cultured and sensitive, as a result. This book is about two people stepping out of their assigned gender roles and being intrigued by each other as a like-minded, fully evolved human. Part of McPherson's fascination with the portrait (one might assume from context) is that it was NOT traditionally feminine or elegant. Laura has gloves and a hunter's hat, meaning she is ready for sport, not an evening on the town. She is active, athletic. And it is significant that she (and the artist) chose to portray her in this way and NOT in elegant evening wear. So, beautiful as this portrait may be, it is an example of Hollywood watering down an interesting, complex and progressive story into tired old gender cliches. Read the book. It's way more interesting than the film. And that's saying a lot, because the film is outstanding...if a misrepresentation of the novel.

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    1. Ms. Manderino: Thank you for taking the time to write this comment. I learned a great deal from it and I am definitely going to read the novel now.

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    2. I have read the plays translation of the film it owes a lot to the film; as for gender norms remember this is the 1940s people did not think like a feminist woman they lived in a different moral universe. You have to be careful in what is said about the past; it reflects the comnservative values of the time respect it for what it is; not what you wish it to be.

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    3. I have read the plays translation of the film it owes a lot to the film; as for gender norms remember this is the 1940s people did not think like a feminist woman they lived in a different moral universe. You have to be careful in what is said about the past; it reflects the comnservative values of the time respect it for what it is; not what you wish it to be.

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  7. The Laura portrait was, indeed, a black and white photo blow-up covered in heavy oil paint. In later years the prop painting was reworked with vampy eyebrows, and the ornate frame was removed and replaced with an aluminum strip frame. The prop was sold at the 20th Century Fox studio auction in the 70s. A friend bought it for almost nothing – he delivered it to me to do a restoration. I tried to remove the bad eyebrows, and most of the original paint came off. The face turned into a mess, and I had to remove all of the paint on the face and completely re-paint it. It turned out extremely well, in fact, the likeness to Gene Tierney is now better than the original. In person, it is impossible to detect the new face. I had my framer reconstruct the missing frame using stills from the movie. He used strips of authentic ornate compo that match the original frame perfectly. I haven’t seen the painting in over thirty years.

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  8. Wow, thank you so much for that update regarding the absolutely gorgeous "Laura" portrait. I have always dreamt someday it would be up for auction and I'd be that oh so lucky winner. How cool you've held it in your hands.

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  9. According to the "Talk" section of the Wikipedia article on the movie
    "Laura" the portrait was in the possession of writer, reporter, columnist and former host of "Masterpiece" Russell Baker as of 2011.

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