Saturday, December 8, 2012

The "Blue Velvet' Scarlett Portrait

You may have noticed a trend in movie-art and we just started. Many of the plot-related movie paintings and sculpture are relating to people, usually portraiture.  There is an obvious reason for this. Not only is a person more significant than a random still-life, art can show the presence of people when they are either not characters in the immediate drama (but still relative to it, in the case of Vertigo) or if they are not in the current scene (as for most of Laura). The portraiture takes the place of the character, often with an eerie nature- because though it’s as if they are there- they are not.
So, I’ll go into the classics again to show you an example of that. 

I’m going to the classic movie of all classic movies, Gone with the Wind, the marvelous epic of antebellum, wartime and the post-Civil War American South. The story is basically the trials and tribulations of one of the greatest divas in the history of cinema- Scarlett O’Hara (played to perfection by Vivien Leigh). The movie, while incredibly long, is worth it because not only is it incredibly well done and not only does it have one of the paramount casts in film, the story (the backbone of any film, if you will) is just marvelous. This is of course, thanks to the author, Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the bestselling novel (which is long, but worth it, again). I’m not going to go into my analysis of Gone With the Wind, because quite frankly, it would be very long (but worth your while, have no doubt).

So, I’m going to focus once more on the art… this time to this great portrait of Scarlett O’Hara. If you don’t know anything about the movie, Scarlett thinks she loves this wimp of a Southern aristocrat, Ashley, who is married to the saintly Miss Melanie, but really she’s loved by (and implicitly) loves Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler. Anyhow, eventually, they do get married and they have this really stormy relationship because while Rhett is outwardly a scoundrel, he’s really a very fine individual with remarkable honor, while Scarlett is outwardly a belle and really kind of a bit… OF a self-centered jerk.
During one argument, Rhett storms into his bedroom, pours himself a glass of sherry, then throws the entire glass at this steely eyed portrait of Scarlett. This painting is in their opulent town home that they share, and like the rest of the home, is overly large. The portrait completely bears the essence of Scarlett. In the portrait, she appears cold an uncaring to the problems of others. Don’t get me wrong, I love Scarlett, but, I mean partially everyone who loves Scarlett loves to hate her.
Granted, this painting is really not done in the style of 1870s American portraiture. If you check out the work of Thomas Eakins who was an American painter in more the 1880s, the semi-photorealism in the painting isn’t really similar to the work that appears in this painting.The painting itself is kind of beloved to Gone with the Wind fans. Scarlett never appears wearing this mysterious “Blue Velvet” dress that she wears in a pose that’s been imitated in other Hollywood portraits recently. The painting, I believe was based on a photograph of Vivian. I am not exactly sure who the painter is, but when I tell you I spent hours looking into this, I am not exaggerating. I found in one book that the painting was done by one Helen Carleton. When I found this information, I was all excited because I thought this was going to lead me to a treasure trove of information, but I cannot find one thing about Miss Carleton. If anyone knows anything about her, I’d love to know- but I, for one, couldn’t tell you.

Currently, the painting resides in the Margaret Mitchell Museum in Atlanta which contains tons of great Gone with the Wind memorabilia, like this portrait. The museum, while it appears to be excellent, doesn't exactly contain a treasure trove of information online, but whatever. If you ever venture down South, it's may be a place you would want to visit.

Anyhow, it's a great and famous portrait of a great character in film. Like I said, if you know anything else about the painting or the artist, let me know via comment. I, quite frankly, do give a damn.


  1. This portrait, both in pose and style of gown, is reminiscent of portraits of Empress Carlota and Empress Eugenie.

  2. I’m among those who are enthralled by that movie. The plot, the cast, everything were almost made to perfection. The portrayal of the characters is really outstanding! Anyway, it’s so sad that information is not available online. However, I think it’s better because the long drive will be worthwhile when you go to the museum and let your eyes feast for the original materials and information.

    Ruby Badcoe


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