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W. C. Fields 18791946
When Thomas Hart Benton's portrait of W. C. Fields was drawn in August of 1937, the great comic was internationally renowned for his distinctive, irreverent tone. Fields had been gravely ill, however; he felt he had seen "the fellow in the bright nightgown." In his profile of an aging man with thinning hair, Benton movingly portrays the vulnerable human figure behind the famous antihero.

Benton was in Hollywood on commission from Life magazine to produce a two-page color spread about the film world. This drawing is one of forty he made, sketching celebrities as well as anonymous workers in the industry. Benton used the sketches for a painting featuring a scantily clad blonde. Life rejected the picture, publishing instead an article very unlike Benton's vision, filled with glamorous photographs of stars, mansions, and cars. The artist was left with a cynical view of Hollywood, an opinion shared by Fields, who, when asked if he had the DT's, once answered: "I don't know. It's hard to tell where Hollywood ends and the DT's begin."

Thomas Hart Benton (18891975)
Graphite on paper, 1937
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
T. H. Benton and R. P. Benton Testamentary Trusts / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
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