Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Redheaded Venus 14: "Clara Bow" by Géza Kende

A couple of years ago a very reputable auction house put this painting of early Hollywood star Clara Bow (1905-1965) up for sale.  It had been commissioned  and owned by horror star Bela Lugosi and painted by his friend and next door neighbour, Hungarian-born painter Géza Kende (1889-1952).  Kende studied at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts and then in Vienna, Munich Rome and Paris.  He moved to the US in 1921.

Bela Lugosi (c. 1932) by Kende

Kende would have had a lot in common with fellow Hungarian Lugosi (born Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (1882-1956)).  Lugosi, a stage actor, made his first film in Hungary in 1917 but left the country for Germany after the failed Hungarian revolution of 1919.  He arrived in New Orleans in 1920 as a seaman on a merchant ship.  He started his acting career in the US in a Hungarian acting company which played to immigrant audiences. By 1927, after a number of minor film roles, Lugosi was appearing as Dracula on stage in Broadway where he was talent spotted by Universal, eventually making Dracula for them in 1931.

Clara Bow dressed

One night, during a Los Angeles touring production of Dracula, in the summer of 1928, he was visited backstage by the actress Clara Bow.  Bow was from Brooklyn and at the age of sixteen had won an acting competition run by a magazine.  The prize was supposed to be a part in a film but this was not forthcoming, Notwithstanding this, the determined Bow continued to chase film parts and was heartbroken when all five of her scenes in her first film in 1921 were cut. In 1923, having had some good reviews for her next films shot in the east, she left for Hollywood.  Working on multiple films, often at the same time, she saw her studio contracted salary move from $200 a week to a deal with Paramount in 1926 which saw her pay increase from $1700 a week to $4000 a week over the course of the five year deal.  To put this in perspective the cost of a Model T Ford was $360 in 1926.  In 1927 she triumphed in the film It earning herself the nickname of the It Girl.

So what made her turn up backstage to see Lugosi? The show itself was a big draw.  Bow reputedly attended just wearing a swimsuit with a mink coat over the top as she had got her tickets last minute while attending a pool party.  The story is that she was nervous, given the impending move to talkies, about her Brooklyn accent and wanted to talk to Lugosi about how he had dealt with his accent.  This all sounds rather far-fetched as Lugosi's accent was much thicker than Bow's.  More believable is that she wanted tips from the stage actor on how he learned his lines.  Anyway, they hit it off to such an extent that Bow invited him home forthwith.  It is strongly suggested that they had an affair and certainly Bow had a racy reputation but almost certainly did not participate in the incest, lesbianism and bestiality she was later accused of.  However, Lugosi's wife Beatrice Weeks cited Bow during her divorce  in 1929.

Bela Lugosi in his study with the painting

Any relationship was brief, however, but had a long lasting impact on Lugosi who commissioned his friend Kende to paint this nude picture of her. However, this is where it gets rather confused.  The auction house categorically stated that the painting was of Bow.  Certainly, Lugosi referred to it as a painting of Bow and there is no doubt it belonged to him and hung in all of his homes until his death.

Clara Bow undressed

However, it seems fairly certain that Bow never actually posed for the picture so Kende's painting is, at best, an approximation of what Bow might have looked like naked.  We do know what she looked like naked as she posed for a number of nude photographs as a young actress.  She didn't have a great figure by today's standards; she had a rather solid bottom half and was more delicate above the waist (she said she often lost parts in the early days because producers said she was fat) which is somewhat reflected in the painting.

Bow's biographer is pretty certain that it's not her so it is odd that the auction house was so definitive about it.  It eventually sold for $30,000.  Bow or not, it is still a nice painting of a naked redhead and you can never have enough of those!

1 comment:

  1. It is a nice painting. Clara Bow is one of those people that the legend and fact are hard to seperate. I wonder what the painting would have sold for if it was definitely her. Bela had fine taste in nude paintings regardless of who the subject was.