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Lot 49442
Brute Force Portrait by John Decker, Owned by Producer Mark Hellinger.  The lady in the portrait is wickedly haunting, gaining in her perverse power as one learns the portrait's history.

She was the creation of John Decker, the notorious Hollywood artist, forger, and crony of such besotted geniuses as John Barrymore, Errol Flynn, and W. C. Fields (whom Decker once painted, in Old Masters style, as Queen Victoria). Producer Mark Hellinger commissioned the portrait for Brute Force, his 1947 classic noir prison melodrama starring Burt Lancaster as a rebellious inmate and Hume Cronyn as a sadistic captain of the guards who tortures a prisoner while listening to Wagnerian opera. Decker supposedly made his The Lady of Brute Force an arch, baroque blend of actresses Ella Raines, Ann Blyth, and Yvonne De Carlo (the three leading ladies of Brute Force), and the result served as the cell inmates' calendar girl whose alluring image, beheld each night before lights out, triggered the various convicts' grim memories.

Yet the back story becomes stranger... and darker. The woman in the portrait, eyes closed, shoulders bare, appears dead, or perhaps undead, almost vampiric - and the fact is that Decker enjoyed visiting Los Angeles morgues and painting pictures of female cadavers. (He once gifted Ida Lupino a painting of a Mexican girl on a slab with her throat cut.) Decker signed and dated his Lady of Brute Force portrait 1947; he died that year on June 7, and Universal-International Studios released Brute Force three weeks after his death. Mark Hellinger so admired Decker's piece that he displayed it in his home, but he had a tragically short time to admire it -- he too died in 1947 at the age of 44, less than six months after Brute Force's release.

Might The Lady of Brute Force have a curse upon it? Unlikely -- it has benignly remained in the Hellinger family for over 60 years, perennially attracting admirers but presumably tallying no victims. The matted portrait (composed in delicate layers of compressed charcoal) measures 16" x 18.5". The Decker signature is pronounced and the piece survives in Excellent condition with all of its strange, "afterglow" quality.

Undeniably beautiful, strangely seductive, The Lady of Brute Force has an aura that is both eerie and voluptuous, as if she came slinking out of a John Decker nightmare and luxuriantly died in his arms. This is a fascinating curio on several levels -- an artifact from a brilliantly dark film, an heirloom from the family of a gutsy producer, and the final macabre masterpiece from a profanely brilliant artist whose work is ripe for rediscovery. A stunner! From the Mark Hellinger Archive.

Shipping: Framed - with Glass, Medium (
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Lot: 49442

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49442: Brute Force Portrait by John Decker, Owned by Pr

Estimate $2,400 - $3,600Feb 21, 2009
3500 Maple Avenue
17th Floor
Dallas, TX 75219
United States
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