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Monday, July 15, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock--Art Collector

Le Chevalier de la Mort, 1944, Salvador Dali
I often write on the producers of great art--the artists. Far less often, however, do I put in a good word for the consumers of great art--the art collectors. In great part that's because such individuals are seldom well known by the general public or because they are (and wish to remain) anonymous. High profile art collectors make themselves prime targets for theft or art forgeries. The cost of physical security for their works goes up, not to mention their insurance premiums. Nonetheless, there are a surprising number of such art collectors for whom neither of these factors are of any major concern. Not surprisingly many these collectors share a ZIP code starting with 900 or 902--the entertainment industry in and around Hollywood, California, 90027.
Art collectors so familiar they need no introduction.
Today we find names such a Leonardo DiCaprio (he does not second-guess his own likes and dislikes); Madonna, who has an impressive art collection worth more than a $100-million; Neil Patrick Harris, whose art collection focuses on contemporary art from up-and-coming artists; Steve Martin, whose collection, encompasses names such as Francis Bacon, Cindy Sherman, and Pablo Picasso. Add to these Elton John, who actually set a record in 1993 by buying Man Ray’s Glass Tears for $193,000. It is now estimated to be worth closer to $2-million. Other celebrities include Brad Pitt, Mary-Kate Olsen, Tobey Maguire, Jay-Z and Beyoncé...the list goes on and on, but I'm tired of name-dropping at the moment. Although each of these collections is unique, perhaps the most unusual Hollywood art collector of all time (he died in 1980) was that of the British producer/director of iconic mystery dramas, Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s lifetime interest in art fed directly into his filmmaking
Although each collector's art holdings tend to reflect their individual tastes, background, and personalities, in exploring Hitchcock's art collection, it becomes all but impossible to separate the man an his art from that which he collected. Unlike most of the art collections mentioned above, Hitchcock's personal collection contained only two artist's originals, one of which turned out to be a fake. In 1944, the surrealist master, Salvador Dali presented his drawing, Le Chevalier de la Mort (top) to the director as a gift after the two collaborated on the dream sequence for the 1945 psychological thriller Spellbound. The other artist's "original" was a Picasso still-life which hung in the Hitchcock home for several decades until 1970 when the artist himself branded it a fake.
These are samples of each artist's work and may or may not be the actual paintings
which hung in the Hitchcock home.
The collection of Alfred and Alma Hitchcock reflects a wide variety of styles, artists, and subjects, more indicative of a lifestyle than a deliberate approach. Works in their eclectic collection are of variable interest and quality. This hodgepodge collection began around 1944. Hitchcock and his wife, began to choose new acquisitions together. The selection criteria were straightforward and loose. They never acquired a painting unless it was liked by both of them. Fortunately, they had similar tastes, leaning mostly toward colorful modernists. Alma’s favorite artist was Parisian painter Maurice Utrillo (above, left), while Hitchcock singled out Swiss modernist Paul Klee (above, right).

Venus With a Mirror 1555, Titian
The décor was unusual, to say the least, at Norman Bates’s 12-room motel in Hitchcock’s classic horror movie, Psycho. Menacing taxidermied birds framed the walls of the office parlor, later to earn a movie of their own. Hovering above was an assortment of painted female nudes that included a reproduction of Venus with a Mirror (ca. 1555) by the Renaissance artist, Titian. However the painting Hitchcock refers to in the trailer (above) is not Venus but A strategically placed copy of Susan-nah and the Elders from around the 1691, by Dutch artist Willem van Mieris. It concealed a peephole used for peer-ing into room number one. Like a Bar-oque version of Psycho’s famous show-er scene, Susannah and the Elders pits a vulnerably nude bathing woman against the violent voyeurism of a male predator.
Susannah and the Elders, 1691, Willem van Mieris
Hitchcock was an art connoisseur, an interest that began when he took art history and painting classes in London as a teenager. His first film industry job, in fact, was as an illustrator of intertitle cards for silent films. And he was an avid collector of art books, stockpiling them at home and at work. His office at Universal Studios contained a surprising number of art books, which Hitchcock liked to regularly consult, often choosing some illustration or other to show his art director and/or his cinematographer to indicate what he wanted in a particular shot. Hitchcock understood art, incorporated artworks of historical significance into his films, and was a collector. Moreover, his approach to filling the blank canvas of the silver screen was that of an artist. Hitchcock’s critics accused him of favoring image over content and compared his films to live-action comic strips. (The director didn’t disagree.) Scriptwriters sometimes complained about working with him because he imagined visually powerful scenes, but was less concerned with how they connected to each other in a convincing narrative. At home, the pictorial action of Hitchcock’s personal art collection must have held his attention in much the same way. He liked selecting paintings about which he could make up stories, perhaps mentally constructing a sequence of storyboards to follow—the image of an ominous tree by French artist Chaim Soutine that hung in his dining room, for example, or the mosaic of birds designed by Cubist George Braque that Hitchcock commissioned for his garden.
Inasmuch as no published inventory of Hitchcock's art collection exists, and both artists executed several similar versions of each work, it's impossible to know precisely which paintings Hitchcock owned. In any case, they were likely much like these.
The Hitchcock art collection was housed here in
the couples' second west coast home located in Bel Air.


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