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The mystery of the Jackson Pollock meant for Lauren Bacall

24 March 2023

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

While it is well known that Gainsborough painted Mrs Siddons and Andy Warhol couldn’t resist famous actresses, Lauren Bacall’s appeal to artists may come as more of a surprise. While Bacall was an avid art collector, acquiring works by the likes of Henry Moore and David Hockney, she was a direct inspiration to a rather more eccentric artist altogether.

Joseph Cornell’s Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), made between 1945–70, is a work that strongly recalls slot machines – and the art of voyeurism – in a way that every adolescent boy would once have understood. Nor was the artist who never left New York State the only one to have been inspired by the Hollywood star.

A recently discovered work, thought to be by Jackson Pollock, has reminded Rakewell of the mistress of whistling and her rapport with artists. In what could be the plotline of one of Bacall’s early movies, the painting was discovered in a raid by Bulgarian police. On the back of the canvas is said to be a message that reads, ‘Dedicated to my very talented and dear friend Lauren Bacall, Happy Birthday’. The date of 16 September 1949 makes this one of the nicest 25th birthday presents anyone could receive. Rakewell can’t help but feel that this is a better offer than when Andy Warhol presented a work to Liz Taylor signed, ‘To elizabeth with much love.’ It was a mere lithograph, not even an original silkscreen.

Rakewell hopes that the Pollock found by the Bulgarian police is what they say it is and not a fake. Your roving correspondent would be rather sad if it turned out to be a MacGuffin. In which case, we’ll have a scotch, messy, please.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.