Original vintage signed charcoal, ink and chalk sketch of John Barrymore on his deathbed, with white highlights in either chalk or pastel, drawn by Decker on a light brown 18.75 x 13 sheet. Signed in the lower left corner in black ink, “John Decker,” and notated in the lower right corner by Decker “10–10 evening; 24th May 1942, Hollywood Hospital.” Matted and framed to an overall size of 34 x 29.5. In fine condition.
When the years of reckless drinking finally caught up with John Barrymore at a radio appearance in 1942, he collapsed and was rushed to Hollywood Hospital. His loyal boys’ club of drinking cohorts, including artist John Decker, brother Lionel Barrymore, journalist Gene Fowler, and Gene’s son Will Fowler, remained by his side until the end. It was as Barrymore lay dying in his hospital bed that Decker made this chilling sketch. The drawing was displayed on an easel at Barrymore’s funeral, shown again at Decker’s, and then passed to Gene Fowler. While Decker was known to have later made a few inferior copies of the drawing for friends, none approached this original in quality or clarity. It has been mentioned not only in Fowler’s biography of Barrymore, ‘Good Night, Sweet Prince,’ but also in virtually every subsequent book on the Great Profile, making it by far the most famous image of the legend’s final moments.
This original drawing remained in the private collection of Gene Fowler until his death in 1960 at which time it was passed to his son, Will Fowler: our consignor purchased it directly from Will in 1986. It is accompanied by an original photo of Grantland Rice, director Gregory La Cava, Red Skelton, and Fowler circa 1950, with the sketch hanging behind them. Backed with solid provenance, this is an incredibly desirable one-of-a-kind image of a Hollywood legend, an extraordinary item at auction for the first time. Oversized. RRAuction COA.