KERRY, Mrs Norman


Description:
Half-length, seated, dressed in yellow. Oil on canvas, 42” x 34”, signed and dated lower right ‘A. Muller Ury 1930’.

Location:
The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island.

Provenance:
The artist; Jessica Dragonette; her husband Nicholas M. Turner; his gift to the University of Wyoming 1987; their gift to the Preservation Society of Newport County 2008.

Bibliography:
Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1933, Section 2, p.16 – ‘Jury Hears Row over Portrait’
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1933, Section 2, p.16 – ‘Mrs. Kerry Must Pay for Spurned Portrait’
Los Angeles Times, April 15, 1933, Section 2, p.2 – ‘Oil Painting of Mrs. Kerry to be Auctioned’.
Chicago Tribune, April 16, 1933 – ‘Painting Causes Court Fight’ (illustrated in original frame)
Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1933, Section 2, p.8 – ‘Artist Buys own work at Sheriff Sale’.

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Notes

Mrs. Kerry, born Helen Wells, was the second wife of a film actor in Los Angeles called Norman Kerry, whom she married in 1932.  He was born in Rochester, New York on June 16, 1894 and died in Los Angeles on January 12. 1956.  He played villains in silent films, but made a successful transition to sound films, retiring in 1941.  In 1931 he made three films: Bachelor Apartment; Air-Eagles; and Ex-Frame.  Their marriage lasted ten years. 

Norman Kerry was an actor friend of Douglas Fairbanks (whom the artist saw often according to entries in his diaries 1931-1933), and Tom Geraghty: ‘Norman Kerry was the goat for more than one of their tricks. He was an actor friend whose addiction to the bottle was well known. He also kept pigeons, though at this late date there is no explanation for the unusual combination of tastes. Norman was amazed one morning on awakening with a hang-over to see his feathered pets flying about the yard with orange, red and purple wings. That was a bit of metamorphosis that had kept Doug and Tom busy for three hours earlier that morning.’ Ralph Hancock & Letitia Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks: The Fourth Musketeer, (London, Peter Davis, 1953), p. 141. This event took place in 1918 or 1919.

A press photograph from the time of the court case showing Mary Kerry holding a photograph of her portrait (Editor’s Collection)


Mrs Kerry’s portrait as originally conceived by Muller-Ury.

Mrs Kerry commissioned Muller-Ury to paint her portrait for $4000.00 on the recommendation of a Mrs. Julia Rodenzo, an antique dealer in Los Angeles. But having completed the picture Mrs. Kerry refused to accept the work – or pay the artist – because she claimed it was a poor likeness. The artist therefore decided to take Mrs. Kerry to court in Los Angeles in a civil action. In court Mrs. Rodenzo testified that Muller-Ury’s price for a two-thirds portrait was usually $6000.00, but that when Mr. Kerry told her his wife could not afford to pay more than $4000.00 she induced Muller-Ury to agree ‘because Mrs. Kerry is so beautiful.’ Muller-Ury even agreed to be paid in installments. In court Mrs. Kerry pointed out what she considered the defects of the work, and concluded that it did not look like her at all. Judge Bush, however, ruled in the artist’s favour. The painting was auctioned by the Sheriff’s Office to help pay Muller-Ury, but there were only two bidders, the Curator of the Art Gallery at the University of Southern California who bid $100.00, and the artist himself who bid $150.00. Presumably Mrs. Kerry still had to pay the artist the remainder of the money?

The Chicago Tribune illustrated the portrait it its original frame (cost evidently $322) stating the Mrs Kerry ‘…told the court the painting added too many pounds to her figure.’

The artist, who kept the picture in his studio until it was eventually acquired by Jessica Dragonette, evidently altered the picture after he bought it back at the Sheriff’s Sale, and made it look even less like Mrs Kerry.


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