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John Barrymore 1882–1942
This portrait of John Barrymore from around 1909 pictures the young actor opening in The Fortune Hunter, the role that catapulted him to fame. "Acting comes easy and pays well—that's the narcotic," remarked Barrymore, who came from a famous theatrical family that included his sister Ethel, brother Lionel, and father Maurice.

Al Frueh (pronounced "free") discerned a latent intensity in Barrymore's performance that the script hardly suggested. An inveterate fan of the theater, Frueh would sit eight rows back on one side and concentrate on a performer's characteristic poses and gestures. Returning home, he would sketch the full-length figure from memory, painstakingly eliminating lines and honing a quintessential likeness. In addition to the handsome, heavy-browed profile, a Barrymore trademark, Frueh captured a glowering mood of desperation. The likeness evokes both the matinee idol and the legendary Hamlet that Barrymore would become. It reflected the man as well as the star; the alcoholic Barrymore's personal life seemed like a dramatic performance complete with broad comic and tragic gestures.

Alfred J. Frueh (1880–1968)
Ink, ink wash, and graphite on illustration board, circa 1909
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the children of Al Frueh
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