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John Steinbeck 19021968
In 1935, when James Fitzgerald made this portrait of him, John Steinbeck was on the verge of the critical success that would distinguish him as one of America's foremost authors. Steinbeck, who had just lost both parents, found that writing provided an emotional release; he had written Tortilla Flat while his parents lay ill. "As long as we can eat and write more books, that's really all I require," Steinbeck wrote a friend in late 1933.

Fitzgerald shared Steinbeck's self-reliant approach to artistic creativity, although their friendship was stormy. The two were part of a circle of artists, writers, and intellectuals who gathered around the charismatic figure of marine biologist Edward ("Doc") Ricketts in Monterey, California. Fitzgerald's portrait is an attempt to capture the essence of Steinbeck's personality and creative spirit, rather than a response to a single sitting. The dominant role of the dark pullover and deep shadow over the left side of Steinbeck's face evoke his famously reclusive persona.

James Fitzgerald (18991971)
Charcoal on paper, 1935
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar F. Hubert
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