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Gobsmacked by Sinclair

Completely gobsmacked by this painting up for auction at Heritage, I wondered who the artist was. None other than Irving Sinclar (1895-1969), who was apparently a well-known portrait and commercial artist beginning in the 1930s. According to the SF Chronicle (24 Feb 1969):

Born in British Columbia on March 5, 1895. After settling in San Francisco in 1917, Sinclair worked as a billboard artist for Foster & Kleiser, and in the 1920s was art director for Fox West Coast Theatres. In 1939 he studied in New York under Wayman Adams. San Francisco remained his adopted home where he painted Mayors Rossi, Robinson, and Christopher. He became well known for portraits of Hollywood stars and other famous Americans including F. D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Summers were often spent in Canada in his Galiano Island studio. Sinclair died in San Francisco on Feb. 21, 1969.”

With such an interesting resumé, I thought that there should be plenty of material online about the artist. However, if Google is to be believed, Sinclair is primarily known for this realistic painting called “The Poker Game.”

It’s a nice painting, to be sure, though it might have been done by Norman Rockwell, who could never have painted the bold figurative portraits in the Heritage lot. Where the Poker Game excels in muted detail, the portrait thrives in electric, almost psychedelic colors…if you view the large resolution version at the Heritage link (above), you will see the bold, effortless brushwork. As if dashed off in a hurry, the portrait sings with fervent, nervous energy…I’m gobsmacked by that blue and orange, I tell you!

Looking around for more info, I found that a

biography has been published by Sinclair’s daughter, Julianne Sinclair Crocket, with her husband Robert Crocket. This looks like a good read. Nonetheless, it seems to be print-on-demand; and at $70 each, I don’t expect to see any second-hand copies floating up on the Brattle Bookshop tables anytime soon. Still, you have to wonder what the authors have in store for us, since Sinclair was evidently a portraitist in high demand. His Churchill (painted in 1952) and a puzzle made during WWII of Gen. MacArthur show both an impish confidence and a respectful air of distance.

Clearly, Sinclair was hooked up with the establishment. He painted the official portrait of Senator Harry Pulliam Cain, one-time supporter of Joe McCarthy, and provided the militaristic seascape for the swanky Cliff House in San Francisco. This canvas, curiously, was part of a naming contest, and was eventually called The Power and the Glory.

Another interesting discovery was the cover Sinclair painted for the official souvenir program book printed for the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, June 2nd 1937.

It’s not his best painting, to be sure, but what strikes me are the clean blue waters frisking into the bay, and the vivid red coat of paint on the spanking new bridge! What a breath of achievement shone from those spans and girders…America was still a land of big shoulders, of impossible dreams, and endless vistas. Speaking of which, the biography by Julianne and Bob Crockett mentioned above, provides a few previews, notably a risqué canvas that was shown at the Treasure Island Expo in 1939.

Gloria was a big hit at the 1939-1940 Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island. Irving’s painting of this beautiful woman was done in glaze. Revolving lights behind the painting produced gently changing reflections across her body.

Okay, so San Francisco was always a fun town…revolving lights behind their good girl art! Amusing, to be sure, but doesn’t hold a candle to the canvas posted at the beginning…those shocking tangerine highlights! A shoulder rendered in seven agressive pink strokes! That is really something. Thanks, Irving!

**UPDATE - this painting sold for $1,375 (26 Oct 09) at Heritage Auctions.