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This lot is part of a special series of original paintings from The Conlon Collection by Dick Perez. CLICK HERE to read more about this special offering.
The Conlon Photo
In the hallowed annals of our National Pastime, there is one man, one team, and one year that loom largest: Babe Ruth, the Yankees, 1927. That Charles Conlon should have had the foresight and good fortune to record his finest, most extraordinary photographs of that very man and team in that very year remains nothing short of miraculous—if not divinely ordained.
Indeed, this spellbinding, breathtaking photo represents the zenith of Conlon's 40-year career behind the camera. From action shots like "Cobb Sliding" to bust portraits to full-length scenes to close-up studies of faces and hands, it's as if everything the self-taught genius photographer learned and accomplished early on was building, building, building to the lofty crescendo of his haunting, searingly intimate Murderers' Row series.
Here is where Conlon once and for all separates his wheat from the chaff of myriad other baseball photographers. Here is where Conlon elevates himself to the elite ranks of those true artistes and documentarians of his craft—most notably Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, whose heartbreaking, soul-stirring portraits still define our nation's collective vision of the Depression Era to this day. So too does Conlon's Ruth embody the entire Golden Age of baseball with its gritty realism, stark intensity and, of course, quintessential subject.
"Here you may meet baseball's greatest slugger face to face," beckons the image caption in Baseball Magazine's September 1927 issue. "Babe Ruth, the Superman of Swat—most picturesque of ball players, the greatest slugger who ever lived."
The Perez Painting
In Legendary's 2012 August Live Auction, held in Babe Ruth's hometown of Baltimore, "Cobb Sliding" was presented as the inaugural flagship piece in The Conlon Collection by Dick Perez. Yet perhaps we spoke too soon. After the Live Auction catalog went to press, Perez completed this Babedingnagian facial study—which, at 30" x 40" is more than 8 times the size of his previous Conlon Collection facial studies! The result is a sheer masterwork that truly must be seen first-hand and met in-person to appreciate the full impact of its magnitude, grandeur and arresting visual power.
Sandwiched between his blue ball cap and pinstriped uniform, set against the backdrop of an expressive primordial stew, Ruth's ultra-iconic countenance lures and tantalizes. He gazes at us, we gaze back. He commands our respect, perhaps even our love, and we return it in kind. The roly-poly, putty-skinned moon face that spawned his "Babe" nickname is counterbalanced by encroaching crow's feet around the eyes and deep lines of advancing age.
"What a face," Perez says. "I tried to strike the fine balance between how to be true to Conlon, maintain the essence of his portrayal, while making it my own creation. For me, a photorealistic treatment would be pandering and would only serve to show viewers something they already know. Instead, I prefer an Impressionistic take where the literal gives way to the suggestive. I want to engage viewers, stir their imagination through the suggestion of what they already know, and then allow them to fill in the details themselves. For example, I wanted to enhance the dramatic nature with high tonal contrast, noticeable texturing and embellished shadows. From a distance, the shadow areas appear as conventional and familiar segments, but as you get closer you begin to see the blues and greens that contribute to the shadow effect. When I finished the initial drawing I couldn't help feeling that this would be the masterpiece of the collection. The size of the head, the stare with almost doleful and melancholy eyes, it really captures you. You connect with a presence you can't turn away from. I was always fascinated with Ruth's face—there's just nothing like it."
Please note: Each winning bidder of one or more "Immortals Collection" or "Conlon Collection" paintings will receive a complimentary signed copy of Dick Perez's 2010 limited-edition luxury book, The Immortals: An Art Collection of Baseball's Best.