Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Monday, August 7, 2023

My Dear Mr Neill (Part 2)

About a year ago I blogged about the start of the relationship between the Lufkin family and Oz illustrator John R. Neill. Letters from Marie Lufkin to the artist show the progress of the connection, and how the friendship resulted in the building of a unique collection of the artist's work.
Marie was persistent in applying to Neill for artwork, particularly for the watercolors used in The Emerald City of Oz. After learning that he didn’t actually own any of those pieces, she commissioned the illustrator to create a large new Oz painting. This was to hang over the fireplace in the living room of the Connecticut farm that the Lufkins were renovating. I particularly like this note from Marie, which was enclosed in a letter dated July 21st, 1936. It details her ideas for the design of the painting:

I think the panel should have a border around. Don’t you?

 As you know my favorite characters are the Scarecrow, Pumpkinhead, the Wizard, Dorothy, Ozma & Glinda, the Tin Woodman, Toto, the Cowardly Lion & the Hungry Tiger, Tick-Tock. (sic)

She was fairly comprehensive in her character list!

The back of the page also has a sketch showing the size for the painting, and indicating how it would be placed above the fireplace. 

The letter that was included with the note brings up the apparently embarrassing question of what the painting would cost:

It's a very ticklish subject Mr Neill, and I hate writing or talking about it, when you were such a wonder to say that you would do it - but I have to - How much money will it cost? Now it's out and I'm relieved - It's been worrying me for weeks how I could ask and I guess the simplest way is the best.

Once that ticklish question had been answered, the work began in earnest. A letter from August 14th reads:

Dear Mr. Neill -

I loved talking to you the other night and was delighted to hear that you are really on your way with "our Oz painting" - It sounds gorgeous & El & I both loved your idea of the Cowardly Lion & the Hungry Tiger leading the procession - DO send me a sketch of it soon - I can hardly wait to see it!

Neill created a number of color sketches for this project, in various sizes and degrees of finish. I have three early rough drafts, trying out layouts, character placement and color schemes. Eventually a more finished piece was sent to the Lufkins for their approval, and finally the actual painting was completed.
The finished artwork was shipped on October 10th, 1936. The shipping bill reveals the answer to Marie Lufkin's "ticklish question"; a value of $150 is listed for the final painting. 
Marie was thrilled with the piece and in a letter dated November 4th, 1936 she thanks Neill for the painting:

The painting is just too perfect and makes the living room. We are going to put a very light yellow wash on the walls - How do you think that sounds? Also Venetian blinds & I have not decided on the chintz - It sounds finished doesn’t it? Well it is, in my mind, but you should see the room actually! At the present moment there is a buzz saw going at top speed. Shavings all over the floor & carpenters banging away.
 She also says:

Of course I wanted you to send me a bill, and I want to thank you for being so generous and thoughtful with your work. As soon as our addition is finished Elgood and I want you and Mrs. Neill to come up for a night. You would wouldn't you? We're not a bit sporty as you know, so you wouldn't have to do anything you didn't want to and we'd love to have you both.

It doesn’t appear that Neill ever did make it up to the farm. I believe Marie only met him in person once.

When the house was sold in later years, the painting was removed by the family and preserved. A page from the prospectus for the house sale shows the living room, with the Oz panel still in its original location (image courtesy of Brady Schwind).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing story!