Celebrity Art in NYC: 1940s and 50s

Diana painted celebrity portraits while still in Toronto, probably in preparation for the posters, and then when she moved to NYC and went to school at the Art Students League and afterwards, she continued to paint famous people.

Here is a sample of what she did as a “kid” of twenty or so in Canada.

That is my favorite.

Here are a few more.

At some point after arriving in NYC, Diana embarked on at least two major painting projects. One of them was painting portraits of Broadway stars. She was allowed to attend rehearsals and would then paint the artists in one or more of the show costumes, as well as (sometimes) costumes from other shows he or she had performed in. She also painted some TV stars. Some of these were sold and some she kept. We have a few of the paintings . Here are three.

Ethel Merman

Ezio Pinza

I am not positive about this 3rd one, but it might be Katherine Cornell. I used to know, but right now my certainty has flown away.

The other project was painting the portraits of the jazz greats who performed at The Birdland nightclub. These were commissioned by the club and hung on the walls for years. The murals were saved from the fire at the club, and a grouping of them were eventually displayed at the Smithsonian museum. Ā A limited edition book was published about the club and the murals.

The portraits included Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and many others. Many of these are now owned by a private collector.

For an idea of what the murals looked like, as well as to read a poem I wrote about Diana’s art, check out this publication at The Ekphrastic Review.


16 thoughts on “Celebrity Art in NYC: 1940s and 50s

  1. Diana was well ahead of her time within the ‘womans movement’. She was a trailblazer of sorts within the art world. I think there’s a book about her life in the future…. I love Diana. I wonder if she was able to hob nob with some of the stars or the behind the scenes story she could tell šŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • She really was. When she got married, had children, and they moved from NYC to Kalamazoo, she changed her artistic focus to architectural paintings. She adapted to her new life, but I’m sure it wasn’t as exciting as when she lived in New York.
      And, YES, she did hob nob with some of them. I have a video of when she was older, telling stories about when she was younger, and I need to watch it. Much of her memorabilia has been lost, but I am going to try to see if I have much of anything left to try to piece together who she knew.


    • Oops, the gardener is artistic, but not an artist. We both love interior design for our own home, as well as choosing art. His gardening/landscaping is an art. But as far as realistic drawing goes, I’m pretty sure our son and I have more talent at that than he does haha. (Adding daughter too as she can also draw). And he can’t take a photograph to save himself. He used my phone to take a photo of his new cactus flower yesterday, and I found a pic of his feet on my phone . . . .

      Liked by 1 person

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