Two-page handwritten letter (parchment, 8x10 inches) from James Montgomery Flagg to William S. Hart dated October 18, 1926, wherein the artist tells Hart of his growing dissatisfaction with the portrait he created in 1924 and requests a do-over. The portrait, titled "The Bounty Hunter," depicts Hart astride his pinto pony, Fritz, and hangs in the dining room of the Hart Mansion in Newhall.
Dear Billy —
Your letter came. Came your letter, I mean. Next — came your book — A handsome proud book — which I started to read at once — just as you would expect — start interestingly.
Absurd Rupert Hughes I hear is also doing a Washington.
Speaking of your portrait, I am less & less satisfied as time goes by. I must do it over — quite differently if you will sit for me again. It wasn't so onerous, was it? Be nice & say it wasn't anyway.
I want to make myself do a better one. I find I am getting sadly in a rut — which should be corrected — if I have any guts. Must find out.
When in hell did you say you were coming to town — your letter is at my studio & I am home at this writing —
Flagg would sketch Hart again, but he never got his desired do-over of the oil painting.
Flagg discusses the difficulty of creating his Hart portrait in his 1925 book, "Boulevards All the Way — Maybe!" (read excerpt here): He painted Hart at the actor's (now West) Hollywood home and painted Fritz at Hart's estate in Newhall where the horse was stabled. According to Flagg, Hart was uncomfortable during the sitting. "We rigged up a barrel on a packing case in the hottest spot in the garden, put a saddle on it, and there, looking ferocious, sat Bill with a gun in each hand," Flagg writes. "Bill's expression was quite a strain, and as he would throw himself on the grass during rests he would say, 'You know that expression isn't really me; it tires me out!'"
Regarding Rupert Hughes and Washington: Rupert Raleigh Hughes (1872-1956) was a novelist and film director with two master's degrees in English literature. His signature work would turn out to be a controversial but highly acclaimed biography of George Washington that demystified the nation's first president and debunked fables such as chopping down the cherry tree. Intended as a 4-volume set, Volume I was published in October 1926 (the same month as Flagg's letter to Hart). Subsequent volumes published in 1927 and 1930; the fourth volume was never finished.
For Flagg to say Hughes was "also" writing about Washington suggests that the book Hart sent to Flagg might have been his 1923 novel, "A Lighter of Flames," based on the life of the Founding Father Patrick Henry. "Speaking of your portrait" suggests Hart thanked him for it in his earlier letter.
LW3797: 9600 dpi jpeg from original letter purchased 2022 by Leon Worden from James Pepper Rare Books of Santa Barbara, which acquired it from Wm. S. Hart Jr.'s widow.