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John Decker

 (1895 - 1947)
John Decker was active/lived in California.  John Decker is known for celebrity portrait, landscape.

John Decker

Biography from the Archives of askART

The following, submitted in April 2004, is from Stephen C. Jordan, an attorney and writer from Portland, Maine. The information is from Jordan's forthcoming book about the artist, "Bohemian Rogue: The Life of Hollywood Artist John Decker," published by Scarecrow Press:

John Decker was a celebrated artist from the 1920s through the 1940s. Numerous books have been written about Decker's best friends--the great actor John Barrymore, the classic comedian W. C. Fields, author Gene Fowler, and renowned art critic Sadakichi Hartmann. Artist John Decker appears in all of these books to some degree. Yet, until now, no book has been published that focuses on the extraordinary life and talents of this amazing artist. In his 52 years, his genius blazed. John Decker painted as he lived---vigorously, vibrantly, and brilliantly.

Decker traversed through life burdened by deep and bitter scars of his past. He was abandoned in London by his parents at the tender age of 13. Much time was spent scraping for the necessities of life.

Later, in his early-twenties, Decker served two years as a political prisoner during the first World War, on the Isle of Man, where he experienced the worst humanity can offer. After the War, he was released. With a fake passport in hand, he chose to risk more jail time and hard labor by hopping aboard a ship bound for the America, and as a stowaway he sailed for several rough days across the Atlantic.

Decker's caricature drawings appeared in countless publications from coast-to-coast during the 1920s through the 1940s. In New York during the Roaring Twenties, he was a staff artist for the "Evening World", responsible for attending Broadway plays and creating caricature drawings for the newspaper's theatre section.

During his life, his paintings were displayed alongside works of the old Master painters, including Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Daumier, among others. His one-man exhibitions took place in Rome, Hollywood, and Los Angeles, and these shows were attended by many of the Hollywood elite and musical giants such as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinski. He created paintings for films and movie sets. Stories on Decker, his art, and his exhibitions, appeared in many of the newspapers, and in Esquire magazine, Time, and Newsweek, and Look, among others.

Hollywood stars patiently sat at his bar in his Hollywood studio, waiting their turn to be painted by Decker. He was commissioned to do paintings in the style of various old Master painters, for the Marx brothers, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, Mickey Rooney, John Barrymore, W. C. Fields, Gene Fowler, Ben Hecht, Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, Lorraine Mowbray, Fanny Brice, and Charlie McCarthy, and others.

With his ability to replicate the painting styles of the old Master painters, throughout his life, he passed off his paintings as original Van Goghs, Rembrandts, Rouaults, among numerous other famous painters of the past. He made thousands of dollars in the process. The magnificent works fooled the most celebrated art critics and art collectors of his era.

Not only are Decker's artistic accomplishments and his troubled past worth reading about, but equally significant and interesting is the depth of the eccentric character that was John Decker, and the life he led. For 19 years, the artist lived in Hollywood. There, Decker rubbed shoulders with the largest names of his era, including his great friends Barrymore, Fields, Fowler, Hartmann, as well as Errol Flynn, Anthony Quinn, Elizabeth Taylor, Paulette Goddard, Thomas Mitchell, Philp Paval, Will Fowler, Burgess Meredith, David Selznick, and writer Ben Hecht.

The artist turned to friendships, laughter, and drinking to shield the agonies of his past. He threw wild parties that were attended by all the Hollywood notables. The book tells numerous hilarious tales of his adventures with his great and equally interesting friends. Decker feared little, exhibiting a dauntless attitude toward life. He lived life hard, and he died in the same fashion.

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born in San Francisco, CA in 1895, John Decker studied at the Slade School in London.  After settling in Los Angeles in 1922, he further studied at Chouinard Art School and painted many portraits of people in the movie industry.

In 1944 he was a partner of actor Errol Flynn in the Decker-Flynn Gallery.

He died in Los Angeles on June 7, 1947 of cirrhosis of the liver.

Member: Los Angeles Art Association.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art,1942-44; Virginia Museum, 1944 (prize); De Young Museum, 1946 (solo); Art Institute of Chicago.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Artists of the American West (Doris Dawdy); Ferdinand Perret Files; Who's Who in American Art 1947; Death record.

Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

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About  John Decker

Born:  1895 - San Francisco, California
Died:   1947 - Los Angeles, California
Known for:  celebrity portrait, landscape