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 Dimitri Vail  (1903 - 1991)

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Lived/Active: Texas/Ohio      Known for: celebrity portrait painting, still life, landscape, teaching

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Robert David Vail is primarily known as Dimitri Vail

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Ad Code: 4
Dimitri Vail Pencil Sketch
Pencil Sketch 1939
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
Biography from Roughton Galleries,Inc:
Dmitri Vail was born Robert David Vail in Columbus, Ohio March 6, 1903. In a 1986, Vail changed his name to Dmitri to make it sound more artistic. He left Ohio State University in his freshman year to pursue his art career. Two years later, he received a commission for his first portrait to paint the mayor of Columbus. He lived briefly in Chicago and in California before moving to Dallas in 1942.
By the 50's and early 60's, Dmitri Vail became a Dallas celebrity with an international reputation as a portrait painter For more than two decades, Vail painted the city's socially prominent and wealthy the list included Tom Braniff and Edwin Kiest and such movie stars as Emmett Kelly, Mickey Rooney, Audie Murphy and Carol Burnett sat for portraits at his Highland Park studio. Many of these portraits hung in the hall way of the Hilton Inn on the corner of Mockingbird and Hwy. 75.

The 1962 portrait of Audie Murphy In 1962, Audie Murphy was an admirer of Vail's work and while in the Dallas area travelled to Vail's studio on five separate days to pose for the portrait. It was reported by a Dallas newspaper that the painting was destined to hang in the Texas State Capitol along with another portrait created in 1951 by another Dallas artist, Kipp Soldwedel. However, the Vail painting never ended up in the state capitol. It hung for a long period of time in the Addison, Texas home purchased by Audie Murphy over a staircase (later converted to "Doves" restaurant).

A few of his most famous portraits were of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. The portrait of Lyndon Johnson hangs at the Lyndon Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas. At his peak of Vail's career, his portrait commissions were commanding up to $50,000 for a full-length portrait.

Dmitri Vail also painted landscapes and floral still lifes, which never gained critical acclaim. Vail had a disdain for museums and their displays of modern and abstract art, which he shunned.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Vail worked with the Fair Park Music Hall in Dallas to paint portraits of celebrities who performed there. The Music Hall displayed the portraits until 1971, when the building was remodeled.

Vail also built a personal reputation in Dallas for being offbeat or ahead of his time. Among his more attention-getting habits in the early 1960s were roller skating, yoga and making his own bread.

In the early '70s, his eyesight and hearing failing, Vail stopped painting and opened a school for portrait artists. The school operated until the early 1980s. His students at the Vail school were called on several times to draw composite sketches of criminal suspects for local law enforcement agencies.

A series of major operations, including one to remove a blood clot from the brain, added to financial problems that forced Vail to file for bankruptcy in September 1986. Vail would die in 1991 of pneumonia at the age of 88.

Written and submitted by Brian Roughton

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