| Anthony De Frange
American Realist Portrait Painter
Born: March 31, 1923 — Krebs, Oklahoma
Died: September 27, 1983 — Solon, Ohio
Sometimes known as Tony De Frange or A. DeFrange, Anthony De Frange was a skilled realist figure painter in San Francisco who specialized in portraits of celebrities and homo-erotic art. A member of the San Francisco Gay Community during the 60's and 70's, he was the first gay artist to have his gay art publicly shown in a San Francisco gallery. His work was shown at the Geary Gallery and in many venues including the cover of "California Scene." His paintings are currently in the collection of the Leslie/Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York. His work includes portraits of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Jean Harlow, Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Jeanette MacDonald, Johnny Mathis, John F. Kennedy, Alan Bates, and more..... For more information, please see the web page called Tyler and Brad's Index to Early Gay Publications & Periodicals: "Tony DeFrange: Artist of a Generation".
Mr. De Frange was born in Oklahoma in 1923 of Italian parents. As a boy he copied advertisements and sketched portraits of his family. His maternal uncle, Vincent Carano, was a fine sculptor in Italy, and on a visit in 1931, he urged his parents to cultivate Mr. De Frange's talents. He studied at the Cleveland School of Art for four years, and won many awards for his oils. Many of his portraits hang in the homes of celebrities all over the world. Among the owners of his paintings were Mae West, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Completely dedicated to his work, he would sometimes paint around the clock.
A listed American artist, De Frange's painting of Bette Davis in "Now Voyager" sold at auction for $5,000 in 2014, and his portrait of a mature Joan Crawford sold for $4,000 in 2017. In 1970, legendary actress Mae West purchased his portrait of herself as she appeared in the film "Myra Brkinridge", and paid De Frange $2,500 for it, which today is equivalent to over $16,000, adjusted for inflation.
"I always enjoyed painting movie stars. I have a fascination for them."
-- Anthony De Frange
Canvassing the galaxy of a starry-eyed painter
By John Stark
A GOLD-FRAMED OIL PORTRAIT of Barbra Streisand sits propped in the window of Anthony De Frange's art gallery on Geary near Leavenworth. All day long the Divine Miss "S" watches the passing deluge of winos, tourists and office workers -- many of whom stop to stare back at her. And no wonder. She looks so life-like, you half expect her eyes to cross and lips to move.
Barbra, however, is only the bait. Further inside the gallery a galaxy of Hollywood mugs -- all women and all looking simply gorgeous. De Frange is a portrait painter, and for the right price ($250 -- $2,500) he'll give anyone an oiled immortality. But his real love is painting movie star faves. On one wall alone are Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor, Cher, Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson.
De Frange will only paint a portrait from a photograph, be it a movie star or earthly mortal. He works from sun-up to sun-down, and considers his finest work the two weeks he spent painting Jean Harlow from "Dinner at 8".
The 54-year-old, twice divorced artist said he doesn't paint male celebrities for the simple reason that nobody buys them (he still has John F. Kennedy on the wall). "Sixty percent of my business is gay," he said. Not many straight people want portraits of Streisand and Garland -- my two biggest sellers. I must of sold at least seven or eight of them apiece. I suppose buyers feel they really have something if they have a painting of their idol."
One of De Frange's more unusual requests was for a portrait of Raquel Welch. "It was bought by a transsexual," he said.
The most expensive portrait De Frange ever sold was of Mae West -- to Mae West. She had just completed 'Myra Breckenridge' and I used a still from the film as my model. I arranged for her to see the portrait through a friend, hoping she'd buy it. I took it to her Beverly Hills apartment. She looked it over and said, "Well, I like the photograph you used, but you've made me look so old. I look as if I'd been on a binge, and I don't even drink."
De Frange retouched and resubmitted the portrait. Miss West plunked down $2,500.
The prolific painter said five per cent of his time is spent fulfilling pornographic requests. "People will come in and start hinting. They'll say, 'I'd like you to do something for me, but I doubt you will.' Those requests are always from straight people who have fixations about their sexual preferences and situations. Most hang the paintings over their beds. They feel the color in oil is more vibrant than in a photograph.
"I once had a guy come in who wanted me to paint a black girl with a Dalmatian dog. Now that was odd. I had to spend the entire day in the library trying to find a picture of a Dalmatian with his paws in the air. I was very careful not to let anyone see me painting it. But as I was wrapping it up for delivery I heard loud screams. Two old ladies were looking in the gallery window and saw it.
"I'll sometimes get requests to do orgy scenes. A person will bring in several photographs and I'll do a composite. A lot of men just want lesbians. What often happens is a guy will get married and his wife will demand he unload the paintings. My works then end up in some porny shop on Sixth Street."
De Frange also paints male nudes. "There's a market for them here and not just from the gays," he said. "It seems in other cities you can't buy nude men. It's not allowed. Women will often buy them from me to compliment a female nude they have."
Hanging in the artist's gallery is a portrait of two women who look to be in their mid-thirties. "They're lesbians," De Frange said. "The one on the left died of cancer and her friend wanted a painting of them together. The photo I based it on wasn't the best but apparently it was the only snapshot they had of each other together. The painting still hangs here. Every time the woman comes in to pick it up she goes to pieces."
De Frange said 25 per cent of his business is spent painting portraits of deceased person. "One couple had me paint their 19-year-old son who hanged himself. They said he loved antiques and so I put it in an old frame. Another request was from the parents of a 21-year-old boy who was killed in a motorcycle accident. I also get a lot of requests from gay men to paint their late mothers."
The artist is currently working on a joint portrait of two dead mothers-in-law.
Why would a living person want his or her portrait painted? "Well," said De Frange, "they're usually a little stuck on themselves. I painted a gay fellow's portrait once, and when he saw it he said, "But you've made me look so old." I redid parts of it, and when he saw it again he said, 'Now you've made me look 16.' I told him that's what happens when you remove wrinkles."
De Frange said he will paint anyone to their liking, and doesn't feel compromised by retouching the truth. "Women are always more flattered by my work than men," he said. "When I paint women, I usually give their a more glamorous neckline, nicer hairstyle and better jewelry. I want them to look elegant, not sporty."
Raised in Ohio, De Frange said he is the only member of his family who's an artist. "I'm Italian, with nine brothers and sisters. All are in different fields." He lives below his studio, in a basement that he's converted into an apartment. Although there are no windows or lightwells, there is a patio off the kitchen with a fake illuminated sun and plastic flowers.
De Frange, who paints everything from abstracts to landscapes, said he has had no formal training. He opened his gallery in 1968, and before that worked as a stock clerk for Bechtel Corp. He said his favorite artist is Norman Rockwell.
"I started doing portraits as a child," he said, "I would copy pictures that were in the newspaper. During World War II I used to sketch the guys in my barrack. But I've always enjoyed painting movie stars. I have a fascination for them. I still haven't painted Greta Garbo or Katharine Hepburn, but I'm planning to. For me, it's not work -- it's a hobby. Sometimes I'll see a photo of a famous star and it'll just jump out at me. I'll say to myself, "I've gotta paint her."
— S.F. Sunday Examiner & Chronicle,
July 25, 1976, Scene Page 3
Examiner Photos by Paul Glines
Does anyone know which artist painted the portrait of Joan Crawford that hangs above Blanche's bed in the film "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962)?
And do you know whatever became of the painting after they finished filming? It looks like the same style of portraiture as the celebrity paintings of Anthony De Frange. The photos below are screen captures showing the painting in question. Thank you in advance for any info. Please send your reply to GTabarez@aol.com