Painted in 1931, and described in the Memoranda at the back of his diaries 1931-1936 as follows: ‘Ritratto Mrs John Bell di Beverly Hill 40 x 60 inches – in piedi e con paesaggio complicato nella mano sinistra tiene due rose. L’abito velluto e seta rosastro, forse uno dei miglior ritratti mai fatti da me e tutti sono entusiasti.‘ (‘Portrait of Mrs John Bell, Beverly Hill, 40 x 60 inches – standing and with intricate landscape in her left hand holding two roses. The pink velvet and silk dress. Perhaps one of the best portraits ever made by me and everyone is enthusiastic.’)
Dorothy Bell and her husband lived in 1931 at 704, North Bedford (Drive), Beverly Hills. On Sunday, August 6, 1931 the sitter’s husband wrote the following letter (artist’s papers):
‘My dear Mr. Ury:
We received your note mailed before you left and appreciate very much for taking care of the frame. I am enclosing check to cover same.
Everyone who has seen the portrait thinks it is by far the finest piece of work done in recent years and many are of the opinion that it is a finer piece of work than any on exhibit in the Huntington Gallery. Of course, Mrs. Bell and I concur with the latter class.
We both hope you had a pleasant trip over and are already looking forward to your return.
With kindest regards, I am,
Sincerely, John W. F. Bell.’
The letter concludes with a ‘message from the baby’ in childish handwriting which says, ‘Hello, Come and see us. Dorothy Louise.’ The Bell’s daughter must have been born in around 1927.
The Los Angeles Times 25 February 1932 describes Mr. Bell as a capitalist and actor. He was born on 2 September 1901 in Carlinville, Illinois, and worked for the MGM studio in Culver City. His had a stepfather called John Wigand who was born in Germany, and his mother Mary Wigand was Canadian, though born in Scotland, and approximately ten years older than her German husband, all of which implies that John Bell was the son of his mother’s first marriage, together with a brother called Angus Bell (born 5 August 1892) who spent the rest of his life in Carlinville.
John W. F. Bell apparently went bankrupt in 1932, and the bailiffs took everything they had, although the Bells managed to save the portrait. The artist recorded this in his diary for 16 February 1932, ‘I hear that Mr. J. Bell had everything confiscated but the portrait of his wife was saved.’ Muller-Ury may never have been paid for his work and he wrote in his diary on February 20, 1932 that his friend Lawrence Newman of 320 Waverly Drive, Pasadena – to whom the artist had given a still life of roses in a green vase over Christmas 1931/32 – was very sympathetic because he had chosen when to be paid for his work. Bell’s financial misfortunes forced him to move address many times in the 1930s and early 1940s, and that the marriage suffered in consequence (or his wife had died), and that their daughter was living elsewhere. He was called up to the army in 1942 and gave his mother’s name as his next-of-kin on his call-up card and said he was single.
The duotone photograph in the artist’s papers is stamped ‘Keystone Photo Service, 1231 South Olive Street, Los Angeles, Calif.’