Vincent Price - Muses & The Beau Monde
Vincent Leonard Price Jr. born 27 May 1911, was an American actor best known for his performances in horror films, although his career spanned other genres, including film noir, drama, mystery, thriller, and comedy. He appeared on stage, television, and radio, and in more than 100 films.
He was also an art collector and arts consultant with a degree in art history, and he lectured and wrote books on the subject. The Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College is named in his honor. He was also a noted gourmet cook.
It is Vincent Price's passion for art and it's history that we will be exploring today, though I will share my favourite horror film of his at the end.
At Yale Price studied art history and English. When he enrolled in 1929, students had to be on the dean’s list in order to study electives like art history. “I made an effort and got on the list, so that the last two years I took almost entirely art courses,” he said in a 1992 interview with the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
In 1933, he graduated with a degree in English and a minor in Art History from Yale University, where he worked on the campus humour magazineThe Yale Record.
After teaching for a year at a school outside of New York City, he entered the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. The Courtauld had been founded only three years earlier and is today considered one of the most prominent centers for the study of art history. Price noted that in the early 1930s many of Europe’s great art historians had fled to London to escape Hitler, making it a “mecca” for the study of art.
He had intended to study for a master's degree in fine arts, instead, he was drawn to the theatre, first appearing on stage professionally in 1934. It was during his time at the Courtauld that Price befriended English stage actors, such as John Gielgud, and was drawn into the world of British theatre.
Price credited his time at Yale for helping to cement his lifelong love of art. “The indoctrination of art at Yale and the Courtauld really set my life’s pattern,” he said in his 1992 interview, “And I’ve probably kept up more study in the history of art than most people who are in it professionally. Because I’m not a professional at it. I’m an amateur — in the French sense of the word, a lover.”
He also credited one of his Yale English professors who taught Shakespeare as being an important influence his life, as was the city of New Haven, where Broadway-bound shows previewed. His acting career began in London in 1935, performing with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre.
Below is an episode of This Is Your Life, including topics like how Vincent spent his expense allowance in London and his role as commissioner of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.
In 1957, impressed by the spirit of the students and the community's need for the opportunity to experience original art works first hand, Vincent and Mary Grant Price donated 90 pieces from their private collection and a large amount of money to establish the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, California, which was the first "teaching art collection" owned by a community college in the United States. They ultimately donated some 2,000 pieces; the collection contains over 9,000 pieces and has been valued in excess of $5 million.
“Art is excitement which if we can’t create ourselves, we can at least, through love of it, make available to others.”
- Vincent Price
Price also spent time working as an art consultant for Sears-Roebuck: From 1962 to 1971, Sears offered the "Vincent Price Collection of Fine Art", selling about 50,000 fine art prints to the general public. Works which Price selected or commissioned for the collection included works by Rembrandt, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. Public access to fine art was important to Price, who, according to his daughter, Victoria, saw the Sears deal as an "opportunity to put his populist beliefs into practice, to bring art to the American public."
Price amassed his own extensive collection of art and, in 2008, a painting bought for $25 by a couple from Dallas, Texas was identified as a piece from Price's collection. Painted by leading Australian modernist Grace Cossington Smith it was given a modern valuation of $33,000.
A little side note is his connection to PFLAG, the United States' first and largest organization uniting parents, families, and allies with people who are LGBTQ+. In a previous post of mine I shared the book and podcast Making Gay History by Eric Marcus where he interviewed the creators of PFLAG and covers the difference they made.
Vincent was supportive of his daughter Victoria when she came out as a lesbian, and he was critical of Anita Bryant's anti-gay-rights campaign in the 1970s. He was an honorary board member of PFLAG and among the first celebrities to appear in public service announcements discussing AIDS. His support of the LGBTQ+ community may have been even closer to home than it first appears as his daughter has stated that she is "as close to certain as I can be that my dad had physically intimate relationships with men."
We end, as promised, with my favourite Vincent Price horror comedy film: Theatre of Blood.
After being humiliated by members of the Theatre Critics Guild at a coveted awards ceremony, Shakespearean actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart (Vincent Price) is seen committing suicide by diving into the Thames from a great height. Unbeknownst to the public, Lionheart survives and is rescued by a group of vagrants. Two years later Lionheart sets out to exact vengeance against the critics who failed to acclaim his genius, killing them one by one in a manner very similar to murder scenes from Shakespeare's plays.
Reading Recommendations & Content Considerations
A Daughter's Biography A Visual Autobiography
Victoria Price Vincent Price