RICHMOND VA. (AP) -- John D. Slavin, who at the height of his career two decades ago was internationally acclaimed as a portrait artist, observed his fifty-ninth birthday in a poorhouse.
Ailing with diabetes, his brawn hair graying, still limping from a fall suffered years ago, Slavin since last April has been in the Little Sisters of the Poor Home in Richmond; a far cry from the days in the 1940’s when Slavin was, by his account, earning $50,000 a year from his portraits of famed Americans -- among them President Harry S. Truman and actor John Barrymore.
The money just went," he says -- some wasted, some spent for doctor bills and nursing care, some given away . . .“It’s just gone.”
In years gone by, Slavin’s paintings were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Cleveland Museum and the Royal Academy in London.
Besides the portrait of President Truman -- “he stIll has it, you know” -- and three of John Barrymore, painted when the actor was in Chicago, Slavin painted portraits of five Virginia governors. The portraits hang in the state Capitol here.
Washington art critic Elizabeth Poe called his Truman portrait “an historic masterpiece.” Slavin turned out, at one tIme, 40 portraIts a year.
Now Slavin sleeps in a plain, fourth-floor room at the home. His bed, one of seven in the room, is No. 132.
He still paints a little -- three portraits last year. He made $750 and that, too, is gone.
Thursday was a rather lonely birthday -- no birthday cards, although there was a week-old letter from a friend. For recreation, Slavin played some pool.
He thinks there are better days ahead.
"I expect to leave here real soon,” says Slavin. “I’m going to paint terrifically again. Here, or in Washington... "or someplace.”
Des Moines (Iowa) Tribune, March 7, 1969.