Thursday, May 12, 2016

Paintings by Katharine Hepburn

The sign above the painting says "Are you Artistic [illegible]? Join us in this [illegible] adventure. Please add a brush stroke [illegible].

Everyone needs a hobby and the movie stars are no different. Just last week we looked at the childhood sketches of Audrey Hepburn and today we look at the paintings of another Hepburn - Katharine Hepburn - for The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon hosted by Margaret Perry.

When I first googled "Paintings by Katharine Hepburn," I got only a few results. Then I happened to go to one of the websites, Sotheby's auction website, and found the motherload! Below are more than fifty paintings that were auctioned off in 2004 that were painted by Katharine Hepburn. They range from self-portraits to still life to seascapes and reveal her travels from Cuba to Connecticut to California. Information about each painting will be below it.

Hepburn's painting table, easel, and paint box.

Hughes' yacht, the Southern Cross.


Katharine Hepburn's life-long love of painting began in 1937, during her famed relationship with Howard Hughes. It was while out on his yacht that she first picked up a paintbrush. Her first two paintings, seen below, are of Nassau Harbor, Hughes' favorite sailing spot.

We used to enjoy painting together. He asked me if I'd pose nude for him. I said, "Sure, if you'll pose nude for me." That ended the discussion (114).
I Know Where I'm Going. Charlotte Chandler. From recordings made by the author.


Katharine Hepburn painted many self-portraits. Never one to be vain, they often display her natural freckles prominently, which usually end up looking like chicken pox.

This self-portrait was painted while on location for The African Queen (1951) and given as a gift to Hepburn's wardrobe lady.

12" x 9" - Note the upturned collar.

As "Lizzie" in Rainmaker (1956).

Notice the words "Baby Kate" where her left shoulder would be on the portrait on the right.

This sketch was done while recuperating in the hospital from a leg injury in 1969 during the time she was performing Coco on Broadway. Around a central image of Hepburn's face are her list of complaints, which read in part, "What's that noise/people what's wrong - I just/ can't believe that a/ group of able bodied men can't/ figure out how to run a turn/ table -...Where is she - its last hour/ Quiet - Shut up -..." A piece of tape affixed to the sketch reads "Jerry Don't Forget Kate." When Hepburn returned to the show, she gave this drawing to stage manager Jerry Adler. Source.

American Breakfast in Bed.
Self-portrait in Brisbane, Australia, 1955. 8"x6".
Pencil and Watercolor on paper. Note her trademark use of red and white.

Self-portrait on the beach, 7" x 10".

Most likely painted on the Isle of Jersey while visiting friend William Rose, the writer of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967). Note the red bathing suit and the blue "K" on the bag.

A Matter of Gravity, 1976 - total of 5 portraits

Hepburn, as Mrs. Basil, played the grandmother of a young Christopher Reeve in his career debut in the play A Matter of Gravity. Miss Hepburn had broken her ankle, and instead of passing the part on to her understudy, she played the role convincingly in a wheelchair.
June 2, 1971 - Hepburn as Coco Chanel in the Broadway play Coco.

Coco had completed its Broadway run (Hepburn received a Tony nomination) and was on a US Tour. It was her only Stage Musical.
Shakespeare self-portraits
There are a total of 14 of these, including one from Much Ado About Nothing.
Range in size from 5.5" x 3.75" to 10" x 7".


It is obvious looking at Hepburn's paintings that she loved the sea and the New England area that had been her home for most of her life. Of the 100+ paintings that she did in her life, over 40 are seascapes.

Barrenjoey Lighthouse - 4.75" x 6.5 " 

Barrenjoey Head Lighthouse is an icon of the Sydney Northern Beaches. Sydney residents and international visitors have been walking the steep track to the summit, to be rewarded with stunning views of Broken Bay.

Built in 1881 from sandstone quarried on site, the lighthouse, oil room and cottages are unique in that they retain in their original natural stone finish.

This was painted from the perspective of Palm Beach.

Two more views of Barrenjoey Lighthouse

Watch a video about this painting here.

Stratford, CT - 12" x 18"
Note the red boat

Hepburn painted these works either in the summer of 1957 or 1960 when she lived in Stratford, Connecticut, while performing at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater.

Stratford, CT

Sailboats in Stratford, CT.

When performing at the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in 1957, Hepburn rented a home that was set on the water. She painted the spider web scene from her porch, with her own feet in view, looking out on the Housatonic River.
Collection of Stratford, CT seascapes

This group includes views of the Stratford lighthouses and a self-portrait of Miss Hepburn in a boat called "Kate," docked at the Housatonic Boat Club in Stratford. Hepburn would often paint from the boat that she used to travel back and forth to the theater.

Boat and Boatclub on the Housatonic River. Painted from her boat - 13" x 9"

1960 - red boat on Housatonic River, Stratford.

Sailboats at Sunset, Fenwick - 3.5" x 14.75" (this one's my favorite)
Floorplan on reverse side

Lighthouses of Old Saybrook
Shows both inner and outer lighthouses of Fenwick on the Long Island Sound.

"Me and Phyllis"
Fenwick Gulls, 1965 - 15.75" x 20"
Handwritten note on the back says "The *ath / Fenwick Gulls / I consider this my / masterpiece / Katharine Hepburn."

Long Island

Figure by the Ocean - 6.25" x 9"

Two seascapes with lighthouses - 3" x 9"

Four seascapes from various locations - smallest 3 in. by 4 in., Largest 8 in. by 10 in.
Includes: a Venetian canal scene, painted when Miss Hepburn was making "Summertime" in 1954; a sailboat and lighthouse, painted near her Fenwick home; and a village scene, most likely painted in Australia.

Seascape and lighthouse

Three water scenes

Three Miscellaneous Scenes (note the figure in red - Hepburn) - 4" x 10"

Random Seascapes

From a sketchpad circa 1957 - 9" x 12"
A Woman by the Sea - 8" x 6"

Hepburn based this painting on a honeymoon portrait of her parents, Kit and Thomas. However, she encountered problems in rendering a likeness of her father, so she removed him from the scene.
Two Ladies on the Beach with Black Umbrellas - 9" x 6"
Based on Monet's painting "Woman with a Parasol"


Connecticut Landscapes with Buildings
Not pictured is unfinished painting of church.
Hepburn would often take day car trips from her home, Fenwick to paint outdoor scenes.

Group of three landscapes 

Central Park scene, view from Hepburn's Paris balcony, and view
of Mount Vernon with Irene Selznick.
Group of six watercolors
Top Left: Long Island Sound with Queen Anne's Lace.
Middle right: Mount Vernon with Irene Selznick.
Landscape in CA hills, 1965

The Hill of Beverly Hills - 20" x 16"
This painting included a letter on Hepburn's stationary reading: "This was done in about 1960 from the hills in back of Beverly Hills. When I was in California I always lived in a house somewhere in these hills--facing southwest to the Pacific Ocean in the distance. Lovely light. Lovely view. This was done in the Barrymore house. To the west and a bit was John Gilbert's--I rented that several times--to the southwest was Charlie Boyer's house (I rented that too). You could press a button and the dining room ceiling would slide open. Fun. Below Boyer the Prince David Mdvanni House (yes, I lived there)--then to the east of Barrymore's the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy house (yes, that too.) On another hill to the west--the Jules Stein house--built by Fred Niblo with money from the silent picture Ben Hur (I lived there.) All these great houses. See their mailboxes. They intrigued me."

View of a tree - 6.75" x 5"


Hepburn loved her family home in Connecticut - Fenwick - and the surrounding area, as is apparent in her seascapes (read more about Fenwick in my post for last years K.H. blogathon). But, being an actress, she also lived in both Hollywood and New York City and many other temporary places she had to call home. Here are some of them.

House in Los Angeles, 1965

Los Angeles Bedroom on Cukor's estate

California Landscape with Lawn Chairs, circa 1965 - most likely painted while caring for Spencer Tracy in guest cottage on George Cukor's Beverly Hills estate.

LA home with clothesline - 10" x 14"

Beverly Hills patio view (most likely Cukor's) - 14" x 20"

New York Cityscape in the style of George Bellows - 20" x 16"
Hepburn based this painting on her own George Bellows painting representing Upper Broadway, which she purchased in the 1940's.

Various paintings of Hepburn's homes.
Bottom painting is Hepburn's bedroom in her New York City townhouse with a Cecil Beaton portrait over the fireplace.


As an actress, Hepburn traveled frequently for on-location films, such as for The African Queen (1951) and Summertime (1955). She also accompanied Spencer Tracy to Cuba, while he was filming The Old Man and the Sea (1958).
7 Australian Landscapes (4 not pictured) 

Hepburn painted these during the 1955 Old Vic Shakespearean tour which took her to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The beach scene features fellow friend and actor Robert Helpmann.

Untitled painting. Note Cuban flag.

Cuban views, 1957
Hepburn painted these while with Tracy in Cuba. One is a view of La Punta Fortress and one of the Plaza De Armas.
View from bed, Cuba.
Oil on cigar box lid. 4" x 5.5".
This is the room Hepburn and Tracy stayed in while Tracy was filming The Old Man and the Sea (1958).
5 watercolors of figures
 Beach Scenes in different locales (one with red and white umbrella's in Cuba, 1957).
Two paintings of Jamaica: Palm Tree & Hotel Stairs to the Beach. Painted while visiting her friend Noel Coward.


Hepburn's most famous love-affair, and indeed probably the most famous in all of Hollywood history, was with Spencer Tracy, with whom she made nine films. As Tracy was married, they kept their affair very quiet. In the 1960s, Hepburn took a five year break from movies to care for the ailing Tracy. They lived together in a cottage on George Cukor's Beverly Hills estate (Tracy and his wife had not lived together for years). Hepburn did not open up about her love for Tracy until after the death of his wife in 1983. Below are a few sketches she did of Tracy.

This is the only double portrait of Hepburn and Tracy known to exist. 10.75" x 8.5".

1965 - 8" x 6"
Tracy in his favorite chair in their guest cottage on the Cukor estate. His face is obscure by the newspaper because Hepburn couldn't get it "quite right." It was always displayed next to her bed in her NYC townhouse.
On the wall were paintings Kate had collected and some she had painted. There were also some of Tracy's.
"I won't tell you which ones Spence did,"she said. "He wouldn't like it. He didn't mind my having the pictures, but he didn't sign them. He hoped that only I would know, especially as long as he was alive.  
"He considered his paintings so very personal and private. He said the paintings were more private than being naked. 'Naked only shows your outside,' he said, 'but paintings show what's in your heart, your deepest feelings and how you see the world.'
"I can't tell you which ones are Spencer's, but they're the ones that aren't mine." Kate always signed hers (Chandler, 302).
10" x 7" - A Walk with Spencer, 1952. 
Hepburn painted this scene of Spencer Tracy walking in one of their favorite parks while appearing in George Bernard Shaw's play The Millionairess in London.

Pencil drawings on notepads, 1965. Profile of woman. Spencer Tracy on phone. Tracy's dog, Lobo.


While caring for Tracy, Hepburn painted several still-life pictures. The red items in the painting are "symbolic self-portraits," a way of placing herself in the painting in a spiritual rather than human form.

10" x 14"

Basket of Fruit, 1964 - 4.75" x 6.25"

1965 - 11.75" x 15.75"

1960 - 8" x 12"

OTHER (sketches, portraits, etc.)

Sketchbook of assorted pictures

Phyllis Wilbourn - 20" x 12"
Miss Wilbourn served as Katharine Hepburn's secretary, companion and friend. Miss Hepburn speaks of her in her autobiography Me: "Phyllis Wilbourn is my right hand. She came to me in the middle fifties. Her employer, Constance Collier, had died...She has worked for me since then...She is a totally selfless person - (well, I have to say to you what just came into mind) - working for a totally selfish person...She is there to help me - to keep me company - to let me be alone - to do things for other people which I should be doing for other people...She's unique. She's an angel" (353).


  1. Wow, these are lovely (I wish I could paint like that :'( They make me think of the ones you show in your post for the Audrey Hepburn Blogathon! My favourite ones are the boats paintings. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

    Don't forget to read my entry as well! :)

    1. I wish I could paint like that too! I love the ocean so the seascapes are my favorites as well :)

  2. Wow, wow, WOW! Kate was the greatest actress ever and also a gifted painter! I loved all the paintings, but I particularly like her self-portrait at the beach. Thanks for putting together this amazing post!

    1. Thanks! I know, all that talent in one person!!! I like that picture a lot too :)

    2. Great idea!!! IS there a real book bring printed? It would be a fine idea... INstead of just virtual art. I'd definitely buy one, and let friends know, too.

    3. Not to my knowledge. I found these images on the auction website but a book would be fantastic!! Great conversation starter!!

  3. Hi there!!

    You don't happen to know who acquired Ms Hepburn's painting of the lighthouse in Sydney, Australia, do you?

    I have contacts there in the vicinity of the lighthouse (at Barrenjoey/Palm Beach on Sydney's Northern Beaches). They are keen to make contact with the owners.

    Any pointers??

    1. I’m afraid I don’t. Sorry!

    2. Darn, that's a shame.

      For purposes of fair dealing, though, are the images of Ms Hepburn's paintings of the Barrenjoey lighthouse on this blog available for use on another site if we credit you?

      I have in mind a short article about them to go here...

      That is the local government body that administers the area where the lighthouse is in Sydney.

    3. I would just credit Sotheby's Auctions. There's a link at the top of this post that shows how much all the paintings sold for :)

  4. Do you have any information on the ownership of the picture of the blue ketch painted in Stratford, CT around 1957?

  5. Thank you SO much!!! I could not find her work anywhere. This is wonderful.

    1. You’re welcome! Wouldn’t it be nice if someone made a book of all her paintings?

  6. Felicidades!!! Estaba buscando curiosidades y me encontré esta maravilla. Sí, tienes razón, sería magnífico poder recompilar todo su trabajo artístico en un libro. Felicidades de nuevo!!.