Continental School, Rare Portrait Of Harry Houdini

Continental School, Rare Portrait Of Harry Houdini

This unusual portrait of the illusionist Harry Houdini (1874-1926) was completed during his lifetime and it’s a very rare find indeed. Portraits of this enigmatic character hardly ever surface and those that do are generally held in museums.

It’s nicely rendered and features some curious details, which add to its intrigue and allure. Note the mouth, which is slightly open as if he’s about to speak, and the eyes that gaze past us with life and intent.

Harry Houdini (Erich Weisz) was born in Budapest, Hungary, and moved to New York at the age of 13. From an early age, he decided to pursue a career as a magician and soon drew attention for his escape acts with handcuffs.

In 1899, he began touring the US, and before too long became the highest-paid performer in American vaudeville. Spurred on by an ever-demanding audience, he continually challenged himself and his act evolved to include water-filled tanks, nailed crates, and lock-picking. At one point, he was lowered upside down into a locked glass cabinet filled with water, which required him to hold his breath for more than three minutes.

Aside from his escapology exploits, Houdini also pursued a career in the movies - releasing his first film in 1901, Merveilleux Exploits du Célébre Houdini Paris. Subsequent films included The Master Mystery, The Grim Game and Terror Island.

Rather surprisingly, despite his perilous career, it was a mundane illness that finally saw the demise of the infamous entertainer. In 1926, Harry Houdini succumbed to peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix.

It’s fascinating to consider how this portrait was produced. We can’t locate a photograph with the same image so perhaps it was painted from life. It dates to around 1910 when he was in his 30s.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 19½” x 24” / 50cm x 62cm
Year of creation: c. 1910
Provenance: Scotland
Condition: Very presentable with craquelure in areas.

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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