Al Hirschfeld and Charlie Chaplin were long-time friends. And Chaplin was the subject of Hirschfeld’s pen many times in Hirschfeld’s long career. The affection and respect that Hirschfeld had for Chaplin is fully evident in this and every other Chaplin that Hirschfeld drew.
As it happens, Charlie Chaplin, The End was the last Edition that Hirschfeld signed. And there is something important about Chaplin that most people are not likely to know: In the 1930’s Hirschfeld took a sojourn around the World as a passenger on successive commercial cargo ships. It was not comfortable, no, but as a starving artist, Hirschfeld had to settle. The cargo ships carried him around the World, and when Hirschfeld found a port of call to his liking he would disembark and plan to continue his journey when the next cargo vessel came into port.
When his ship docked on the isle of Bali, Hirschfeld fell in love with the magic he found around him. During the weeks that he stayed there it was his routine to set up an easel near the piers and to capture his surroundings with his brush.
Hirschfeld became used to the crowds of passengers from luxury liners who would often gather around him as an audience, onlookers over the Artist’s shoulder. On one particular afternoon, Hirschfeld could feel the crowd thinning behind him as usual, but he was aware that one person still lingered to watch him work. Not wanting to be distracted by idle conversation, Hirschfeld was determined not to turn around. Hirschfeld continued to watercolor. His fan kept watching. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, the man spoke: “Tell me how much money it would take for you to support yourself for one full year, so that you can continue to watercolor without worrying about money.” Hirschfeld took this question as idle chatter and fired back an un-considered answer as he continued to paint. A few moments later, Hirschfeld saw a hand reaching over his right shoulder. In that hand was a piece of paper. “Take this,” the man said. The piece of paper was a check made out in the exact amount that Hirschfeld had cited. The signature read: Charles Chaplin.
It was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
It brings tears to my eyes, still, that Hirschfeld’s first Patron would also be his last Portrait.