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"Virtually all the photojournalists focused on taking frontal shots of the Babe...But Nat Fein soon realized that it was unnecessary to show the frail face of the once great Sultan of Swat. 'Any way you looked at him you knew it was the Babe. Front or back, that was Babe Ruth and the old number 3,' said Fein. He then walked away from the bulk of the other photographers and retreated to the rear of the most recognizable uniform in American sports history."
David Nieves, The Fein Story Behind the Pictures (New York: Nat Fein Collection, 2008)
The first sports image ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography, Nat Fein's "The Babe Bows Out" captured Ruth during his stirring farewell at the House That He Built. Frail, hunched over, cap in hand, using Bob Feller's bat as a cane, the ailing pinstriped hero remained larger than life even as he faced certain death. There exists not a single more famous image of Babe—or, for that matter, of baseball. Featured on the cover of TIME Magazine's 2012 book History's Greatest Photos: The World's 100 Most Influential Photographs, Fein's masterpiece belongs to the elite echelon of such world-shaping shots as Joe Rosenthal's "Flag Raising at Iwo Jima" and Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother."
It is only fitting, then, that acclaimed photorealist artist Adam Port has hand-selected "The Babe Bows Out" as his newest creation in THE LEGENDARY ICONS SERIES—Port's extraordinary year-long project honoring the single most iconic images of history's immortal sports legends. Back in November, Legendary Auctions proudly debuted the series with Port's poignant portrait of Lou Gehrig mustering the courage to deliver his inspiring, heartrending Luckiest Man speech. Now it is Babe Ruth's turn to take a bow.
New York Herald Tribune photographer Nat Fein (1914-2000) wasn't supposed to be at Yankee Stadium on June 13, 1948. His news beat was city life, politics, crime and the arts. But when one of his colleagues in the sports department called out sick, it was Fein who filled in on the assignment, taking his Speed Graphic camera to the Bronx for what he'd heard was a ceremony for Babe Ruth. The first heartbreaking photo-op came in the Yankees locker room as Ruth, stricken with cancer, feebly struggled to suit up and tie his shoes. Fein's next shot was taken from the field as Babe exerted all his energy just to emerge from the visiting Cleveland Indians dugout (formerly the Yankees dugout during their Murderers Row heyday). While the band played "Auld Lang Syne," the Bambino doffed his cap to the roaring ovation of almost 50,000 spectators. "I could see grown men with tears in their eyes, some openly crying," Fein later recounted. "Those of us on the field tried hard to hide our emotions from the dying Ruth."
Then Fein had a stroke of genius—or, in his own words, got "lucky in a way." He broke ranks with the other press photographers and circled behind the scene, which provided a unique perspective on the veteran players along the first-base line, on the stadium filled to the rafters, on the facade festooned with banners and flags...and, most importantly, on the Number 3 that was officially retired that epic summer afternoon. "The Babe Bows Out" graced newspapers nationwide the next day, and then again when Ruth died just two months later. It garnered the prestigious Pulitzer in May of 1949 and is now featured prominently at both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian Institute.
Adam Port's Fein artwork serves as a perfect compliment to the Lou Gehrig "Luckiest Man" portrait that kicked off the LEGENDARY ICONS SERIES. Both Gehrig and Ruth turned weakness into strength, tragedy into triumph, desperation into inspiration, donning their pinstripes for one last hurrah before the Yankee Stadium faithful. Ironically, though, while Gehrig often avoided the spotlight and forever lived in Ruth's looming shadow, it is the Iron Horse who has gone down in history facing the cameras, whereas the Sultan of Swat for all eternity remains humbly turned away from Nat Fein's lens.
With his trademark painstaking accuracy and meticulous attention to detail, Adam Port has crafted a successor every bit as mesmerizing as the "Luckiest Man." Port's "Babe Bows Out" utilizes his perfected technique of acrylic paint and colored pencil to captivating effect in intricately documenting every Ruthian contour, every uniform fold, every sunlit reflection, every sideline figure, every chalked basepath, every fencepost in the upper deck's fabled curving frieze, everything. The spellbinding, startlingly life-like work is an absolute wonder to behold.
This second premier offering in the LEGENDARY ICONS SERIES BY ADAM PORT measures 31-1/2" x 40" and is elegantly framed to overall dimensions of 38-1/2" x 47".
Since emerging on the New York art scene in 2000, Adam Port has evolved from a young phenom into one of the nation's leading sports and entertainment artists. His clientele includes fine-art collectors; influential entities like the NBA, Basketball Hall of Fame and Elvis Presley Enterprises; and celebrities like Michael Jordan, Carmelo Anthony and Ray Lewis.
In Legendary's March 2012 auction, we had the pleasure to offer 5 of Adam Port's original works that had previously exhibited during a Charles Conlon Collection gala event, held at New York City's Openhouse Gallery on September 19, 2011. That quintet became wildly popular on the auction block, averaging nearly $11,000 per piece, with "Ty Cobb Sliding" realizing a record-breaking $23,900. Port's portfolio can be viewed at www.adamport.com.