How We Sold One Of The Most Iconic Paintings In Hollywood History

If you’re a fan of the Quentin Tarantino’s Academy Award winning masterpiece “Pulp Fiction”, then you’ll recognize this scene from the movie.

In the scene, Vincent Vega (portrayed by John Travolta) is waiting for Mia (Uma Thurman) as she prepares for their big night out. He gazes at a portrait of her that hangs over the fireplace before looking back at the bedroom where she is getting dressed.

The painting, “Portrait Of Mia” was painted by Steven Martinez – a childhood friend of Tarantino’s and the person that he choose frequently to create works and story boards for his films.

It just so happens that my partner George and I sold that very painting in our gallery eklektikos in Washington, DC in 1997 during a solo exhibit of Martinez’s work.

Ferdinand Protzman, an art critic for the Washington Post at the time, described the painting like this “If the film in question is Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” which peels away the layers of reality’s onion and pokes around in the weirdness of America’s core, then things get strange. And strange is the word for Steven Martinez’s unabashedly figurative oil-on-canvas paintings being shown at eklektikos in Georgetown.

Martinez paints some landscapes that are pleasant enough, but his passion seems to be for the human body and this exhibition of his recent work includes a bunch of pictures of women and men, clothed and not. Most of these folks are young, buff, counter-cultural types, the sort of person one finds in abundance in New York and L.A.

Pride of place here, however, goes to his oil “Uma Thurman as Mia’ for the film Pulp Fiction.’ ” The painting highlights Martinez’s strength, which is a knack for catching the essential attitude of his subjects, and weaknesses, namely problems with his figures’ proportions and his paintings’ perspective.

If Martinez meant to make Mia larger than life, he succeeded, for the woman in the picture is not the film’s skinny druggie but a hefty humanoid, the first Rubenesque heroin heroine. And the sofa upon which she sits, staring into space and holding a cigarette in hands that look like they could strangle a 55-gallon oil drum, appears to be about the size of a nuclear aircraft carrier. But who cares? Big screen, big people, big fun. Let’s do lunch. If Uma comes, we go Dutch. U.S. Male”

I still find it difficult to believe, but that exhibit was twenty years ago. If my over-worked memory is accurate, George, Quentin and I were having dinner one evening at Quentin Taratino’s mother’s home (she was and still is a close friend) when she lived in the DC area. She was a fan of the gallery and the work we exhibited, including mine and the work of my friend, the late, great Mark Planisek.

Tarantino was visiting from California and he was, at the time, working on the script for his film “Jackie Brown”. I believe it was just the four of us. George cooked. It was all very casual and fun. Either Quentin or his mother suggested that we have a solo exhibit for Martinez as he was looking to expand to the east coast.

And so we did.

It was a wonderful exhibit and a great time. The article in the Washington Post also ran with a photograph of the painting and it sold, sight unseen, via a phone call to the gallery the very same morning that the paper hit the stands.

It sold for several thousand dollars and it was purchased as a gift for a very fortunate George Washington University student by her parents. The phone didn’t stop ringing that day with calls from eager Hollywood memorabilia collectors salivating to place the work in their collection.

But, it was a case of the early bird getting the worm.

And that’s how we  happened to sale one of the most iconic works of film memorabilia art in cinematic history.