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A blog about about painting, design and other aspects of aesthetics along with a dash of non-art topics. The point-of-view is that modernism in art is an idea that has, after a century or more, been thoroughly tested and found wanting. Not to say that it should be abolished -- just put in its proper, diminished place.

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  • 01/19/15--01:00: JJ Shannon's Portrait Art
  • James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) was born in New York State, the child of Irish immigrants. The family moved to Canada a few years later, and when Shannon's artistic abilities became obvious he was sent to London for training at South Kensington.  Thereafter, he worked mostly in England, became a member of the Royal Academy and was knighted at some point along the way. Biographical and other information can be found here, here and here.

    There were many very good portrait painters in England during Shannon's time, John Singer Sargent being the best known. Perhaps for that reason Shannon does not easily come to mind. I think that is unfortunate because he made attractive likenesses using a nice painterly touch. Take a look:


    Ruby Miller

    Estelle - 1886

    Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland - c.1890

    Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland

    Violet Lindsay, Duchess of Rutland - 1918
    Three portraits of the Duchess of Rutland, painted at various times.

    Mary, Princess Royal - 1914
    Mary was the only daughter of King George V.

    Marjory Manners, later Marchioness of Anglesey

    The Sevres Vase

    Mary Gascoigne-Cecil when Marchioness of Hartington - c.1917-18

    Blessed Are They (unfinished)

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    One of the most successful American illustrators of the 1930s was John La Gatta (1894-1977). His last name is also rendered as LaGatta, the way it usually seemed to appear in his distinctive signature block. But I see where his son has it as La Gatta, so I will use that version here even though I'll likely slip back to LaGatta in other posts dealing with him.

    La Gatta was born in Naples, Italy, and came to America when he was a young boy. His art training was at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. By the early 1920s he had begun to establish a reputation as an illustrator of beautiful women, and from the mid-20s through most of the 1930s his career was at its peak. His earnings allowed him to live on the posh North Shore of Long Island and own a yacht. More about his life and career can be found here, here and here.

    Unlike many 1920s vintage illustrators, and perhaps because in some sense he was a fashion artist, he relied heavily on drawing with charcoal or other drawing tools, adding color when required using water-based or thinned oil paint washes. Examples of this classic La Gatta style are shown below. Of course, he also used other styles and media when called for, and I might deal with that in another post.


    Fashion drawing - early 1920s

    Life cover - 27 October 1927

    Fancy dress couple - 1929

    Life cover - 11 January 1929

    "Great Gatsby" scene

    Laros Lingerie advertising art

    Ladies' Home Journal cover - March 1933

    Ladies' Home Journal cover - October 1932

    Young lady drinking tea - late 1930s?

    Saturday Evening Post cover - 5 July 1930

    "Milk and Honey" illustration - March 1933

    La Gatta's iconic illustration

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    The poster-like illustration above is probably book cover or poster art by Brian Caldwell Cook Batsford (1910-1991), something apparently innovative in its day and now considered collectible.

    A brief Wikipedia entry on Cook is here, and a better, much more detailed biographical sketch is here.

    It seems that Cook was a bored student in school whose only interest was painting. His grades were so mediocre that university was out of the question for him. Fortunately, an uncle was a publisher, so Cook went to work at Batsford's, a firm he eventually led. He added Batsford to his name after leaving the RAF after World War 2 when he returned to the firm. Cook created many wraparound book covers for Batsford as well as posters for others.

    On the side, he was a Tory parliamentarian and eventually was knighted.


    The front cover of a book I'm currently reading that deals with the London of 1932. Missing is the bloc containing the writer's name (Paul Cohen-Portheim).  The orange stripe at the right is not on my copy.

    Here are examples of wrap-around book covers illustrated by Cook.

    Cook didn't always do landscapes and cityscapes.

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  • 01/26/15--01:00: New Robert McGinnis Book

  • This is the cover of a recently published book about illustrator Robert McGinnis (1926- ) and his works.

    And this is another book dealing with McGinnis by the same author that was published in 2001. I happen to happen a copy of each, so they will be dealt with in this post. A brief Wikipedia entry on McGinnis is here, and his Web site is here.

    McGinnis is what is called an "all-rounder" in that he can depict almost anything well -- landscapes, cars, sailing ships. Also, by the way, lanky, sensuous, intelligent and fascinating women -- usually lacking in clothing. He painted hundreds of the latter because the major part of his career was doing cover art for paperback books, and a "good" cover from the standpoint of a publisher was a cover that could attract potential readers and entice them to buy the book. Since many paperback books deal with murder mysteries, romance, and such, McGinnis' subjects were usually women. He was very, very good at it.

    McGinnis' women almost always are tall, long-legged and well endowed where it counts. They also have distinct personalities. None of the usual cookie-cutter generic pretty girl solutions for McGinnis: his women often had unconventional faces (for instance, Shere Hite was a frequent model early in his career). As the recent book mentions, in many respects McGinnis was doing portraits.

    He generally used gouache or tempera on smooth-surface supports for the book illustrations and worked comparatively small -- about twice the size of the printed version, which is not large where paperback books are concerned.

    The recent book has a large format, allowing readers to get a reasonably good feeling for McGinnis' painting style. It also had a Q&A with McGinnis that is brief, but interesting. He reveals what illustrator most influenced him when he was getting started doing book covers and tells who his favorite painter is.

    One defect of the new book is that reference photos are nearly absent. Another is that nothing is said regarding his technique or approach when making book cover illustrations, though some study sketches are included. Moreover, McGinnis is a skilled colorist, and his thoughts on that would be very useful to learn. Admittedly, these matters are mostly of interest to fellow artists, and perhaps the book was intended for for non-artist McGinnis fans.

    The earlier book has a few more reference photos, but they are tiny. And many illustrations and book cover images are small. Again, nothing much on how McGinnis worked. Still, the earlier book is interesting and useful for the likes of artistic McGinnis fans such as me.


    Never Kill a Client - cover art - 1963
    Strange, interesting background here.  Did he draw it in pen and ink and then paint a wash over it?

    Murder Me for Nickels - cover art (cropped at the bottom) - 1960
    Again, plenty of interesting textural effects.

    Girl on the Tower - Saturday Evening Post - 24 September 1960
    At this point, even the Post was allowing a casual, partly unfinished style for story illustrations.

    Slab Happy - cover art - 1973
    A subject without a conventionally pretty face.  The new book includes a reference photo showing that McGinnis did indeed portray his model's face -- but enhanced her elsewhere.

    Some Like It Cool - cover art - 1962
    Did I just mention that McGinnis was a skilled colorist?

    John Wayne in "The Searchers"
    He didn't always paint pretty girls, even when doing movie industry work.

    Guideposts magazine illustration
    This hints at his landscape style.

    The Return - cover art
    A rather unusual McGinnis here.  Aside from the treatment of the church and hills in the background, it looks like he was suffering from Bernie Fuchs envy.

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    Edward Cucuel (1875-1954) was born and died in California. But his parents were German, and he spent much of his career there following training in Paris and flitting back and forth to the States. He left Germany for good when World War 2 started. These and other details of his life can be found here and here.

    The second source mentions that Cucuel, who mostly portrayed attractive young women, used family members and friends rather than professional models. To judge from his body of work (just Google on his name and then go to Images), his friends must have been dear and the family members very obliging. That's because he did painting after painting showing a pretty woman in white dress, lounging around so that plenty of leg above her white hose was showing and, by the way, part of the top had fallen away to expose a small breast. I show only one of the latter below, the rest indicating other subjects he painted.


    Picking Flowers
    Some of his ladies were fully dressed and not wearing white.

    Mädchen in einem Interieur
    Although the title I found for this is in German, it was probably painted around 1950 when Cucuel lived in Pasadena.

    Picnic on the Starnberger See
    This painting seems a bit more hard-edge than some of the others, but that might be due simply to size.

    Die Badenixen

    Wood Nymph
    Flatter than most his his paintings. If the tree trunk were less modeled, that would be an improvement to what already is an interesting work.

    Young woman on dock
    The perspective of the sailboat is highly distorted -- for no good reason, in my opinion.

    Young woman reading in garden

    Young woman sleeping, parasol
    Were I female and dressed like that, I'm not sure I'd want to flop on the grass.

    Young woman sleeping on a sofa
    One of many of this general theme.

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    This post about Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928) is rather brief because I couldn't find many useful examples of his work on the Internet.

    It seems that Davies, obscure today, was well-known and made a good living as an artist. Plus, it seems he had an interesting life, having one legal wife along with another, secret, de facto one, both with his children. This and his artistic career are well-covered here, here and here.

    From what I've seen, I'd rate Davies as a Symbolist -- his painting owned by New York's Met featuring unicorns, and many other works dealing with dancers. Especially during the 20th century's 'teen years, he plunged into modernist styles, though not deeply or completely. Apparently this cut down his sales, so he shifted back to more clearly representational paintings in the 1920s.

    For what my opinion might be worth, I saw no Davies painting that struck my fancy.


    Unicorns (Legend - Sea Calm) - 1906

    Air, Light, and Wave - ca. 1914-17

    Figures in a Landscape

    The Dancers
    This is in the Phillips Collection for some reason.

    The Dawning - 1915

    I think this is a Davies, but the Web information on it is sketchy.

    Italian Hill Town - Ca. 1925
    Here he is back to representational painting.

    Heliodora - 1926

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  • 02/02/15--01:00: "Art Deco Hawaii" Exhibit
  • One of Edward Lucie-Smith's many books is titled Art Deco Painting. With all due respect, I find it difficult to class a painting as "Art Deco," though I already conceded that Jean Dupas' works fill that bill. And probably the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka as well.

    Which leads me to the recent (3 July 2014 - 11 January 2015) exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art titled "Art Deco Hawaii" that I was able to visit a few days before it closed. There were some pieces of sculpture and some print items, but much of what was on display was paintings -- some were illustration art, others were fine arts images.

    To me, Art Deco (a term retrospectively coined by Bevis Hillier in the late 1960s) is primarily an ornamentation style in architecture and graphic arts, secondarily a sculpture genre, and sometimes a variety of mannered illustration. As mentioned, not much in the way of paintings, though that's what the exhibit featured.

    So-called Art Deco paintings fall into the category of simplified representation that was common between the two world wars. That is, aspects of pre-Great War modernism were incorporated in an effort to come to terms with modernism without going whole-hog. I deal with this in my e-book "Art Adrift" mentioned on this blog's sidebar. And that was pretty much what I saw: typical 1920s and 1930s paintings with little true Art Deco spirit. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my visit. Below are some images from the Internet along with some photos (a few are cropped slightly) that I took.


    Girl with ukulele - Edward Eggleston - ca. 1925-30
    Eggleston was an illustrator who seemed to specialize in pretty girls. I mention one of his travel posters here.

    Lei Makers - Cornelia Macintyre Foley - 1934
    Information on Foley (1909-2010) is here. Her style is that often seen in the 1930s, reminding me of the work of Mexican muralists active in those days.

    Lithograph by Robert Riggs
    Riggs was a leading illustrator in his time. David Apatoff wrote about him here. I didn't know that he dabbled in fine arts, so was surprised to spy this lithograph.

    Discovery - Arman Manookian - 1928
    Manookian (1904-1931) was born in Turkey, received his art education in the USA, served in the Marine Corps in the 1920s, practiced commercial and fine arts in Hawaii and then killed himself. More biographical information is here. According to the link, he didn't make many paintings over his brief career, and they are seldom shown publicly. So I was fortunate that several were on display. I consider the one above to be amongst his better ones.

    Aloha ... the Universal Word - Eugene Savage - 1940
    This was one of a set of murals that Savage (1883-1978) was commissioned to paint by the Matson Navigation Company, whose liners carried tourists and others between San Francisco and Honolulu for many decades. The murals were intended to be placed on the liners, but World War 2 intervened and the artwork wound up being reproduced on ships menus and such. Matson still owns the original murals, but large reproductions can be found in places such as Honolulu's Royal Hawaiian Hotel (once owned by Matson). I was pleased to be able to finally view the original artwork.

    "Aloha" - detail

    Pomp and Circumstance - Eugene Savage - 1940
    Savage's Matson murals are crammed with detail, but that's the norm for mural paintings. His Hawaiians don't look very Hawaiian to me, but that really doesn't matter because Savage was trying to create evocations rather than documentation. An oddity in some of the murals is one figure staring out at viewers, as if caught by a camera. (Note the fellow towards the left side.) The paintings featured here include groups of females holding identical poses, which is a decorative characteristic of Art Deco.

    "Pomp" - detail
    Click to enlarge the two detail photos for a closer look at Savage's brushwork.

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    One of my posts that's most often linked is this one dealing with Helen of Troy of the Homeric epic. Here is yet another version of Helen.

    Helen of Troy - 1863

    The model - Annie Miller, ca. 1860

    It was by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), a founder of the famous Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of young, mid-19th century British artists. He mostly painted what amounted to portraits of women in literary settings. He used various women for this purpose, and in his paintings, they all looked fairly similar, as we shall see.

    The Wikipedia entry for Rossetti is here.

    Regardless of who the model was, Rossetti usually transformed her into a woman with a long nose, a short upper lip/muzzle zone, a strong chin and a long neck. Also, her hair tended to be parted at or near the the center of her head and was usually long and wavy. Below are more examples of Rossetti's women along with photographs of the models.


    Beata Beatrix - 1864-72

    The posthumous model - Elizabeth Siddal, ca. 1860
    Siddal (1829-1862) was Rossetti's wife, who died young.

    La Ghirlandata - 1871-74

    The model - Alexa Wilding, ca. 1875

    Bocca Baciata - 1859

    The model - Fanny Cornforth, 1863
    She was Rossetti's housekeeper and mistress for many years.

    Astarte Syriaca - 1875-77

    Beatrice - 1879

    The model - Jane Morris (neé Burden), 1865
    She was married to William Morris of the Arts & Crafts movement. It seems that Rossetti was infatuated with her, and her looks tended to merge into the paintings he made using other models, as can be seen above.

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    One of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's "lost" buildings is his (1923-1967) Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

    Actually, it seems that part of it survives at the Meiji-Mura Museum near Nagoya (see the above link for details). Surviving bits are mostly in the form of exterior stone decorations, lobby furnishings and such because the brick and concrete construction of the original could not be disassembled.

    It happened that I was in Japan a few times while serving in the U.S. Army and took some slide photos of the hotel that I recently scanned and digitally adjusted. The images aren't very good, but at least they offer a sense of what the Imperial Hotel was like a few years before it was demolished. Had I known its future, I probably would have taken many more photos to document the building.


    An architectural rendering of the Imperial Hotel. The images below deal with the entrance court area which appears at the right-center of the rendering. It faced out towards the Imperial Palace plaza. The wing in the foreground was along a street leading to the Ginza district and contained shops on its lower level.

    Two postcard views of the hotel from around 1932, to judge by the automobiles. These images should serve as orientation to my four photos below.

    This shows part of the gardens and a tiny glimpse of the building. It was taken in June of 1964.

    Also taken in June, 1964. It shows the pond by the entrance as well as some entrance details. By this time, the stone ornamentation was getting pretty mildewed.

    This photo and the next one were taken in March 1964 when I spent a week in Tokyo on temporary duty at the Stars and Stripes newspaper.. The weather was gloomy the day I took these photos. Worse, the film I used was Kodak's Ektachrome, a cheaper alternative to its now-discontinued Kodachrome color film. Seen here is the entrance and reflecting pond. Among the cars shown are a Chevrolet and a Cadillac, Japan having little in the way of domestically built large automobiles in those days.

    This photo shows some of the brickwork and decorative detailing.

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    So far as I know when drafting this post, he is still alive and probably illustrating automobiles. That would be Art Fitzpatrick, born in 1920 or maybe a year or two earlier. Although he did automobile advertising art for several American car makers in the 1940s and 50s, his fame is largely due to his work for Pontiac in the 1960s and 70s in collaboration with Van Kaufman. Fitzpatrick rendered the cars and Kaufman provided the backgrounds.

    I didn't notice a biography of either artist on a quick Google search. In place of that, some links dealing with Fitzpatrick's career and work are here, here and here. Of particular interest is this link which features an interview with him.

    The present post features images created by Fitzpatrick ("AF" was the signature he used) and Kaufman ("VK") for Pontiac's 1962 and 1963 Grand Prix models. Fitzpatrick mentioned that the new (for 1962) Grand Prix model's name implied Europe, so he and Kaufman researched European backgrounds they thought would be suitable for advertisements. In one telling observation, he stated that their Pontiac illustrations were unusual for the times because the people in the scenes were not admiring the cars, but instead were doing other things that fit the context of the scene being shown.

    I include 1962 Grand Prix illustrations because that was the first year for that model. The 1963 cars were based on a new body (note differences in the windshield), and I consider its styling especially nice; a thorough repudiation of the baroque styling excesses of the 1950s.


    1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
    Shown along the Corniche high route along the French Riviera.

    1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
    Another Riviera setting, though I'm not sure where (Cannes?).

    1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
    France, again. Note the Citroën Traction-Avant in the background.

    1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
    Still in France, but again I can't pin down the location. Please comment if you know where.

    1962 Pontiac Grand Prix
    Big change: Back in the good old USA.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
    This illustration might be from a brochure. Ditto the image immediately above it.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
    One source has the setting as the canal along the Loire River.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
    Might be Portofino. Note the sketchy style of both the car and background components. And the cyclist blocking part of the car: bold for a car ad then.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix
    In front of the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, down the hill a short ways from the Monte Carlo casino.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix advertisement
    On the Pont Alexandre III in Paris.

    1963 Pontiac Grand Prix advertisement
    That's Paris' Opéra Garnier in the background.

    Cross posted at Car Style Critic

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    As happens every fall, the British component of the Art Establishment has spoken. Herein is the 2014 Turner Prize winner and the three other finalists.

    Duncan Campbell was the winner; the Tate webpage citation is here, and includes the following: "Campbell makes films about controversial figures such as the Irish political activist Bernadette Devlin or the quixotic car manufacturer John DeLorean. By mixing archive footage and new material, he questions and challenges the documentary form."

    As for the runners-up, there is Ciara Phillips.

    The Tate link mentions "Phillips works with all kinds of prints: from screenprints and textiles to photos and wall paintings. She often works collaboratively, transforming the gallery into a workshop and involving other artists, designers and local community groups. Phillips has taken inspiration from Corita Kent (1918–1986), a pioneering artist, educator and activist who reinterpreted the advertising slogans and imagery of 1960s consumer culture." The image above of a Phillips exhibit credits the late Corita Kent with the "text works." Phillips' specialty is printmaking.

    Then there is Tris Vonna-Michell (link). "Through fast-paced spoken word live performances and audio recordings Vonna-Michell (born Southend, 1982) tells circuitous and multilayered stories. Accompanied by a ‘visual script’ of slide projections, photocopies and other ephemera, his works are characterised by fragments of information, detours and dead ends."

    James Richards' display of blankets from 2007, above, is titled "Untitled Merchandise (Lovers and Dealers)" -- not his Turner Prize effort -- that the Telegraph helpfully explains as showing artist Keith Haring's "dealers and boyfriends." The Tate link is here, including the following: "Born in 1983 in Cardiff, Richards was nominated for Rosebud, which includes close-ups of art books in a Tokyo library – the genitalia scratched out to comply with censorship laws."

    So this is art worthy of our attention and respect.

    Though I've seen neither Campbell's movies nor Vonna-Michell's standup schtick (though I'm virtually certain they're of the postmodernist ilk), what we seem to have here is a group of career-building posturers quite likely cynically gaming the postmodernist Art Establishment system by being "creative,""innovative," and "fearless" in shocking the bourgeoisie while posing as vedettes of the avant-garde.

    Fundamentally, they are not as serious as they think (though they are unlikely to admit it).

    But the real problem, in my warped (from their perspective) mind is the committee of establishmentarians who selected the finalists and winner. What on earth could they have been thinking? My guess is that they were fearful of being accused of conservatism.

    I don't want to get into the business of trying to define "art." Though I think a useful distinction worth preserving is the concept of Fine Arts and Fine Arts - related illustration as opposed to other "arts" such as film, dance, graphic novels, and the self-promotional artifacts the Turner committee seems to prefer.

    Moreover, I don't like the idea of "art" being defined by a body of "experts." That easily leads to bureaucratic rigidity exemplified by the French Academy in days of yore.

    Nor do I especially welcome the self-proclaimed "artist" who defines whatever he is producing as "art." Actually, there is no real harm in that so long as there would be a philistine accusation-free zone where others could gauge those products against their own tastes and are allowed to publicly proclaim that what they are viewing is usually silly. Which is what I think most Turner Prize "art" is.

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    As his lengthy Wikipedia entry indicates, Hans Baluschek (1870-1935) was a man of the political left who made a career of painting and illustration until the National Socialists took power and terminated his livelihood.

    Even though he had his motivations, the Baluschek images I viewed on the Internet were politically cautious, basically what is generally called "realism" or "genre" work. To put it another way, he seldom (or never, perhaps) made crude, in-your-face political cartoons-as-paintings in the manner of George Grosz or Otto Dix who were 20 years his junior and seem to have had no inhibitions in expressing rage and hate on canvas.

    So to me Baluschek presents many interesting images of working class and lower-middle class life in Berlin from the late 1890s into the early 1930s, an era when Berlin was a very interesting place. Artistically, I'd place him in the amorphous neither good nor bad category, though he was a pretty good illustrator-reporter.


    Arbeiterstadt - Workers' City - 1920
    A wintery scene showing S-Bahn tracks crossing over a rail yard.

    Couple, graffiti - 1920s

    Couple in restaurant hall - ca. 1910

    Big City Street Corner - 1929

    Sonntagslust - 1932
    The title is a little hard to convey in English. "Sunday Delight" or "Sunday Pleasure" would reasonable translations, though few people depicted here seem to express those emotions. Perhaps that was the ironic point Baluschek was trying to make.

    Bahnhofshalle - 1929
    "Train shed" would be a somewhat literal, technical translation, though what we see here is a typical European train terminal, one in Berlin.

    Städtlichter - City Lights - 1931
    I can't identify the square shown here. But that probably doesn't matter much because the buildings were probabaly destroyed during World War 2.

    Städtlischer Arbeitsnachweis für Angestellte - 1931
    A drawing showing people entering and leaving an employment registration facility.

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    Tom Lovell (1909-1997), like many illustrators of his generation, eventually left the trade to become a Fine Arts painter -- in his case, doing western scenes from his Santa Fe, New Mexico base. But during his active years, roughly 1930-70, he forged a splendid career.

    Lovell's Wikipedia entry is here, his Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame page is here, and two blog posts worth viewing are here and here.

    He began by illustrating for "pulp" (cheap) magazines while still at Syracuse University in upstate New York. From pulps, he soon moved up to the prestigious and better-paying "slick" magazines and remained there for the rest of his illustration career.

    Lovell characterized himself as a visual story teller (his pulp period was good training for that, he allowed) and researcher. Regarding the latter point, he felt that his duty was to get details right, and this required a good deal of preparation because many of his subjects were historical. Motivation for this almost surely was the fact that illustrations with incorrect details are criticism-fodder for sharp-eyed readers.

    One observer has commented that Lovell's style didn't change much over his career. This seems to be generally true, though he clearly adjusted it to the requirements of the subject. On the other hand, Lovell's style was not as distinctive as those of some other top-notch illustrators. That is, a typical Lovell illustration is clearly very competently done, yet it can be difficult to instantly identify it as his work without searching for his signature.


    Baloonists in trouble

    Disposing of the body

    Frightened woman

    Houdini jumping off the Wheeling, West Virginia bridge

    Painting the Orient
    A Marine Corps sergeant on Asiatic duties in the 1930s, I think. Painted by Lovell when he was in the Corps during World War 2.

    "Saratoga Trunk" illustration

    Surrender at Appomattox
    That's Robert E. Lee, at the left, surrendering his army to Ulysses Grant (at the table to the right), effectively ending the American Civil War.

    Woman's Home Companion story illustration - May 1942

    Couple lounging

    It's raining

    On the rocks

    Stranded family

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    Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) was a symbolist of sorts, being intensely religious in a strongly non-church way. He was highly opinionated regarding on a number of matters, and as he aged he had psychological difficulties. All this is far too much for me to detail here, so be sure to link here and here for plenty of information about him.

    Thayer's paintings that I've viewed in person are roughly painted in most areas, but seen at a distance or in reproduction they work well. Moreover, thanks in part to his personal kind of symbolism, they are unique and, to me, they fascinate.

    According to the second link above, Thayer added angel wings to a number of his paintings, but not to depict his subjects (often his daughters) as actual angels. Read the link for an explanation, but for shorthand reasons, the word "Angel" is used below for image captions, and is the title found on the Internet. Today's post features his angel-wing paintings.


    Angel - 1889

    Winged Figure - 1889

    An Angel - 1893

    For Robert Louis Stevenson memorial - 1903

    Winged Figure Seated upon a Rock - 1903
    Almost the same as the previous painting.

    Angel - 1903

    The Angel - 1903
    This seems to be either a study or an incomplete painting.

    Study of an Angel
    Or maybe an unfinished work.

    Winged Figure - 1904

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    Samuel Melton Fisher (1860-1939) was born in London. That's about all I could discover about him via three or four Google screens. Surprising, in a way, because he did paint at least one personage and his paintings often displayed a nice, soft, slightly flattened touch.


    Festa: a Venetian Café - 1889

    A moonlight Sonata, Venice

    Flower Makers - 1896

    Asleep - 1902

    The Chess Players - 1903

    Mabel Carlisle, Wife of High Edwardes, 6th Baron Kensington - 1919

    Winifred - 1924

    Field Marshal Lord Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe - ca. 1925

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  • 02/23/15--01:00: Leo Putz: The Golden Years
  • Leo Putz (1869-1940), an Austrian painter who spent most of his career in Germany, did some very interesting work during the ten years or so between 1903 and 1912. Unfortunately for his reputation here in America, his last name is a slang term of disparagement, though in German it can refer to fashion, ornamentation and such. (The German word schmuck, with a somewhat similar meaning, suffers the same fate for perhaps the same reason.)

    Biographical information about Putz can be found here and here. He was highly regarded in Munich where his career was centered. His favorite subject was women. He painted his attractive wife, the artist Frieda Blell, a number of times during what I consider his peak years. Putz also made a large number of paintings of nude women, but I consider most of these less interesting, especially those done from around 1912 on. His later paintings were sketchier than his more solid earlier works, and incorporated light touches of fauvist coloring along with fading hints of his earlier flat-area style.

    What interests me most is his use of large, flat brush strokes. This is a mannered style that works best, I think, in small doses. Perhaps that is why Putz drifted away from it. Nevertheless, when I think of Leo Putz, his square-brush style comes to mind first.


    Drawing of woman's head - 1899

    Gasthaus in Schenna - 1900
    These first two images show Putz' degree of skill depicting representational subjects before he shifted to a more mannered style.

    Porträt Veronika Kirmair im Schleissheimer Garten - 1903
    An early square-brush effort.

    Hinter den Kulissen - 1905
    "Behind the Scenes" is the English version of the title.  Nice job on facial expressions.  Note that Putz abandons or minimizes flat-brushing on faces that require a softened approach.

    Sommerträume - 1907
    "Summer Dreams" is a large painting that's particularly striking when viewed in person.

    Spiegelbild - 1908

    Am Ufer - 1909
    Two paintings featuring Frieda Blell.

    Cara Sophia Köhler - 1911
    By now, Putz is abandoning his classical style.

    Blond und Brünett - ca. 1913
    Another example of his new stylistc direction.

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    Christopher Richard Wynne (C.R.W.) Nevinson (1889–1946) had a prickly personality, falling into and out of friendships with the likes of Wyndham Lewis and becoming a tad paranoid regarding Slade School instructor Henry Tonks, who didn't think much of his drawing ability. This and more is discussed in more detail in Nevinson's Wikipedia entry. For a shorter take, you might want to link to this Tate page.

    At the time the Great War started, Nevinson was practicing Modernism in a Cubist-inspired manner to which was an added dash of Futurism. He volunteered for ambulance work in the French army zone of operations, returned to England for health reasons, and then went back to France as a British war artist. During this time his style evolved toward traditional realism, but not quite abandoning all of Modernism's quirks. After the war, he drifted from time to time to a Cubism-lite style  that was dropped again when he made some World War 2 paintings.

    In the present post, his Great War paintings are featured.


    Bursting Shell - 1915
    Futurist influence is strong here. I can't tell if he is depicting an explosive shell or an illumination shell.

    Pursuing a Taube - 1915
    The Taube (Dove) was a type of German airplane.

    La mitrailleuse - 1915
    Probably Nevinson's most famous painting. It shows a French machine gun team in action.

    Returning to the Trenches (study) - c.1915
    This gives us a notion as to how Nevinson constructed his compositions at that time; a whoosh of Futurist movement along with Cubist segmentation.

    Ypres After the First Bombardment - 1916
    Although Cubist elements might be present, to me this seems Expressionist: think of the settings of the post-war (1920) German film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

    La patrie - 1916
    "The Fatherland" depicts a French army evacuation station.

    French Troops Resting - 1916

    Dog Tired - 1916
    Two takes on tired soldiers. The upper painting shows French soldiers apparently taking a break while either entering or leaving a combat zone. The lower image is of British soldiers behind the lines dealing with supplies (note the bales and boxes they are on and the fact that they are wearing cloth caps rather than helmets).

    A Group of Soldiers - 1917
    Modernism is ebbing away a little here.

    A Tank - 1917
    A British Mark V (Male) tank. Nevinson had it stubbier than it actually was.

    Paths of Glory - 1917
    This was controversial when it was new, as this Telegraph article explains. The style is more representational than that found in the previous paintings.

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  • 02/27/15--01:00: Molti Ritratti: Iris Tree
  • Iris Tree (1897-1968) came from an established English family, and was well-connected socially and with artistic groups. Her brief Wikipedia entry notes that she was "an English poet, actress and artists' model, described as a bohemian, an eccentric, a wit and an adventuress." (The entry at the time I wrote this post includes a Modigliani painting said to be of Tree. I question this because, first, all Modigliani nudes look pretty much the same, and second, the image has long hair whereas Tree had bobbed hair at that time.)

    A more detailed biographical sketch is here. Below are various portraits of Iris.


    Photo by Man Ray - early 1920s
    Iris Tree had an interesting face that Man Ray captured nicely.

    Photo: Lytton Strachey and Iris - ca. 1930
    Perhaps taken at Ham Spray.  Compare Iris' figure with 1915 portraits below.

    Iris and Dora Carrington - ca. 1930
    Taken the same day as the photo above. The Wikipedia entry on Carrington is here.

    Sculpture by Jacob Epstein
    Epstein made at least three sculpture portraits of Iris.

    By Vanessa Bell - 1915
    Now for three portraits made in 1915 by central members of the Bloomsbury set. (Vanessa was the sister of the more famous Virginia Woolf.)

    By Duncan Grant - 1915
    Grant was the love of Vanessa's life and the father of her daughter, even though he was homosexual. (Bloomsbury relationships are extremely complex, and are touched on in several of the Web pages linked here.) This painting and the one above seem to have been made at the same sitting: note the setting and differing points of view.

    By Roger Fry - 1915
    Fry was a more marginal Bloomsbury figure, though he did have an affair with Vanessa. As with the two paintings shown above, Iris was about 18 years old when she sat.

    By Adolphe Borie
    I'm not sure if this was painted in America or Paris.

    By Augustus John - 1920
    In my judgment, John was a better artist than Bell, Duncan, Fry and Borie, so this is the best portrait of the bunch. He knew Iris since she was a girl.

    Drawing by Augustus John
    Another nice image by John.

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  • 03/02/15--01:00: How Well Could Picasso Draw?
  • Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), like Rembrandt, is probably still synonymous with "artist" for the general public. As regular readers of this blog probably know, I am not a Picasso fan. I never liked his work aside from a very few paintings. On the other hand, I have no problem with artists who are famous and financially successful in their own lifetime, something that applied to Picasso in spades.

    From what I've read, it seems that his abilities were regarded with something like awe by artist friends in his early Paris days. That prompted the idea behind this post: just how well could he draw? After all, the ability to draw is an important artistic skill.

    Below are some examples of Picasso's naturalistic drawings that should help indicate how well he could depict people when he put his mind to it.


    Femme assise dans une chaise (Dora) - 1938
    To begin, here is a drawing of Dora Maar, his mistress at the time this drawing was made. I include it as a reminder of one sort of drawing he made later in his career. Some Modernist Art fans might insist that this is a marvelous drawing if one disregards accurate depiction and considers other qualities. But that is a separate matter from this post's focus.

    The Artist's Father - 1896
    Picasso was 15 or 16 when this painted sketch was made. Okay, it's not a drawing, but not a finished painting either. It does show that he was precocious. Very good considering his age.

    Unknown subject, unknown date
    Were I really diligent I might have tracked down the missing information. What matters is the quality, which seems to me is at the level one would expect from a good academic art student.

    Self-Portrait - 1901
    I like this drawing. It captures the 20-year-old artist without hard-edge detail: "suggestive," I'd say.

    Portrait d'Olga - 1920
    This is Picasso's first wife. It seems he first sketched in pencil and then inked it -- some pencil lines still show, especially near her nose and left eye. Anatomically correct aside from her fingers that seem over-simplified.

    Olga au chapeau à la plume - 1920
    Her head seem a bit small compared to the rest of her, but otherwise this is a competent linear treatment.

    Mother and Child - from p. 28 of sketchbook 77 - ca. 1922
    By this time, Picasso was in his classical phase where heads were inspired by Greek statuary and bodies were somewhat massive. An idealization, not really a depiction.

    My verdict from the gallery above is that Picasso was quite capable of representational depiction. But this did not rise head-and-shoulders above what a number of other artists could do. He was a shrewd man and made a wise career choice by becoming a Modernist. Otherwise, he seems to have had nothing special to offer artistically.

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    Charles Hoffbauer (1875-1957) was a French artist who spent much of his career in the United States. A useful summary of his career is here. It mentions that he "enrolled at the École National des Beaux-Arts where his peers included Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, and Albert Marquet." After his army service: "In 1898, Hoffbauer’s first submission to the Paris Salon was awarded Honorable Mention, and the following year he became the youngest artist to earn a Gold Medal and be deemed Hors Concours -- a status he held for seven years."

    So he got off to a good start. As might be expected, his early paintings were traditional in style. But around the time he turned 30, he adopted a looser technique that had Impressionist overtones when it came to color. But it might also be said that he was a tiny bit expressionistic in his handling of forms, especially when he was in his forties.

    Much of his American work in the 1920s was as just described. But he had received a commission to paint Civil War murals for the Battle Abbey at the Confederate Memorial Institute at Richmond, Virginia (see here). This work was painted traditionally and was done both before and following the Great War which interrupted it, Hoffbauer returning to France to serve in the army. Later on, he worked in film animation.

    I'm inclined to place Hoffbauer as a fine-artist whose work came close to illustration. Nothing wrong with that; most of the Masters fall into that category as well.


    A Masked Ball - c. 1901
    An early painting, still under the influence of his academic training.

    At the Ball - 1905

    La sortie de l'Opéra - 1905

    Dîner sur le Toit - 1905

    In the Restaurant - 1905
    A set of Belle Époche images.

    Jeune femme à la lecture
    A rather unusual style and subject for Hoffbauer.

    German Prisoners
    Painted during the Great War while he was in the army.

    Broadway sous la neige, devant l'Hotel Astor, New York - 1925
    Apologies for the blurred image, but it's the best I could locate.

    Herald Square, New York
    Other sources have titles mentioning rainy streets in New York, but Herald Square this is. The tall, dark building in the center is the Times Building and building at the right with the arcade is the Herald Building.

    Metropolitan Life Tower, New York
    The smaller tower at the left was part of the original Madison Square Garden.

    Times Square at Night
    The Times Building is on the left (we are looking south). The building with the Turkish and American flags is the Hotel Astor.

    Spring: Stonewall Jackson reviewing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley
    An explanation as to how Hoffbauer did the murals is here.

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