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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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    "Sir Anthonis Mor, also known as Anthonis Mor van Dashorst and Antonio Moro (c. 1517 - 1577) was a Netherlandish portrait painter, much in demand by the courts of Europe. He has also been referred to as Antoon, Anthonius, Anthonis or Mor van Dashorst, and as Antonio Moro, Anthony More, etc., but signed most of his portraits as Anthonis Mor" is how this Wikipedia entry begins.

    As regular readers of this blog probably know by now, I seldom write about artists active before around 1850. That has to do with my interests, and I write about what interests me. Paintings done before the mid-19th century for the most part elicit a reaction of indifference. I don't hate them, but don't love them either. (Exceptions include Velazquez, Tiepolo, Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Chardin and some others.)

    Two reasons for this, among others, are (1) the settings are too "staged" or static or artificial for my taste, and (2) I don't love highly "finished" paintings. Plenty of exceptions here, but when both factors are present, I'll usually give the painting a once-over and move on. Which is why, when I'm in Paris next month, I might not get farther into the Louvre than its great book / gift store.

    Portraits made before about 1700 usually strike me as offering a sense of what the sitter looked like, but seem contrived, somehow. Again there are exceptions. One such set of exceptions includes some portraits by Anthonius Mor, who I was unaware of until I saw a post on the Gandalf's Galley blog featuring his portrait of the Duchess of Parma. Mor's portraits include all the fancy costuming expected for important sitters. But it is the faces that strike me as being those of flesh-and-blood people -- not smoothly-painted diagrams of people's faces.

    Gallery

    Duchess Margaret of Parma - 1562
    Click on the image for a considerably enlarged version and examine Mor's treatment of her face.

    Willem I van Nassau (William of Orange) - ca. 1554

    Queen Mary Tudor of England - 1544
    Painted before she gained the throne.

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    Most modernist architecture is horrible. There: I said it. Actually, I've probably said it before, either on this blog or back when I blogged on 2Blowhards.

    For now, I'll spare Faithful Readers a rant on why I think modernist architecture is horrible. Instead, this post deals with a building that from one perspective seems a bit silly, yet from another point of view has some merit.

    That building is the Frost Bank Tower (completed 2004) that I recently saw in Austin, Texas. Here's a photo I took:

    What the photo doesn't show is the base that's a few stories tall and fills the space out to the sidewalk. That's a good thing in principle, because most pedestrians pretty much view things near eye level rather than gaze upward at tall buildings they're walking past. Unfortunately from an aesthetic point of view, the base and tower designs don't seem to blend well, although they easily could have (scroll down the above link for more views).

    I like the massing of the tower, this offering some relief from its stubby proportions. This massing also evokes skyscraper design from its 1925-32 golden age.

    The controversial feature is the decorations at the top. A hardcore functionalist observer would collapse with the vapours at such ornamentation. Me?: Although the top is a little "over the top" as they say, I like the idea of tall buildings having something interestingly decorative at their apex.

    The opening defined by the four highest spikes recalls the top decor of Rochester, New York's Times Square Building, shown in a postcard view below.

    This 1930 treatment is even more outrageous than that of the Frost Tower. My main objection is that those wings are out of scale with the rest of the building. They would have worked much better were the tower 30 or so floors tall.

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    In mid-March I was doing one of my usual walk-throughs of Palm Desert's El Paseo area killing time while my wife was watching tennis at Indian Wells. El Paseo has a number of art galleries, and I finally decided that this would be the day to walk into some to find out what was new since last March. Turns out that there wasn't much of interest this time, though I did write down names of a few artists for further investigation.

    One instance was the Jones & Terwilliger gallery (which is also found up in Carmel-By-The-Sea) that had several landscapes on display by Utah-based painter Gregory Stocks whose biographical note in his website is here.

    Both links show paintings by Stocks whose commercial work is mostly landscapes that usually feature trees with autumn leaves and are painted boldly, but not wildly. Stocks has a very nice touch that is best appreciated when viewing his works in person.  He favors autumn scenes where he can tone down (mix in some opposite color) reds and oranges, etc. on the foliage while doing the same for grasses and and green leaves that are dark, yet haven't yet turned color. In a way, his color strategy is similar to that used by a number of American painters and muralists in the 1920s, something that for some reason has appealed to me for a long time.

    Gallery

    Autumn Stand

    In Harmony

    Distant Cloudbank
    Not as strongly autumnal as the first two painting, but there are hints in the nearest clumps of trees. Also note the inclusion of orange, ochre and such for the grasses.  More distant grasses are greener due to the blueing of atmospheric perspective.

    Homestead
    A much different scene from the previous painting, but the same color strategy is used.

    Mixing It Up
    This seems to be a plein-air painting due to its small size (14 x 11 inches; 35 x 27.5 cm). Plenty  of bold, square-brush action here.

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    Henry James Soulen (1888-1965) was an illustrator whose work was published in major magazines, yet he is virtually unknown today. Short biographical links are here and here.

    Soulen's style included bright colors, limited depth, and cloisonnist outlining of his subject matter. These traits are commonly found in murals painted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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    Dancing at the Waldorf

    Great War scene

    The Three Musketeers

    The Ukulele Player

    Flowers of Gold

    From "One Man and One Woman"




    Here is an example of a problem faced by me and other bloggers who make use of unfamiliar images found on the Internet. Not having seen the original art or even a printed reproduction, I have no sure way of telling what the original coloration was like. Above are two versions of "The Parade." The upper version has more naturalistic colors. But I wonder if the image was scanned from a magazine; illustration colors were and are altered purposefully or otherwise during the publication process. The lower version has better resolution (you can see more impasto brushwork: click to enlarge), yet the colors don't strike me as realistic for a German scene. If any reader knows for certain what the original colors were, please post a comment.

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  • 07/02/15--01:00: Monuments, Texas-Style
  • The state of Texas has many virtues, especially for a good many of its residents. A deficiency is in tourist attraction sites, the only truly famous one being the Alamo.

    For several year my wife was anxious to tour Texas, and we finally made good on the plan in April. For various reasons en route from San Antonio to Houston's Clear Lake area, we skipped a planned visit to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station. Instead, we visited the San Jacinto battlefield east of Houston where on 21 April 1836, Texans defeated a Mexican army (for more information click here).

    San Jacinto (the J is pronounced by Texans using a hard "J", not the expected Spanish "H" alternative) is not a strong attraction for most non-Texans, but I found it an interesting place.

    One attraction is the San Jacinto Monument. This link states: "The monument, constructed between 1936 and 1939 and dedicated on April 21, 1939, is the world's tallest masonry column..." It is 567.31 feet (172.92 m) tall, slightly higher than the better-known 554.612-foot (169.046 m) Washington Monument in the District of Columbia. Note that construction began a century after the year of the battle.

    Also on the site is the battleship USS Texas, BB-35 (Wikipedia entry here). Commissioned in 1914, it is the oldest remaining dreadnought-type American battleship; other survivors are of the World War 2 vintage "fast-battleship" type.

    Below are some of my photos.  Click on the images to enlarge.

    Gallery

    There stands the monument behind our rental car. Unlike the plain, obelisk-like Washington Monument, the San Jacinto Monument has flutings like Greek columns on four of its eight faces.

    Atop the monument is a four-sided Texas star.

    The base, containing a museum, features inscriptions describing the battle's circumstances.

    And there are very 1930s-Moderne bas-relief images with captions.

    Not far away is the USS Texas. In a few years it will be placed in a dry setting (it has experienced leaks and other deterioration from time to time since it arrived at San Jacinto in 1948). Aside from the placement of the main turrets, the superstructure and armament of the Texas are drastically different from its appearance in 1914. I know it's financially impossible, but I'd love to see the Texas as it was when it was new.

    Navy buffs will find the Texas interesting due to the layout of its main gun turrets. The guns are 14-inch cannons mounted in pairs. Since ten guns are carried, there are five turrets strung along the ship. This is not ideal because the third turret is placed so that its guns cannot fire fore or aft nor even nearly fore or aft, a waste of potential firepower. The strung-out turrets also require a longer swath of side armor, adding to the ship's displacement. Later battleships used three- and even four-gun turrets (Dunkerque and following French battleships).

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    A while ago I posted about illustrator and portrait painter Howard Chandler Christy, and included an image of his portrait of Grace Coolidge, wife of President Calvin Coolidge.

    It seems that Grace was somewhat the opposite of Calvin, in that she had a sparkling personality. So it stands to reason that given her status and attributes, there ought to have been a number of portraits painted of her.

    And there were. Except that there are few decent images of them to be found on the Internet, and some original works might have gone missing. Below is what I've been able to locate here and there on the Web thus far.

    Gallery

    This is the official portrait by Christy that hangs in the White House.

    A photo of Grace Coolidge.

    Grace Coolidge with Rob Roy, who also is in the official portrait.

    Another Grace Coolidge portrait attributed to Christie. It doesn't look as skillfully done as his other work, and the subject doesn't quite look like her.

    A Christy portrait at the Coolidge Presidential Library in Massachusetts from this source. I like this one better than the official portrait. Too bad I can't locate a decent image of it on the Internet.

    Grace Coolidge by an artist named Frank Asford.

    Photo of Juliet Thompson with her painting Grace Coolidge taken 8 February 1927. I could find no other image of this portrait.

    Grace Coolidge with Frank O. Salisbury and his portrait of her. Again, I couldn't find an image of the portrait.

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    I visited the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida in late April, and amongst the dazzling collection (for an airplane fanboy like me) was a Messerschmitt 262 B-1a jet from World War 2. The Wikipedia entry on the Me 262 is here. Scrolling down you will find that the two-seat B-1a variant was a trainer, and some other B-1s were used as radar-equipped night fighters. Most Me 262s were single-seat fighters or fighter-bombers.


    These are two photos I took of the Aviation Museum's 262. It is nicely restored, but the fighter aspect is stressed on the information card seen in front of the plane in the upper photo. The museum's web site page for the Me 262 (here) states: "The model on display, 'White 35,' was captured in Schleswig, Germany in 1945." No mention is made of its trainer status, as best I recall.

    Only a small proportion of 262s were two-seaters, and all the 262s I've seen in various museums aside from this one were single-seat planes.

    Well, I did see a two-place Me 262 once. It was March, 1969 at the Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Pennsylvania. Here are photos I took then:




    There is now an air museum at Willow Grove, and its web page indicating planes in the collection is here. Missing is that 262 "Red 13" (as they say in the aircraft ID trade).

    So I wonder if "White 30" and "Red 13" might be the same airplane. Few were built, few survived the war, and how many fewer still were in the hands of the U.S. Navy after the war? It's entirely possible that "Red 13" was passed over to Pensacola at some point since 1969. But its also possible that the Navy indeed acquired two Me 262 B-1a aircraft. Feel free to let us know which supposition is correct.

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    My training in commercial art included a course in fashion illustration. The instructor, Irwin Caplan, who I wrote about here, would bring issues of the Sunday New York Times to class for our inspection and inspiration.

    The Times in those days was filled with advertisements for department and women's apparel stores. Around 1960 those included Macy's, B. Altman, Arnold Constable and Bergdorf Goodman. Perhaps the ads Caplan touted the most were from Lord & Taylor, featuring the illustrations of Dorothy Hood (1902-1970). Not surprising, because Hood had been at the top of the New York fashion illustration world for a long time and was still going strong.

    There seems to be little about Hood on the Internet, but some biographical information can be found here and here. The latter source mentions that due to a 1950s accident affecting her right arm, she trained herself to illustrate using her left hand ... without noticeably affecting the results.

    Most fashion illustrations in newspapers and even magazines in the 1950s and 60s were printed in black and white; run-of-paper color is common now, but rare then. Illustrators usually opted for brushwork and ink or watercolor washes to quickly produce effective views of featured merchandise.

    Here are some examples of Hood's work for Lord & Taylor from those days.

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    I visited the fabulous Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida near the end of April. Besides aircraft, the museum displays aviation-related artwork, including that of McClelland Barclay (1891–1943). As this mentions, Barclay was a highly successful commercial artist who became an active-duty naval officer in 1940, illustrating posters and other war-related work. He died when his ship was sunk in the South Pacific.

    Two years ago, I wrote an Up Close post dealing with Barclay. Having the chance to photograph another original of his work, I'm pleased to provide a second Barclay Up Close here.

    As is usually the case with this sort of photo, lighting conditions are not ideal; here the main light source strongly shines from above the painting. This has one advantage, namely that the impasto in this painting is better highlighted. Also keep in mind that poster art usually works best where images are simplified, so the example below is more simply done than the advertising image featured in my previous Barclay post.

    Click on the images to enlarge.

    Here's an establishing view of the poster art.  The aircraft appears to be a trainer (note the flimsy windscreen), yet it isn't painted yellow, as were Navy training planes around 1940.  The ship in the background seems to be a battleship rather than an aircraft carrier.  But Barclay had to adjust reality in order to maximize poster conventions.  A yellow airplane would grossly interfere with the composition and message.  The battleship superstructure is useful for its symbolism of the U.S. Navy.

    A detailed view of a pilot who might be a aviation cadet along with a lieutenant wearing pilot's wings on his uniform.

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    Sam Francis (1923-1994) was a painter and printmaker whose career was largely based in California and to a lesser extent in Japan and Europe. Biographical information can be found here at Wikipedia.

    The link (as of mid-May 2015) mentions that "Francis was initially influenced by the work of abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Clyfford Still. He later became loosely associated with a second generation of abstract expressionists, including Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, who were increasingly interested in the expressive use of color."

    That influence must have been indirect, because Francis apparently did not spend much time in New York City, the hotbed of Abstract Expressionism and other modernist abstract painting schools. I suggest that he was also influenced by Jackson Pollock of drip painting fame. A photo (below) shows Francis in his studio with paint pots and canvases covering the floor Pollock-style.

    Whereas Francis' paintings often featured drips of paint and running paints, they often didn't have the entire surface covered, as was Pollock's classical case. Segments of paintings were left blank, with the result that the images appeared to have greater structure than the typical Pollock wall-to-wall swirls of drip. The white backgrounds Francis used also served to highlight his selection of colors -- typically bright and cheerful.

    I rate Sam Francis as an interesting footnote to an artistic school whose time has long passed and whose goals make far less sense now than they did when new.

    Gallery

    Self-Portrait - 1974

    Sam Francis in his studio
    Sorry, but I don't have a source for this photo.

    unknown title

    Untitled watercolor - 1958

    Untitled (from Pasadena Box) - 1963

    Untitled

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  • 07/23/15--01:00: One-Work Artists
  • The title of this post does not refer to artists who created only one work in their careers. Instead, it has to do with artists who suffer the fate of being known to the general public for one really famous work. Often, the public at large will know of the work of art, yet cannot recall the name of the artist who made it.

    I can't make up my mind as to whether or not this is a good thing. Many artists would be perfectly happy to have become famous or to have painted a famous painting. Others might prefer to be known for their career-wide accomplishments. Few, I would think, would rather remain essentially unknown.

    Artists known for a number of their works where none looms over the rest include Rembrandt, Velázquez, David, Monet and Picasso, to name but a few.

    Below are examples of famous paintings that, in my judgment, tended to overshadow the artist's other works. They are arranged alphabetically by the artist's name.

    Gallery

    September Morn - 1912
    By Paul Émile Chabas (1869-1937).

    Mona Lisa - ca. 1506
    By Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519).

    LOVE (print) - 1965
    By Robert Indiana (b. 1928).

    Washington Crossing the Delaware
    By Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868).

    Sunday on the Grande Jatte - 1884-86
    By Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891).

    Portrait of George Washington (unfinished) - 1796
    By Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828).

    American Gothic - 1930
    By Grant Wood (1891-1942).

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    I returned from Europe last week bearing pixels of this and that, including photos taken in the Musée de Montmartre of a "restoration" of the apartment of artist/model Suzanne Valadon who lived in the main building for a time.

    I put the word restoration in quotation marks because, as this link indicates (scroll down), the project completed last year based on work by Hubert Le Gall contains almost none of Valadon's actual possessions, which presumably have been lost for years. Instead, Gall relied on Valadon's paintings and a few photos to reconstruct the setting as best he could.

    Nevertheless, I found it interesting. Some photos I took are below.

    Gallery

    Yr. Obedient Blogger at work.


    Self-portrait done in 1883.


    Portrait of her son, Maurice Utrillo on wall.

    Painting of the nearby Sacré-Coeur by Utrillo in the studio room.

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    The previous post featured photos I took last week in the Musée de Montmartre of a "restoration" of the apartment of artist/model Suzanne Valadon who lived in the main building for a time. This post deals with the "restoration" of her studio.

    As previously noted, I put the word restoration in quotation marks because, as this link indicates (scroll down), the project completed last year based on work by Hubert Le Gall contains almost none of Valadon's actual possessions, which presumably have been lost for years. Instead, Gall relied on Valadon's paintings and a few photos to reconstruct the setting as best he could.

    Below are some photos taken of Valadon in an atelier setting, though not necessarily in the building at 12 rue Cortot in Paris' XVIII arrondissement. These are followed by a few of my snapshots.

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    Suzanne Valadon at her easel.

    Studio view: the painting of flowers is also in photos of mine, below.  Her husband, André Utter, also used this studio and some of the paintings might have been his.

    Suzanne, her son Maurice Utrillo, and André Utter.

    Vadadon, Utter and Utrillo.


    Painting of Sacré-Coeur by Utrillo on far wall.



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    Paris' Musée de Montmartre is a place worth visiting for those interested in the Parisian art world of, say, 1880-1920 and even into the 1930s. On display October 17th, 2014 to September 13th, 2015 is an exhibit titled "The Spirit of Montmartre and Modern Art, 1875 - 1910" featuring posters, paintings and such for that era and locale.

    The museum website exhibitions page link is here, but as of late July 2015 (when this post was being drafted) it consists of a scroll containing present, future and past exhibits with no links to archived items. Therefore, below is the English text for reference in case the web page is changed in the future:

    * * * * *

    The Exhibition "The Spirit of Montmartre and Modern Art" invites you to discover the radical and anti-establishment philosophy of artists living and/or working in Montmartre at the turn of the XIXth century. Spotlighting the Incohérents, the Hydropathes, Fumisme, the Quat’z’Arts cabaret and the Vache Enragée processions, the exhibition presents the importance of Montmartre as the centre of the Parisian avant-garde. 200 archival items and 150 works of art from the Museum’s collection as well as from public and private collections, document the means of artistic expression of this vibrant period of art: visual puns, satire and caricature -developed often in the ephemeral media of posters-, journal and book illustrations, song sheets and shadow theatre productions. These documents depict Montmartre’s streets, cabarets, café-concerts, circus and theaters, all of which played an important part in the artistic life of the Butte.

    "The Spirit of Montmartre and Modern Art, 1875 - 1910" will be displayed in the Hôtel Demarne, as the inaugural exhibition of this new space.

    * * * * *

    The present post features some photos I took of exhibit items by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923) whose Wikipedia entry is here. It seems that Steinlen really liked cats, and he liked the Montmartre nightspot called Le Chat Noir, as we shall see below.

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    The famous Chat Noir poster by Steinlen, 1896. I include this to set the scene for the images below.

    Below are the two panels of Chats et lunes ("Cats and Moons," ca. 1885). I don't have background information regarding them.

    First panel.

    Second panel.

    L'Apothéose du chats - 1884
    Atop the pyramid of cats in "The Apotheosis of Cats" sits the black cat, le chat noir. This painting was made for the second location of the cabaret on what then was rue Laval.

    Museum website image of L'Apothéose du chats. Photos taken by people like me in museums are seldom very good due to lighting conditions, which is why I include this better-controlled version.

    Rentrée du soir - 1897
    By Steinlen, but not exactly of a cat. The museum translates the title as "Going Home in the Evening."

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    I was in the tourist zone of Paris 19-21 June and took photos of some buildings I noticed while going about the sightseeing rounds.

    Something I like regarding Paris, Prague, Vienna and a few other large European cities is that their central areas have few imposing modernist buildings -- policies are that such structures are relegated to peripheral zones. Your tastes may vary, but I find that modernist building are not very interesting to look at, whereas more traditional architecture often is a visual feast.

    The well-kept and well-policed Paris tourist zone extends for a mile or so on either side of the River Seine from near the Eiffel Tower downstream to the vicinity of the Lyon and Austerlitz railroad terminals upstream. The main large modernist structures in that zone are the Tour Montparnasse, Opéra de Paris Bastille and the Centre Pompidou, all a ways away from where four-star tourist attractions are found.

    So, "just because," here are some photos I took and didn't even bother to crop or digitally manipulate.

    Gallery

    Rue Grégoire de Tours
    Let's start here on the northern segment of the rue. That's my wife impatiently waiting for me to get moving. First, we'll look at the domed building in the background.

    117 boulevard Saint-Germain
    Did I just say "visual feast?" Well, this segment of a larger building offers a feast of details that don't quite reach rococo levels. Check out that golden shield near the bottom of the image.

    Rue Vaugirard et rue Monsieur-le-Prince
    Now we're heading up the hill towards the Jardin du Luxembourg. I don't have an address for this building with its whiff of Art Deco and Art Nouveau, but it's on the southeast corner of the intersection.

    1 avenue de l'Observatoire
    Seen from the Jardin using a telephoto zoom. That interesting dark gray appendage might be a decorative cover for chimneys. In any case, it stands above the rooflines of sourrounding buildings and caught my attention.

    Église Saint-Sulpice
    The cathedral in Chartres isn't the only large church in France with mis-matched towers. Heading down the hill from the Luxembourg is the Saint-Sulpice, where one tower was rebuilt and the other was left as it was, as is noted here.

    Institut de France
    Another interesting dome as seen from near the lower end of the rue de Seine.

    Musée du Louvre - lobby area under I.M. Pei's pyramid
    The Louvre attracts immense crowds during tourist season, so Pei's modern entry area that's mostly buried in one of the palace's courtyards was a necessity. Key is the buried part. Had this complex been at ground level, it would have destroyed the Louvre as an architectural composition. As can be seen in the photo, the interior space has no particular distinction. Moreover, it can be a bit confusing, though not so much as the rest of the Louvre.

    Montmartre - steps leading up to the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur
    I find the interaction of the stoned planes, the rounded building corner and the stairway interesting.

    Gallerie Clairidge, 74 avenue des Champes-Élysées
    There is a modern building that can be glimpsed immediately uphill from this very Parisian edifice. Which do you prefer to look at?

    Guerlain, 68 avenue des Champs-Élysées
    Two door away is Guerlain's building. Beyond is yet another modern one that has more detailing than the modern building in the previous photo. Even so, Guerlain's shames it.

    La Tour d'Argent
    Finally, back along the Seine is one of Paris' top restaurants, the Tour d'Argent (Silver Tower). As this mentions, the restaurant and building are old, but the top floor with the large windows was added in 1936. I didn't eat here because I can't afford the food and probably wouldn't like it either. Plus, it was closed the day I took the photo.

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    It seems that most successful cartoonists settle into a distinctive style and stick with it. Consider it a trademark, form of branding.

    Richard Denison Taylor (1902-1970), a Canadian who moved to New York City in 1935 and built a career at The New Yorker and, later, other publications such as Playboy, drew his subjects as having large, oval eyes. Moreover, those ovals were oriented so that they were taller than they were wide. And the pupils of those eyes were usually very large and light-colored (dark brown eyes wouldn't work well under Taylor's conditions).

    There isn't much biographical information about Taylor on the Internet, this source being perhaps the best. Examples of his Toronto work are here.

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    I visited the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida near the end of April. It's a must-see attraction for airplane buffs. Besides aircraft, the museum displays aviation-related artwork, including that of R.G. (Robert Grant) Smith (1914-2001).

    Smith was an engineer at the Douglas Aircraft Company, working in general arrangement design under Ed Heinemann. I mentioned Smith here. More regarding Smith can be found here and here. I regard R.G. Smith as one of the all-time best aviation artists.

    Below are photos I took in several areas of the museum that featured Smith's artwork. Click on the images for substantial enlargements.  (Well, that's what I get on my iMac.)

    Gallery

    R.G. Smith painting shown as hung. As is usually the case with this sort of photo, lighting conditions are not ideal; here the main light source shines from above the painting. The scene is a Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber attacking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho during the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, 1942.

      A detail of the painting shown above. Many Smith paintings featured Douglas-built naval aircraft, no doubt because he worked in that branch of Douglas.

    Below are details from other paintings that allow you to see Smith's painting style up close.

    A North Vietnamese MiG-17 damaged by a F-4 Phantom.

    Northrop BT-1 dive bombers and the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) pictured at some time in the late 1930s.

    Douglas SBD dive bomber shown in markings adopted after summer, 1943.

    Another overall view of a painting.  This pictures Douglas SBDs attacking Japanese aircraft carriers at about 10:30 a.m. on 3 June, 1942 during the Battle of Midway.  In the foreground is the Kaga, above it is the Akagi, and the damaged carrier in the distance is the Soryu.

    Close-up of the front part of the Kaga. It might not be in perfect focus (a chancy thing to achieve when using a digital camera's auto-focus feature). Still, you can get a feeling for Smith's skill in color selection and brushwork.

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    My college art history course conveyed the Modernist Establishment party line that the practice of painting was teleological, that its ordained end was the Platonic ideal manifested by the New York School of Abstract Expressionist art. That's the message I got by the end of the school year. And it was confirmed by the many examples of that style displayed on the pages of Time magazine in the late 1950s.

    Despite the publicity in Time and other publications, and the presence of abstract art enthusiasts and collectors such as Nelson Rockefeller (heavily involved with New York's Museum of Modern Art, 1932-79), some young painters failed to relish the prospect of painting abstraction after abstraction for the rest of their careers. So, even in the mid-1950s, some decided to do something different.

    This change in direction was chronicled in the amusing, and still useful, account The Painted Word, a 1975 book by Tom Wolfe. Some dissident painters discarded the use of pure abstraction, but continued adhering to the supposed demand of fidelity to the flat picture plane.

    One such painter was Jasper Johns (b. 1930) who chose to paint objects that were already flat. His most famous painting is that of the American flag. He followed this with paintings of numbers and alphabetical letters. Then he made a painting based on a map of the United States.

    A better-known artist also liked to paint maps, though as background content rather than the main subject. That was Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).

    Examples of works by Johns and Vermeer are below.

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    Johns: Flag - 1954-55
    This was the flag design current when the painting was made and there were only 48 states in the union.

    Johns: Colored Alphabet - 1959

    Johns: Numbers - 1958-59

    Johns: Map - 1961
    Names of states are incorporated, and the use of different colors for different states followed the practice of American terrestrial globes in those days as well as simple maps for schoolchildren. Johns chose to not use green (aside for Florida) and unlike published maps, used similar color groupings for clusters of states (the northwestern USA and the Middle Atlantic states, for example). He also included Canadian provinces and perhaps Mexican states using this scheme to fill out the canvas. Also note that the Gulf of Mexico is painted using both red and blue, whereas the Atlantic Ocean has those colors along with yellow and orange.

    Vermeer: Soldier and Laughing Girl - ca. 1658
    This Vermeer painting includes a highly detailed wall map of Holland (oriented so that north is to the right and west is at the top).

    Vermeer: Woman in Blue Reading - ca. 1662-63
    Another painting using the same map as backdrop.

    Vermeer: Young Woman with Water Pitcher - ca. 1664-65
    A different map of Holland here; north is at the top.

    I wonder which artist's paintings will hold up better over time.

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    The above photo was taken of a Seattle neighborhood in 1947. Look closely at the house on the left. At the far left side of it you will notice a corner window. Corner windows were fashionable features on houses of this style built in Washington State around 1940-1947. The 1947-vintage house I live in has a corner window. They were popular elsewhere at that time; I vaguely recall seeing a cartoon of a man sawing at a house to create a corner window and having the corner of the building collapse as a result.

    I didn't do research to determine where the first corner window appeared. So far as those 1940s tract houses are concerned, I would say that their windows were inspired by some modernist houses built twenty or so years earlier. Some examples are shown below.

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    Villa Henny by 't Hoff - 1915-19
    The Villa Henny in the Huis ter Heide area of Utrecht, Netherlands (1915-19) was designed by Robert van 't Hoff (1887-1979). It is the earliest example of a house with a corner window that I could find on the Internet. The corner window is on the small wing attached to the right-hand face of the building.

    Schindler House - 1922
    Home of architect Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), Schindler House is or was located in West Hollywood, California.

    Schröder House by Rietveld - 1924
    Of similar vintage is Schröder House, also in Utrecht, Netherlands. The architect was the well-known modernist Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). Corner windows can be seen at the right.

    Del Rio - Gibbons House by Gibbons - 1930
    I couldn't locate an appropriate contemporary exterior photo, but here is an interior view showing a corner window. The Del Rio - Gibbons House in Santa Monica, California was designed by Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960). He was the art director for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio and was soon to marry film star Dolores Del Rio, for whom he had the house built. They are seen in the photo.

    High Cross House by Lescaze - 1932
    High Cross House, Dartington, Devon, England had William Lescaze (1896-1969) as one of its architects. A corner window can be glimpsed at the left.

    Villa Schminke by Scharoum - 1933
    The Villa Schminke in Löbau, Saxony was designed by Hans Scharoun (1893-1972). The corner window is hard to spot in the photo because it is shaded. It's directly above the left-hand support post.

    Mandel House by Stone - 1933-35
    The final example (there could have been many more form the 1930s) is the Bedford Hills, New York Richard H. Mandel House by Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978) who had a varied, controversial career. Corner windows are at the first floor left and top floor right.

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    The Ford Model A advertisement shown above was illustrated by James W. Williamson (1899-1978), a self-taught artist with a degree from Yale.

    Ford had been building its famed Model T for many years, but by the mid-1920s its market share was being eroded by more modern competing cars. Eventually, even the stubborn Henry Ford had to concede that the T had to be replaced, as this Wikipedia entry indicates.

    The new Ford required a new marketing approach, so in 1927 the famous N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency from Philadelphia was hired to create advertising for the forthcoming Model A. In those days, most car ads did not use photography, so an artist needed to be selected. Henry's son Edsel was impressed by Williamson's work and had him hired as the advertising artist.

    Williamson had a successful career stretching from the 1920s to the 1950s, though it was at its peak during the 20s and 30s. I could find little regarding him on the Internet aside from this biographical note. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1984, but their Web site contains no biography of him.

    One thing that interests me regarding Ford Model A advertisements is that, although it was a low-priced car, the artwork usually showed Model A's in upper-class settings (note the floatplane in the image above). Moreover, many of the ads were placed in women's-interest magazines.

    As for Williamson, he used a clean style and included charming, sometimes humorous details in his illustrations. And 85 years later, they provide a window into the life of a different, and possibly better, time.

    Gallery







    * * * * * Cross-posted at Car Style Critic * * * * *

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