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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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    Mary Victoria Leiter (1870-1906), later Vicereine of India (1898-1905) and holding the title Baroness Curzon of Kedleston, was from Chicago, born about the time of my paternal grandmother, also in Chicago. Unlike my grandmother, she came from a wealthy, well-connected mercantile family. This information and more can be found here.

    Unfortunately, she died young, and sat for few portraits.


    Photo (cropped) - 1903

    Mary Victoria Leiter by Alexandre Cabanel - 1887
    Painted when she was in her teens and not long before the artist's death in 1889.

    Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1902
    In the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Lenbach (1836-1904) was a prominent painter based in Munich and noted for the many portraits he painted of Otto von Bismarck. He painted at least three portraits of Mary Curzon, two of which, including this one, might be considered studies.

    Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1901
    This Lenbach portrait is in the collection of the Washington, D.C. National Portrait Gallery. This can be considered a finished portrait.

    Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1901
    I get to view this portrait (study?) by Lenbach fairly often because it can be found in Seattle's Frye Art Museum.

    Posthumous portrait by William Logsdail - 1909

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  • 08/31/15--01:00: 1930s Speed Lines
  • As the fields of industrial design and automobile styling were ramping up in the 1930s, streamlining became something of a fad. Later observers giggled at streamlining of non-mobile objects such as pencil sharpeners that never required aerodynamic efficiency for basic operation. Perhaps this was in reaction to some proselytizing by new industrial designers who claimed in effect that form that followed function would be beautiful and, by the way, sell well.

    A more modest concurrent public relations and client sales approach was to "clean up" fussy, engineering-inspired design of the past. Here again, the results would be stronger sales in an era of depressed economy.

    Theory and ideology aside, most designers recognized by mid-decade that to some extent they were in the fashion business because clients were soon asking them to "freshen" or even redesign products that had been touted as being purely function-driven.

    As for streamlining, aircraft increasingly were becoming strongly streamlined, especially those made of metal. By around the 1934 model year, automobiles began to be designed with reference to serious concerns for aerodynamic efficiency (as they are to a far greater degree now). A famous case in point was the 1934 Chrysler Airflow.

    But for various reasons, not all cars were given more than superficial streamlining in those days. Often streamline-like decor was added to provide a sense of streamlining. Furthermore, industrial designers and architects also included hints of streamlining in buildings and products.

    In this post, I present examples of "speed lines" -- parallel ornamentation shapes suggesting airflow passing along or over the basic shape of the object. A fad, but in retrospect, a fun and basically harmless one.


    1934 Chevrolet - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
    Modest speed lines can be seen along the side of the hood and rear wheel skirt.

    1934 Nash
    Speed lines here are more elaborate, being found on front and rear fender valances and atop the hood.

    Chrysler Airflow facelift proposal - ca. 1934-35
    By Norman Bel Geddes. This unused proposal featured grooves along most of the car.

    Taxi design - 1938
    By Raymond Loewy. Multiple, stacked bumpers also serve as speed lines.

    Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 locomotive by Loewy - 1939
    An addition to some actual streamlining at the front of the boiler section, Loewy added speed lines wrapping around the front and sides. That's Loewy in the photo.

    Sears Coldspot refrigerator by Loewy - 1935
    An early Loewy design with vertical speed lines.

    Air-King Products radio - 1930-33
    Designed by John Gordon Rideout and Harold van Doren. Plenty of parallel lines along with some skyscraper-inspired massing of the body. Photo from Brooklyn Museum.

    Kodak Baby Brownie camera - 1935
    By Walter Dorwin Teague. More than most early industrial designers, Teague liked parallel speed line décor.

    Sparton 517-B radio by Teague - 1936

    Texaco Type C filling station by Teague - ca. 1936
    Streamlining is evoked here in the curved shapes associated with the overhang. Speed lines wrap around the building.

    1942 Chrysler
    Now it's the early 1940s, but Chrysler stylists gave their 1942 model one final, heavy, pre-war dose of speed lines.

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    Alfred Émile Léopold Stevens (1823-1906) was a Belgian whose family was heavily involved in the arts, as this Wikipedia entry explains. Paris being a far more important art center than Brussels, Stevens went there for training and spent most of his long and largely successful career there.

    He was in his late 40s and 50s when Impressionism came on the scene, though freely-brushed paintings had appeared before then. In any case, Stevens, whose favorite subjects were elegant women, was a painter quite capable of working in both tight and free styles. I hadn't given this any though until I noticed the following painting on the Internet.

    Looking Out To Sea - ca. 1890
    The women is painted in a tight, "finished" manner, whereas the seascape in the background is painted in a free, almost-Impressionist style with a late-Turner feel. The only date for it that I could find had it painted around 1890. I'll assume that is so, for now. The images below are of some paintings he did in various styles earlier in his career that, if the 1890 date is about right, indicate a path to its achievement.


    In the Country - c. 1867
    Stevens was in his early 40s when he did this. The woodsy background is dark, but not painted very tightly, as is so for the foreground subject.

    After the Ball (Confidence) - 1874
    An interior scene painted when Stevens was about 50. Tightly done: notice the fabric detail on the dresses.

    Sarah Bernhardt - 1882
    The famed actress took painting lessons from Stevens when he was in his early 60s. In return, he painted her several times. Here most of it is painted in a rather feathery brush style, sharpened here and there. Interestingly, the more tightly-painted fan seems more the main subject rather than Bernhardt's face. (But yes, we are still drawn to her eyes.)

    Elegant on the Boulevards - 1888
    This is done in a free, almost sketchy manner. Something like the sea background in the first painting.

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    Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978) had a successful career in terms of the number of projects with which he and his firm were associated. Scroll down this Wikipedia entry for a list of some of them. More biographical information can be found here.

    Stone first made his mark designing modernist houses during the Depression years. His reputation was enhanced due to his work on the new headquarters of New York's Museum of Modern Art (since replaced). Modernism having become the official religion of professional architecture, Stone was riding high professionally.

    Then came the mid-1950s when he began covering some of his buildings with geometrically pattered screens and even (gasp!!) adding such ornamental detail on the actual exteriors. The Architecture establishment was shocked at such regression, but by then Stone was famous enough that commissions kept coming.

    By the 1970s his firm was back to designing more acceptably modernistic buildings.


    Conger-Goodyear House, Old Westbury Long Island - 1938
    This Ezra Stoller photo shows one of his modernist houses.

    Museum of Modern Art, New York City - 1939
    Designed in association with Philip Goodwin, the MoMA building had a few curved details (the entry overhang and piercings in the roof), faint echoes of some of Frank Lloyd Wright's thoughts.

    Stone House Façade, New York City - 1956
    Stone's East Sixties house fronted by one of his new screens.

    U.S. Embassy, New Delhi - 1954-59
    This was the screened building that caught the world's attention and helped make Stone known to the public at large.

    Home Savings / Perpetual Savings, Los Angeles - 1962
    Photo of the architectural model.

    2 Columbus Circle (Gallery of Modern Art), New York - 1964
    Commissioned by Huntington Hartford, this was a museum featuring representational art that failed to compete agains the modernist art tide. The exterior was unusual, being largely blank with decorative openings around the edges. The non-rectangular openings towards the top were unconventional, but the decorative posts at the bottom were in synch with what Minoru Yamasaki was doing in Seattle at that time. I was in the building once, now dimly recalling that the interior layout seemed cramped and confusing. The building has been drastically renovated for other uses.

    National Geographic Society, Washington D.C. - 1964
    Here Stone reverted to classic Greek column elements: base, middle and cap (in the form of a bold cornice).

    State University of New York, Albany - 1964-64
    Here Stone and his design team ignored human factors. I spent more the four years in the Albany area in the early 1970s and visited the SUNY campus fairly often to use the library. In those days (and perhaps still) doors were opened by grasping squared metal bars -- an unpleasant experience if you weren't wearing gloves. I also recall that it was an inconvenient grouping to navigate, something related to the fact that most of the buildings were linked at ground level. That was to provide shelter during the frigid part of the school year, a worthy aim not well carried out. I rate the SUNY project a failure.

    Standard Oil Building, Chicago - 1970-74
    Finally back to a more purely modernist style late in Stone's career.

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  • 09/10/15--01:00: Illustrations by Fish
  • Anne Harriet Fish Sifton (1890-1964), is best known as "Fish" -- that's her maiden name and how she usually signed her cartoons and illustrations. She was English, but well known in the United States due to her cover art and cartoons in Vanity Fair magazine. Biographical information is sketchy, but various bits of information can be found here, here and here.

    Her style included considerable simplification and exaggeration of the human form, but in the interests of overall image design and emphasizing her witty take on high society with its all-too-human undertones. It's interesting that this style that strikes us today as being very 1920s was actually present by around 1915.

    Some images below are copyrighted by Condé Nast publications; it seems they will be happy to sell you prints of Vanity Fair covers by Fish.


    Photo of Anne Fish

    Vanity Fair cover - November, 1916

    Vanity Fair cover art (detail) - December, 1921

    Awful Weekends (part of a series)
    Click to enlarge so that captions can be read.

    Vanity Fair cover - February, 1926

    Vanity Fair cartoon workup (via Bonhams) - 1923

    Abdulla cigarettes ad art - 1927

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    Adolph Friedrich Erdmann von Menzel (1815-1905) -- the "von" bestowed late in his career -- was very popular in his day and honored by the Kaiser upon his death. These accolades were deserved, because Menzel was highly skilled, his drawings perhaps being more likable than his painted works.

    His Wikipedia entry is here. It's fairly brief, but notes two interesting and likely related facts aside from mentioning that his formal art training was limited. One fact is that he was only about four and a half feet tall. The other is that while he enjoyed society, he was emotionally detached, especially so far as women were concerned.

    Besides being very short, many of his works also were of small size, more a curiosity than a connection. Probably he was a natural miniaturist like Meissonier, Dalí and others. Below are some of his small-format works.


    At the Louvre - 1867 (9.3 x 7.1 in.)
    Hard to tell if this is a small study or a finished work just by looking at it. However, Menzel considered it finished because he signed it.

    Baron von der Heydt, Minister of State - 1864 (11.65 x 8.8 in.)
    Although the format is not large, the image is only slightly less than life-size, typical of most portraits.

    Meissonier in his Studio at Poissy - 1869 (9 x 11.5 in.)
    Meissonier also liked to work small, though the painting seen at his easel is fairly normal-size.

    Princess Alexandrine of Prussia - ca. 1863-64 (11.6 x 9 in.)
    A study about the size of a news magazine cover.

    Soldier of the Prussian Landwehr and French Prisoners - 1871 (8.3 x 7.8 in.)
    This is unfinished, though it seems odd that the left-hand 60 % is almost complete and all the remainder is roughly blocked in.

    The Artist's Foot - 1876 (15.2 x 13.2 in.)
    The depicted foot is close to actual size.

    Weekday in Paris - 1869 (19 x 27.4 in.)
    This painting is larger than the others, but the details are quite small.

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    I find the houses architects design for themselves interesting. Presumably, the constraint of catering to the desires of a client are swept away so that the architect can express his own design philosophy and personality.

    Other constraints remain, of course. The nature of the site, the cost of building the house and the needs of the architect's family can be factors. Then there is the possibility that the architect wishes the house to be a professional advertisement, to be featured in local newspapers or even architectural magazines.

    The present post features personal houses designed by a group of architects called the Harvard Five. They were associated with Harvard University in one way or another and settled in New Canaan, Connecticut where their houses were built. They were born between 1902 and 1919 and the houses were built from 1949 to 1958, so we are dealing with a group having a fairly homogeneous background. The houses reflect avant-garde domestic design in the United States from 1945 to around 1955 when the designs were conceived.

    Modernist and postmodern architects have done a good deal of damage, in my judgment. But the worst of it is in the form of large buildings and not so much houses, where modest size means less visual impact. The Harvard Five houses are situated on large lots, fairly isolated from neighbors.

    Shared design characteristics include large expanses of window glass, a byproduct of 20th century heating technology that eliminated the need to build tall houses with small windows and compact rooms each with a fireplace. They have flat roofs (or nearly so), an architectural fad contradicting the "form follows function" concept (flat roofs shed water and snow less well than gabled roofs). None feature explicit ornamentation. All but one are single-story.


    Marcel Breuer House - 1949
    Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) had Bauhaus associations that continued through the 1930s in the person of Walter Gropius. There seems to be a whiff or decorative intent in the angled paneling on some of the walls.

    Landis Gores House - 1948
    Landis Gores (1919-1991) was stricken with polio, yet managed to continue his career. The use of stonework on some of the walls is a nod to the New England environment and also helps to offset the stark, geometrical aspects of the design.

    John M. Johansen House - 1958
    John M. Johansen (1916-2012) used a formal (symmetrical) floor plan where four sub-structures were attached to this creek-spanning central unit near its corners. Roofs are flat aside from the part featured in the photo.

    Philip Johnson House - 1953
    This house by Philip Johnson (1906-2005) is by far the most famous and controversial.  Controversial due to its apparent lack of privacy. I consider it a case of an architectural theory pushed beyond the realm of common sense.

    Eliot Noyes House - 1955
    Eliot Noyes (1910-1977) is perhaps better known for his industrial design and corporate image work than for his architecture.  Like Gores, he used local stone in his house's construction. But he did this in a more rigid way, essentially blanking out two walls of the building in stark contrast to the glazing of the side facing the camera in this photo. Like Johnson's house, this strikes me as being an instance of being too clever, resulting in degraded livability.

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    Note: I drafted this on 13 June for later posting. Now it turns out Illustration Magazine's just-released Issue No. 49 has a large article on John Newton Howitt. Below is what I wrote in June regarding Howitt.

    * * * * *

    John Newton Howitt (1885-1958) is an illustrator not widely known these days. But I'd place him in the "successful" category because he made the American illustration Big Time by doing occasional cover art for the Saturday Evening Post, the leading general-interest magazine in his time.

    A reasonably detailed biographical sketch can be found here, a Web site devoted to illustrators working for "pulp" magazines. Printed on cheap, pulp (thick, with rough surfaces) paper, they flourished during the Great Depression of the 1930s specializing in fiction topics such as crime, science-fiction, cowboys, romance, terror, adventure and such.

    So what was an illustrator for "slick" (smooth, quality paper) magazines such as the Post doing in the pulp field? He was trying to maintain his livelihood during the Depression, and the pulp market was doing well thanks to escapist subjects and cheap news stand prices. Some better-known illustrators such as Tom Lovell and Walter Baumhofer got their start in pulps, eventually graduating to the slicks. So Howitt was an exception, doing slicks work before and after the Depression and pulps and the occasional slick during those trying years.

    Howitt signed his Fine Art and slicks illustrations with his full name. His pulp work either wasn't signed at all or else he simply used the initial "H" to identify it. Apparently many of the originals of his pulp work were destroyed. One source stated the Howitt himself did it, another claims it was his wife.


    Buried Treasure - (Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal advertisement) - 1909

    The Symphony - ca. 1925
    This might be a Fine Arts painting, but could just as well be art for advertising radios.

    Probably a Fine Arts painting - 1910s?

    Mother and children illustration - late 1920s

    Farm family - probably an illustration from the 1930s

    Holland's Magazine cover - May, 1929

    Horror Stories cover - January 1935

    Terror Tales cover - November 1935
    Howitt's work was noticeably better than that found on many pulp covers (Baumhofer and a few others excepted).

    Saturday Evening Post cover, 20 September 1936

    Saturday Evening Post cover, 19 October 1940
    The joke here is that the sailor sees a photo of a soldier (!!!) falling out of the purse.

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  • 09/24/15--01:00: Mr. Munch and Mrs. Schwarz

  • In July I was working my way through the Edvard Munch (1863-1944) portion of the Rasmus Meyer collection at the Bergen, Norway Kunstmuseet when I noticed the painting that I then immediately photographed (see above). It is a portrait study of Mrs. (Fru in Norwegian, Frau in German) Helene Schwarz, made in 1906 when Munch was in Berlin.

    I am ambivalent regarding Munch, who I wrote about here. I'm not fond of most of his work, but acknowledge that he was capable of drawing and painting in reasonable and interesting ways at times -- mostly early in his career. I consider his Schwarz series among his better efforts.

    He made at least three versions of Mrs. Schwarz that survive, all done in 1906; they are shown below. But it wasn't until 2013 that the identity of Mrs. Schwarz was provisionally found. The account is here. It seems that Helene Schwarz was the wife of Georg Schwarz, a consultant to the Cassirer art gallery in Berlin. Before marrying him, she served as a companion to Ernst and Toni Cassirer. It also seems that Georg wanted to buy the final painting, but Munch refused the offer and eventually sold it in Norway.


    An image of the above portrait study found at the The Athenaeum website (scroll down).

    A drawing or lithographic print of Mrs. Schwarz.

    The final portrait painting.

    A photograph of Mrs. Schwarz (at right) with her son Andreas and perhaps a nanny.

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    The painting shown above is Häuser in Unterach am Attersee (Houses at Unterach on the Attersee) painted around 1916 by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). He often summered in the Austrian lake district even while the Great War was raging  It has been theorized that Klimt used a telescope for this view; the perspective certainly is flattened in the manner of a telephoto lens image. Biographical information on Klimt can be found here.

    The approximately meter-square painting was auctioned at Christies in New York City on 8 November 2006. The pre-auction estimate was $18-25 million, but it sold for $31,376,000.

    It was one of a group of Klimt paintings owned by the Bloch-Bauer family that were confiscated by the Nazis following the 1938 Anschluss. After the war they were in the hands of the Austrian government and displayed in Vienna's Belvedere where I saw some in the late 1990s. A descendent of the family sued for their return, and eventually succeeded. Thereafter, they were sold, as mentioned here (scroll down).

    The last time we were in Vienna, my wife and I stopped by the Österreichische Werkstätten (Austrian Workshops), Kärntner Strasse 6, 1010 Wien, Österreich and spotted serigraphs of the painting. We decided to buy one the next day, but by then the rolled-up version had been sold and what remained was the serigraph attached to a stretcher. The cost of shipping it to Seattle was about the same as that of the serigraph itself, so I later wrapped it and it managed to survive the air trip home. It was properly framed and now hangs over our fireplace.

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    Pieter van der Hem (1885-1961), called "Piet," came to my attention thanks to this Sept. 21, 2015 post on David Apatoff's Illustration Art blog. Apatoff was contrasting van der Hem's painting and conventional illustration career with his work during the Great War as a political cartoonist in neutral Amsterdam. According to his Dutch Wikipedia entry, he did further editorial cartooning after the war.

    I found his wartime cartoons to be of the standard-issue anti-war kind as found in leftist publications such as The Masses. The post-war cartoons I noticed while Googling seemed to be mostly gentle in tone, such as might be found in American general-interest magazines of that time. (Though I easily could have missed harsher ones that failed to pop up during my search.)

    Below are examples of van der Hem's painting and illustration. He was versatile, and had a nice touch better suited to illustration than Fine Arts painting.


    A Promenade on the Pincio, Rome
    This was included in David Apatoff's blog post.

    Moulin Rouge - ca. 1908-09

    Spanish scene - 1914
    Apparently van der Hem spent some time in Spain.


    Flamenco Dancer, Madrid - 1914

    Woman waiting at a restaurant table

    Lezende Echtpaar - Couple reading

    Exhibit poster - 1913

    In het theater - In the Theatre
    This might have been painted after 1930.

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    Back around 1960, Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955) was still being featured as an example of modernism in an art history class I took in college. But his reputation was probably on the wane by then, and he became more of a historical footnote in the years that followed. His Wikipedia entry is here, and a web site dedicated to him is here.

    I haven't followed prices of Utrillo paintings, so can't say when or if they bottomed out. So far as I know, they didn't fall to ha'penny type prices as happened for a while for the likes of William Bouguereau, and recent sales prices of some Utrillos have been at more than 100K in euros, pounds and U.S. dollars.

    The most interest in Utrillo seems to be in France, where the Pinacothèque de Paris had a 2009 exhibition devoted to him and his mother, the model/painter Suzanne Valadon.

    Utrillo himself was a mess at the personal level. Besides being alcoholic, he was in general a weak man with mental problems. The art training he got was from his mother, who learned her craft in her modeling days from the likes of Edgar Degas. Plus, he spent many years in Paris' Montmartre neighborhood, home to painters of the bohemian sort and absorbed the setting and the art being made there.

    His best paintings were made during the first 20 or so years of his career, when he worked on his cityscapes outdoors. Some references refer to this as his "white" period, because the buildings he depicted mostly had nearly-white walls, a Parisian characteristic. Later on, he was reduced to painting indoors, using picture postcard images as references.

    Despite all that was working against him, Utrillo gained a strong reputation and his paintings sold well. Some examples are shown below.


    Rue Muller à Montmartre - ca. 1908

    La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, Paris
    In the 1920s, Utrillo lived only a few blocks from where this was painted.

    Cabaret du Lapin Agile
    This was down the hill from where he once lived.

    Paris street - 1914
    Is that the Moulin de la Galette in the distance?

    Suburban street
    Utrillo also lived outside Paris at times.

    Rue de la Jonquiere, Paris

    Rue de l'Éperon, et rue de Coutellerie, Pontoise

    Théatre de L'Atelier sous la neige - ca. 1918

    Notre-Dame, Paris
    This might have been from a postcard-based reference.

    I find it hard to evaluate Utrillo's paintings. Many have a kind of charm. They have a "primitive" or "untrained" feel to them, but not completely. That's because Utrillo either was taught perspective or had an intuitive sense of it. Not that he practiced it consistently, but part of the ethos of artistic Modernism was the rejection of previous standards, and this inconsistency probably helped to establish his modernist reputation.

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  • 10/08/15--01:00: Jugendstil in Ålesund

  • Yes, that's a large photo of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II in the window of a building in Ålesund, Norway. And nearby is Keiser Wilhelms gate (Emperor William's Lane), a street named after the man. Why would that be?

    It seems that Ålesund in the early 20th century was a ramshackle small city comprised of mostly wooden buildings. Then, on 23 January 1904, it was mostly destroyed in a great fire.

    Following that disaster, much of Europe pitched in to help rebuild the city. And the most important booster of the project was the Kaiser, whose efforts are still greatly appreciated, as thisFrankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung article notes. Wilhelm had an imperial yacht and loved to take summer cruises, often in the Norwegian fjord country where he had become fond of Ålesund. Besides money and materials, Germany sent in architects to help rebuild the city in a more fire-resistant manner.

    In 1904 the fashionable architectural style in Europe was Art Nouveau or Jugendstil, as it was called in Germany. Architectural Art Nouveau is largely a matter of ornamentation that varied in its degree of complexity or elaboration from place to place. At the elaborate extreme is Latvian Art Nouveau as seen in certain neighborhoods in Riga. German Jugendstil, on the other hand, was largely limited to small amounts of decoration, though certain details of building form were also involved. That said, it isn't surprising that Ålesund's Jugendstil architecture by German and Norwegian architects followed the German pattern.

    Below are more photos of Ålesund I took on a dreary July morning before stores had opened.


    The gray-brown building at the left is a former pharmacy that's now a museum or center devoted to Ålesund Jugendstil.

    A mix of classical and Jugendstil.

    In this ensemble we see bits of ornamentation, but mostly Jugendstil building form details such as those curved windows.

    Back to where I started. Kaiser Wilhelm's photo is at the right-hand side of this image (you can glimpse his head).

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  • 10/12/15--01:00: Joan Mitchell, Lousy Artist
  • I noticed that a Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) painting was auctioned for nearly twelve million dollars. Perhaps the buyer was simply speculating that Mitchell's works would appreciate in value in the future. Maybe it was an expensive gesture of solidarity with feminism. Possibly the buyer was dead drunk at the time.

    A reasonably detailed Wikipedia biography of Mitchell is here. It notes that she spent two years at Smith, a Seven Sisters college (the Ivy League equivalent for women in times past), then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago where she earned BFA and MFA degrees. It also mentions that her health was poor for about ten years before she died. Not much touched-on was that she was very difficult to get along with, though that's irrelevant regarding her art which was Abstract Expressionist, having no intrinsic meaning or message.

    Below are some images of Mitchell's paintings that I grabbed off the Internet. I'll use them to help explain why I think she was a lousy artist.


    Mitchell in her studio
    She was of the "action painter" variety of Abstract Expressionism, where brushwork is the featured component of the painting. Seen here are several works that are large, have essentially white backgrounds, and use a similar set of other colors. I imagine that she could crank out an average of at least one of these a day.

    Untitled - 1951
    This was done the year after she got her MFA degree, It shows a bit of compositional structure, unlike most of her later work.

    City Landscape - 1955
    This too exhibits some structure -- in the form of pseudo-Cloisonnist (or Cubist?) light-colored segments offset by a tangle of other colors

    Untitled - 1957
    An "action" painting lacking the kind of purposeful or structured action paint strokes of, say,  Franz Kline. Mitchell is doing little more than simply smearing paint.

    Sale neige - 1980
    She spent much of her career in France, hence the "dirty snow" title.

    Buckwheat - 1982
    Like the previous painting, Mitchell at least uses colors to roughly establish zones for her consistently agitated brushwork that seems to have featured shorter strokes as her career progressed.

    Before, After II - 1985
    Painted when her health began to worsen. Like "Buckwheat," she uses essentially opposing colors, here with the little white and black and a touch of red to make the effect less relentless.

    So far as I'm concerned, Mitchell's greatest defect is that her paintings are not very interesting. Her color choices are often poor, though Sale neige and Buckwheat show some spark. Her "action" brushwork strikes me as little more than dithering. As for composition, often enough it's a matter of placing a blob of increasingly dense dithering towards the center of the canvas.

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    W. Herbert Dunton (1878-1936), known as "Buck" Dunton, was an outdoors guy who happened to become a reasonably successful illustrator, then moved to arty Taos, New Mexico to take up Fine Arts painting. A useful biography can be found here.

    Dunton wasn't the only illustrator-turned-Taos-painter. The link mentions that another Taos former illustrator, Ernest Blumenschein, influenced Dunton to follow his career/location-change lead.

    What interests me most about Dunton was his change in style that followed his change in residence and shift in career. Dunton's illustrations were in the general mode of Frank Schoonover, N.C. Wyeth, and others who did a lot of Western scenes. In New Mexico, Dunton eased away from that into a more simplified style that was fashionable in America in the 1920s and 30s. What I don't know is how much this change was due to personal preference, any influence by other Taos artists (peer-pressure of a mild kind), or for marketing reasons (Modernism-Very-Light was selling well).

    We are supposed to believe that true artists will follow their own path regardless of external factors. If that were always so, then why are there stylistic fashions in painting?


    "Crow Outlier" - cover story art, Literary Digest - April 1916
    An example of Dunton's illustration work.

    The Shower - 1914
    Interesting, bold composition. I wonder if the original has different colors; the stormy sky should be gray, not a bright blue.

    Texas of Old
    This was auctioned for $881,000 at Christie's in 2003.

    The Bob Cat Hunter
    Auctioned at Christie's in 2010 for $662,500. I don't have dates for either of these paintings, but their style is similar, showing a hint of Modernist simplification.

    The Rendezvous
    No date for this one, either. I'm guessing that it was done before the two painting above it.

    Cottonwood in the Indian Canyon
    More Modernism. Besides simplification of forms, we now see that forms are being abstracted into somewhat geometric objects such as the Iowa trees Grant Wood was painting in the early 1930s.

    My Children - 1920
    This has a mural-like feel to it, yet also reminds me of the paintings of George W. Lambert.

    Sunset in the Foothills
    Another instance of simplification and geometry. Nice painting however, as is the one above it.

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  • 10/19/15--01:00: Pierre Bonnard's Big Show
  • On average, my timing regarding want-to-see art exhibits in places I'm visiting is usually bad. That should be expected, because the majority of art museum exhibitions don't interest me, which means that I'm unlikely to get to see the few I'd like if my travel dates are random relative to exhibition schedules. What frustrates me most is when I miss a must-see exhibit by only a few days or weeks.

    That said, my luck was good in July because the morning after I arrived in Paris, the Musée d'Orsay's Pierre Bonnard exhibition (17 March - 19 July 2015 -- "Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia") was starting its final day. (American Bonnard admirers will have the chance to visit a version of it at San Francisco's Legion of Honor from 6 February to 15 May 2016.)

    I'm not actually a big fan of Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) -- Wikipedia entry here. I don't dislike his work, but don't love it either. But I was pleased to be able to view so many Bonnard paintings at one time.

    There were many, many items in room after room. Some were from the d'Orsay's collection, but others came from as far afield as Toledo, Ohio and Moscow's Pushkin.

    Below are some examples of Bonnard's work, a few of which were in the display.


    Poster - 1891
    This poster helped launch Bonnard's career. He did other commercial work, much of it related to books and publications such as Thadée Natanson's La Revue blanche.

    Femme avec chien - 1891

    Peignoir - 1892

    Misia avec roses - 1908
    Musician and muse to many artists, Misia, at the time of this portrait called Misia Edwards (she was previously married to Natanson and later married Spanish painter José-Maria Sert).

    Nu à contre-jour - 1908
    This well-known painting was in the exhibition.

    La loge - 1908
    Commentary on the people portrayed in the painting found here on the d'Orsay web page:

    Dans leur loge à l'Opéra de Paris, sujet "moderne" que la fin du XIXe siècle a mis à l'honneur, sont représentés Gaston [Bernheim, the art dealer], debout au centre, avec, à sa droite, sa belle-soeur Mathilde, à sa gauche, son épouse Suzanne, et à l'arrière-plan, son frère aîné, Josse.

    Google translation:
    "In their box at the Opera of Paris, about "modern" as the late nineteenth century honored are represented Gaston, standing center, to his right, his brother's wife Mathilde, to his left, his wife Suzanne, and background, his elder brother, Josse."

    Place Clichy - 1912
    The square as seen from a brasserie.

    Salle à manger à la campagne - 1913
    A scene combining an interior, still life, plein-air and a portrait.

    La Palme - 1926
    Bonnard later spent much of his time on the Côte d'Azur.

    Because there were so many paintings on display and my time was somewhat limited, I'll offer only the following impression Bonnard's work made on me. His painting style is usually patchy, with many small, uneven brush strokes.  He often places "warm" and "cool" colors close together using such strokes to cover an area. This sometimes is in the form of opposite, "vibrating" colors such as some Impressionists applied. More often, the colors are closer on the color wheel, but tending towards warm and cool directions.

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    William Penhallow Henderson (1877-1943) was one of a number of artists who moved to the Taos - Santa Fe part of New Mexico around one hundred years ago. In Henderson's case, this was in part because his wife was tubercular and it was thought that the dry climate would be helpful (and she did live for 36 more years). Here is some biographical information on Henderson.

    What I find interesting about Henderson, Ernest Blumenschein, Buck Dunton and others of that New Mexican migration cohort is that their painting styles had similarities. Could it have been the climate, topography and Indian subculture of north-central New Mexico that molded their paintings? To some degree I think this was so. But not to the degree that the California Impressionists' art was influenced by their subject matter. New Mexico painters also tended to be influenced by art style fashion, and one strong fashion prevalent from the late 'teens through the 1920s and well into the 1930s was what I've called Modernism-Light. That is, forms were simplified, often with a hint of reduction to geometric shapes, and certainly by elimination of some surface detailing. What I am not yet sure of is whether buyers of such paintings demanded that style or if there instead was subtle peer pressure or group-think going on.


    Little Sister (The Chaperone) - ca. 1916

    Holy Week in New Mexico - 1919

    La Tienda Rosa - ca. 1920

    Noon - 1920

    Feast Day, San Juan Pueblo - ca. 1921

    Fiesta Brown Eyed Beauty - 1924

    Cerro Gordo Before the Sangre de Christo Mountains - 1930

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    Sir Frank William Brangwyn (1867-1956) was largely self-taught, as this Wikipedia entry mentions. That supposed lack was no obstacle, because Brangwyn had a long, successful career. I wrote about his railroad poster work here.

    He had a strong, interesting style suited to mural painting. An 1895 mural commission definitely launched the style featured below, but he was already heading in that direction. In the early 1890s he traveled to North Africa and Turkey, and the scenery there brightened his palette. He also began to paint in a flatter manner and introduce outlining, and important feature of murals that had to be seen and read from a distance.

    Some of the images below are quite large, so click on them to view in even greater detail.


    Venetian Scene - 1906
    An example of Brangwyn's signature painting style.

    Buccaneers - 1892
    This pre-1895 painting approaches his mural style, though stronger outlining is lacking.

    Tank in Action - 3 panels - 1925-26
    A later work showing British troops and a tank in action during the Great War

    The Wine Press

    Venice: Santa Maria Through Rigging

    Music - 1895
    "Music" and "Dance," below, were panels in Siegfried Bing's famous Galeries l'Art Nouveau in Paris that gave the name to that stylistic movement.

    Dance - 1895
    The other Galeries l'Art Nouveau mural. This is one of my favorite Brangwyn works.

    Dance - detail - 1895
    I find Brangwyn's use of color and outlining fascinating because I'm not sure if he had a system for this or whether it was intuitive.

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    Besides a major exhibition of Pierre Bonnard's paintings, the Musée d'Orsay was holding another exhibit when I dropped by 19 July, titled Dolce vita ? Du Liberty au design italien (1900-1940)"Dolce Vita? From the Liberty to Italian Design (1900-1940)" (running 14 April - 13 September 2015).

    An item that caught my attention was this large triptych:

    It's titled La leggenda di Orfeo (1905), painted by Luigi Bonazza (1877-1965). The image above does not have very good resolution. Otherwise, it would show that Bonazzo used a form of pointillism to fill areas of what otherwise appear to be solid, sharply painted subjects.

    According to this Wikipedia entry (in Italian), he was born and grew up in Arco, just north of Lake Garda in Trentino, or Südtirol in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which has been part of Italy since the Great War. Bonazzo was of the Italian-speaking community there and fled south when Italy declared war on the Central Powers, even though he had received his art training in Vienna.

    Bonazzo seems to have spent much of his career in Trento, keeping his style almost traditional, yet with an air of modernism. More examples of his work are below.


    Trentino (Poster) - 1904
    Bonazzo, like many artists of his time, also did commercial work.

    Jovis Amores, Deione - ca. 1908-1912
    From a series of mezzotint engravings.

    Notte d'estate ca. 1912 or 1916 or 1920 or 1928
    I can't find good, consistent information on this tempera-on-cardboard painting.

    Gabriele D'Annunzio
    Portrait of the poet, adventurer, aviator and politician.

    Ritratto di Feliciana - 1939
    A later work also adding a slight modernist touch to a traditional format.

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    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) -- biography here -- did not quite make it to his 37th birthday, joining a surprisingly long list of artists who died before reaching 40. Had he lived a normal life-span, most of his existing paintings, posters, and other works might have been classed as "early."

    Even so, it might interest readers to feature some of his really early paintings, works completed by the time he was about 25.

    As can be seen, he was a proficient artist even as a teenager and capable of competently painting in traditional style. Yet even then, he was experimenting with a more thinly-painted, sketchier manner as can be seen in the first image below done when he was about 18.


    Young Routy in Céleyan - 1882

    Seated Nude - 1882

    Academic study - 1883

    Gustave-Lucien Dennery - 1883

    Portrait of a Young Woman - 1884

    Carmen Gaudin - 1885

    Suzanne Valadon - ca. 1886

    The Laundress - Carmen Gaudin - 1886

    Mme. Lili Grenier - 1888

    Hélène Vary - 1888

    Poudre Riz (Suzanne Valadon) - 1888-89

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