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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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    Tom Purvis (1888-1959) was a leading British poster artist during the 1920s and 1930s, especially after his style evolved into simplified shapes with areas of flat color and no outlining.

    Purvis' Wikipedia entry is here, but as of the time this post was drafted (late December 2017), it was not very informative. More biographical information can be found here, but you will need to scroll down to find it.

    Although he worked for a number of clients, he is best known for his railroad posters and those for Austin Reed, a clothier. Both Austin Reed and Purvis were at their peak when the posters shown below were created. Purvis moved on to portrait work and religious painting in the years following World War 2. Austin Reed went bankrupt in 2016 and its remains were acquired by Edinburgh Woolen Mill. As I write this, there are no Austin Reed stores in London.

    Gallery

    For most of its existence, Austin Reed's flagship store was located at the lower end of Regent Street, not far from Piccadilly Circus.

    Judging by the woman's hairdo and dress, this poster was painted no earlier that the very late 1930s.

    This poster is from around 1935.



    This is from 1932.

    An earlier poster. The woman's costume is from the mid-to-late 1920s. Note the different Purvis technique.


    Fenchurch Street is in the City. That was more convenient for City workers, avoiding a trek to Regent Street in the West End.


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    Raymond Georges Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) suddenly decided to become an artist not long after he completed his French Army service. Shortly after that, he became involved with the new Surrealist movement. Even though he wasn't formally trained as an artist, he acquired the necessary oil painting skills to produced"finished" looking works. On the other hand, so far as I've been able to find on the Internet, Tanguy never painted anything recognizable: no people, no still-lifes, no landscapes. To that extent, lack of formal art training didn't matter to him or to the many prominent museums that acquired his paintings.

    His Wikipedia entry is here, and his Guggenheim page is here.

    Once Tanguy settled into his version of Surrealism, he mostly painted variations of a basic plan. Its elements included a fairly plain "sky" area that usually took up a large share of the upper part of his canvases along with various visually solid (i.e., not flat) shapes in the lower part. Effort was made to depict those shapes to appear as realistic as possible, not as sketchy or outlined elements as conventional 1930s modernists such as Picasso might have done. This practice was in line with the Surrealist visual arts thought of Salvador Dalí: the invented world should be depicted as if it were real.

    Below are examples of Tanguy's work in chronological order. Most are found in major museum collections.

    Gallery

    Mama, Papa is Wounded! - 1927
    From around the time of his first exhibit, also fairly early in terms of visual (non-literary) Surrealism.

    The Sun in Its Jewel Case - 1937
    Painted during Surrealism's glory years.

    Slowly Toward the North - 1942
    Tanguy sometimes painted dark scenes.

    La produge - 1943

    The Rapidity of Sleep - 1945

    The Wish - 1949

    The Invisibles - 1951

    Imaginary Numbers - 1954
    A late painting made shortly before his fatal stroke.  It and some similar ones were a break from his usual style.

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  • 02/26/18--01:00: The Clark: A Fine Museum
  • Williamstown is in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. It is the home of Williams College, one of the so-called Little Ivies -- small, elite colleges in the Northeast that in some respects are comparable to the more famous Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn and so forth.

    Also in Williamstown is the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, founded by Singer Sewing Machine heir Robert Sterling Clark. Its web page is here. A major part of the Institute is its museum which houses some outstanding paintings.

    It happened that for more than four years I lived and worked in the Albany, New York area, about 45 miles west of Williamstown. During that time, I'd drive through Williamstown maybe three or four time a year. And never visited The Clark. That's because I was focusing on demography and my interest in art was at a comparatively low ebb. Moreover, I was still somewhat in the brainwashed-by-modernist-ideology zone and besides, not a fan of French Impressionism. So if I'd been informed about the Clark and its collection, it wouldn't have interested me.

    In more recent times, I've become aware of what The Clark has. But by then I was living in Seattle and seldom got to the East Coast, let alone western Massachusetts. In September I finally arranged a trip to visit a number of art museums that I either hadn't seen before or hadn't visited in years. Which is how I got to The Clark at last.

    Indeed, its collection is very good. Below are some of the paintings I saw. The images are pulled from The Clark's website and can be enlarged slightly.

    Gallery

    Fumée d'ambre gris - 1880 - John Singer Sargent
    This is one of my very favorite Sargent paintings.

    Nymphs and Satyr - 1873 - William Bouguereau
    And this is my very favorite Bouguereau. So that Sargent and this Bouguereau made the visit well worth the effort. Below are some other paintings of interest.

    Carolus Duran - 1879 - John Singer Sargent
    Sargent studied under Duran, and painted this well-known portrait.

    Self-Portrait - 1857-58 - Edgar Degas

    Rouen Cathedral, The Façade in Sunlight - 1892-94 - Claude Monet
    One of a large series featuring the cathedral at different times of day.

    Waiting - c.1887 - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
    Not the usual sort of Lautrec work.

    The Bridle Path, White Mountains - 1867 - Winslow Homer
    Again, something different from what the artist is known for.

    Crossing the Street - 1873-75 - Giovanni Boldini
    Painted after Boldini moved to Paris, but before he developed his flashy, bold, portrait style.

    Friends or Foes? (The Scout) - 1902-05 - Frederic Remington

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    Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was an alcoholic who when drinking in Greenwich Village bars, would often turn into a nasty drunk. This lifestyle ended in 1956 when the 44-year-old smashed his car into a tree, killing himself and a passenger. More regarding his life can be found here.

    Pollock gained fame thanks to his huge "drip" paintings of the late 1940s. He would spread canvas on a floor and dribble, toss, or otherwise remotely cover it with various colors. It seems there was a limit to this artistic concept. Once he had made a large number of such paintings and he reached his 40th birthday, he apparently began to consider other paths. He tried a few abstract alternatives, but soon virtually ceased painting. And then he ended up dying in that crash.

    Here are some of his last paintings.

    Gallery


    Blue Poles - 1952
    One of his better-known late drip paintings.

    Greyed Rainbow - 1953
    Pollock was still fairly productive in 1953.  This abstraction seems to combine brush and drip.

    Unformed Figure - 1953
    Brushed areas show up more strongly here.

    Ocean Greyness - 1953
    This painting uses brushwork exclusively.

    Portrait and a Dream - 1953
    Now a dab of representationalism creeps in.

    Easter and the Totem - 1953
    Again, relatively large, uncluttered areas. No drips. New York's Museum of Modern Art's web page on the painting notes: "After 1952, dripping and pouring paint were no longer the primary means of expression for Pollock. The totemic forms at the left and right in Easter and the Totem reflect his renewed interest in using a brush to paint quasi-figurative images."

    White Light - 1954
    MoMA's White Light page mentions: "White Light is one of Pollock's last paintings and the only one he completed in 1954. He made it in part by squeezing paint directly from a tube onto the canvas evident in the sculptural white and black tendrils of paint that constitute the top layers. He also used a brush, creating subtle marbling effects by manipulating wet paint in certain areas. Though Pollock was tormented by an artistic block he would never overcome, White Light sparkles..." (emphasis added).

    Sent - 1955

    Search - 1955
    These were Pollock's last paintings, the only two he made in 1955. He died seven months into 1956 without completing another one.

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    The 1920s and 1930s were interesting times where aesthetics are concerned. My e-book "Art Adrift" deals with painting during that period. But pretty much the same thing was happening regarding architecture here in the United States.

    Modernism in its high form was like a religion in that it was Manichean -- having defined sets of things that are either good or evil. Among the "good" things so far as architecture was concerned were that form should follow function and that there ought to be truth to materials. What was "evil" was creating designs based on historical styles, thereby ignoring pure function and mis-using new materials (among other things), an act of dishonesty.

    Like the painters I discussed in my book, some architects were Modernist pioneers who by some point before 1950 had run out of new Modernist ideas. These were largely Europeans of the Bauhaus mode. Then there were practicing architects in Europe and, perhaps especially in America, who were trying to figure out what to do about that Modernism thing. Cherrypick an idea or two for application on a traditional base? In some respects, that was what Art Deco was. Or going whole-hog modernist, which is what George Howe (1886–1955) did.

    Some background on Howe can be found here and here. In brief, Howe, a Harvard man, was classically trained at Paris'École des Beaux-Arts, graduating in 1912. He began his practice in the Philadelphia firm of Furness, Evan & Co., and in 1916 joined the firm headed by Walter Mellor and Arthur Ingersoll Meigs. By the early 1920s after having served in the Great War he was now a partner in Mellor, Meigs and Howe. The firm specialized in residential architecture using Norman and Tudor styles. Then in 1928 Howe left the firm, proclaiming his conversion to Modernism. He started his own firm, taking on the young Swiss modernist Architect William Lescaze as a partner. Their major commission was Philadelphia's landmark Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building, one of the first and best modernist American skyscrapers. Thereafter, as best I can tell, Howe himself designed few if any noteworthy buildings.

    But before he went Modernist, Howe was a thoroughgoing traditionalist architect. Examples of his work are shown below.

    Gallery

    A student project design for a post office.

    Howe's 1917 Philadelphia home, High Hollow.

    A Philadelphia Savings Fund Society branch office at 11th Street and Lehigh Avenue, ca. 1924-28.  Still essentially traditional, those undecorated wall segments hint at Modernism.

    Goodhart Hall auditorium on the Bryn Mawr College campus, 1928  Howe and Meigs disputed who should take credit for the design, this argument helping precipitate Howe's departure from the firm.

    The PSFS skyscraper under construction, probably in 1931.

    Architectural rendering of the PSFS as seen at ground level, ca. 1930.

    Looking up at the PSFS Building, completed 1932.

    Aerial view of the PSFS.

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    Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), who signed his work E. McNight Kauffer and was called Ted, spent most of his career in England even though he was born in Great Falls, Montana. Sources dealing with his life and career are here, here and here.

    Kauffer was studying art in Paris when the Great War broke out. He stopped off in London on his way to the USA, but liked the town and decided to stay there. He had an appreciation for simplification inspired by Modernism, probably gained while in Paris. Moreover, he was fortunate with respect to the timing of his arrival in London. For one thing, he was able to find some clients who also appreciated modernist touches in poster design. For another, being a foreigner from a neutral (at the time) country allowed him to work while other artists his age either volunteered or were conscripted into the army.

    All that aside, Kauffer was a talented poster artist and had a very successful career through the 1920s and 30s. Not long after World War 2 began, he finally returned to America. After struggling for a while to get established, he finally became a regular designer of posters for American Airlines.

    Gallery

    The Cubist birds are perhaps his best-known creation.

    From 1919.

    Much of his work was for London public transit, this from 1924.


    Two more posters from 1924.

    This was done in 1932 and echoes the work of the French artist called A.M. Cassandre.

    I include this 1938 Shell poster because its style is different from much of his work.

    A book cover.

    American Airlines poster, 1948.

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    Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) -- Wikipedia entry here -- was developing eye problems as he reached his late 60s. It seems his eyes became irritated when outdoors for any length of time. Therefore it became difficult for him to paint out of doors, so he took to painting scenes from windows of places he rented. The link above (at the time of writing this) includes several images of his paintings of Paris' boulevard Montmartre near its intersection with the boulevard des Italiens.

    The resulting paintings showed his subjects at various times of day, various weather conditions, and various times of year. This is somewhat analogous to Claude Monet's time-of day series of paintings of haystacks in the early 1890s and of the Rouen Cathedral a few years later. I would think Pissarro had Monet's concept in the back of his mind or even at its forefront when he painted the urban streets in the late 1890s.

    Another series of paintings of Paris scenes was made from the Hôtel du Louvre, as mentioned (in Dutch) here with reference to one of those paintings. They all dealt with the place du Théâtre-Français at the intersection of the rue St-Honoré and the avenue de l'Opéra.  Readers who have visited Paris have almost certainly been at or near this area.

    Some of these are shown below.  I've adjusted several of the captions found on the internet in compensation for a lack of a consistent set of titles in French.

    Gallery

    Avenue de l'Opéra, place du Théâtre-Français - 1898

    Place du Théâtre-Français et l'avenue de l'Opéra, soleil du matin - 1898

    La place du Théâtre-Français, soleil du matin, rue Saint-Honoré - (après la pluie) - 1898

    La place du Théâtre Français - 1898

    La place du Théâtre Français, effet du brouillard - ca. 1898

    La place du Théâtre Français, pluie - 1898

    Place du Théâtre-Français et l'avenue de l'Opéra, effet du neige - 1898

    Place du Théâtre-Français, printemps - 1898

    Place du Théâtre-Français, pluie - 1898

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    This is another post in an occasional series dealing with Art Nouveau architecture found in a number of smaller cities in Europe. I found the current subject in Split, Croatia -- a city with few examples of that style. What struck me was not the Vienna Secession version of Art Nouveau architecture, but the large metal sculptures populating the exterior: most sculpting associated with this kind of architecture is carved stonework or ceramic.

    This 1903 building is called Sumporne Toplice ("Sulphur Spa"), located on the site of such a spring. The architect was Kamilo Tončić, but I have not been able to identify the sculptor.

    Gallery

    Establishment image: September 2011 Google view of Marnontova Ulica (Ulica, pronounced something like oo-litz-uh, is Croatian for "street").

    Now for my photos.  The building is on the corner of Neretvankska Ulica, about a block from the outdoor Fish Market.  It needs some work -- note the small plants growing along the cornice.

    The ground floor is nondescript, so this photo shows the sculptural action.  I'll focus on the lower tier of figures, so note here the higher works featuring faces, something more in line with Vienna Secession style.

    Corner sculpting features men.

    Whereas the main wall sculpting depicts women crying out.

    Matching item seen from a slightly different angle.

    There seem to be about four basic items that were cast several times each to create the ensembles.

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    Fine examples of residential buildings with traditional styles can be found all over America. Perhaps the best are houses built for very wealthy people during the late decades of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th. Another source is college fraternity and sorority houses from that same era. I touched on that subject several years ago here.

    My fraternity's building at the University of Washington was attractive, but I always thought the best of the lot was the Phi Gamma Delta ("Fiji") house before one of its wings was expanded, taking a slight edge off the design. Unlike most of the Greek system buildings at the UW, the Fiji house was designed by an outsider, not a local architect. That outsider was Walter Mellor (1880-1940) of Philadelphia. It seems that Mellor was a Fiji and designed a few other chapter houses. Background on Mellor can be found here and here.

    Mellor's firm was Mellor and Meigs, and for a while Mellor, Meigs and Howe -- Howe being George Howe, later of Howe and Lescaze, designers of the early modernist icon Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building (1932).

    Mellor's firm was quite successful, specializing in expensive residences featuring Norman and sometimes Tudor and other historical themes. The images below were selected to feature a design quirk of Mellor's -- use of tall, sometimes two-story vertical windows often placed above main entrances. (The Norman style includes use of large, narrow windows, but Mellor often chose to exaggerate this.)

    Gallery

    Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, University of Washington - ca. 1955 view. Note the tall windows.

    Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, University of Washington - Google street view (cropped). The revised wing is hidden behind the tree at the right. Seen here is how the original part looks these days.

    Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, Pennsylvania State University. A somewhat tall window can be seen on the right-hand wing.

    Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, University of Pennsylvania.

    House in Chestnut Hill, Phildelphia. The door / window theme is similar to that of the UW Fiji house.

    McCracken House, Germantown, Philadelphia. The largest image I could find.

    McClean Farm Group building, Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. Another small image, but showing the door/window theme again.

    Offices of Mellor and Meigs (ca. 1912), 205 South Juniper Street, Philadelphia. This was an older building converted to architectural firm use. Yet another tall window.

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  • 03/22/18--01:00: Distressing Jeans
  • I find it interesting that many things tend to drift to extremes over time. Often enough, they seem to follow the pattern described by Crane Brinton in his 1938 classic study "Anatomy of Revolution." It's about politics. At some point conditions are very bad, but begin to improve. That's where reform movements kick in -- not when matters are at their worst. But the reform movements drift into radicalism because moderate reformers become regarded as not being pure enough in their beliefs and are purged. This is encapsulated by the phrase "No enemies to the Left." Eventually the movements drift to such an extreme that a successful reaction sets in.

    This is not the exclusive case of politics and bloody revolutions and reactions. One far milder form is found in the world of clothing fashion. Here, a designer or clothing brand (or a designer working for a clothing maker) comes up with an idea about something that hasn't quite been done before. The company makes some items having the new style and the items sell well. So a competitor soon markets a similar, but slightly more extreme design with the intent of exploiting what is becoming a fashion fad. Then other firms jump in, adding more exaggeration and the initial firm joins the process. Soon it's a free-for-all where a number of rag trade outfits are offering a spectrum of such styles, many items pushing the limits of practicality. Reaction sets in when consumers get bored with the style and move on to a new fashion attraction. The only blood here is the red ink on balance sheets caused by large stocks of garments unsold when the market for them collapsed.

    I've been noticing for quite a while a number of young women wearing tattered jeans. But now (I'm drafting this post early December 2017) the weather was getting quite cool, and I'm still seeing a lot of bare leg peeking out behind all those tatters. This post was triggered when I walked past the display window of my local American Eagle Outfitters store and saw some seriously "distressed" women's jeans on display. How much more distressing is possible, I wondered. Not much, I concluded.

    Some background. Half a century ago, young men bought blue jeans from Levi's, Wrangler's and other brands. They were stiff and uniformly dyed. After a year or so of steady wear, the fabric would soften and the color faded, often most strongly in areas with heavy wear such as the knees and thighs. Eventually cuffs might become frayed and fabric might begin to wear through at the knees. This kind of wear-and-tear became something of a status thing. Some wearers of well-used jeans began to look down on folks wearing those stiff, new jeans. Clothing companies eventually caught on to this and marketed factory-faded garments. In recent years outfits such as Ralph Lauren were selling men's jeans that were not only pre-faded, but had factory-made fraying here and there.

    This trend led to mass-produced worn-through knee areas on pant legs. And beyond, though mostly for women's jeans. Examples from American Eagle's website are shown below.

    Gallery

    Let's begin with jeans having a touch of factory fading.

    Moving on, here are worn-through knees.

    More faux- wear 'n' tear: frayed cuffs and holes on the thighs for some obscure reason -- not a place for normal wearing-out.

    Now we must be getting close to the extreme. Much more of this trend and there won't be much of a garment left -- the fashion circling back to gal's cut-off jeans.

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    Fernando Botero (1932 - ), Wikipedia entry here, is not one of my favorite artists, as I have posted. I like neither his art nor his politics, but do not particularly begrudge his success.

    Since the mid-to-late 1950s, when he was in his 20s, Botero stumbled on his trademark subject matter of grossly fat people. That takes in nearly his entire career. But for a few years his style was different, though quickly evolving into what made him wealthy.

    I found a few examples of the early Botero to show you:

    Gallery

    Woman Reading
    Typical Botero painting to set the scene.

    Frente al Mar - 1952
    Most of these folks are scrawny.

    Indian Girl - 1952
    A normal-size person.

    Horses on the Beach - 1953
    Now we see some unnaturally chubby horses.

    En blanco rosa y negro - c. 1952-55
    A heavier human, but within normal bounds.

    Photo a Botero with La Camara degli Sposi (Homena a Mantegna) - c. 1961
    I almost think the overweight Diego Rivera should have been the artist here and not the normal-size Botero.

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    Bernhard Wilhelm "Bernd" Reuters (1901-1958) is best known for his illustrations in Volkswagen brochures of the 1950s, the subject of this post. There seems to be little biographical information about him on the Internet, though here is his German Wikipedia entry.

    Reuters, a year or so too young to serve in the Great War, began to hit his professional stride during the Weimar years with his clean, somewhat Art Deco style illustrations for various products. His reputation was sealed as a depicter of automobiles, working for many car makers. This seems unusual, given that to some degree brand imaging might become somewhat blurred with different brands using the same artist with his distinctive (though popular) style. Apparently Weimar German marketing worked a bit differently than here in the States.

    Following World War 2 and the rise of Volkswagen in the late 1940s, Reuters began a five or six year run of producing striking, distinctive brochure images for the firm, some of which continued to be used following his death from a heart attack. Had he lived, it is likely that his VW career phase would have wound down during the 1960s as advertising illustration was replaced by photography.

    The images below come from various sources including some scans I made from VW brochures in my collection. Click on them to enlarge.

    Gallery

    Graham, an American car maker, used Reuters to promote that it would have a stand at a German car show: 1931.

    This 1937 illustration for Adler has the same spirit as his later VW work.

    A 1938 illustration for Opel, General Motors' German brand.

    Volkswagen brochure cover from the 1950s. Below are scans from various VW brochures of mine.




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    Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945) was born in Paris, but had strong Belgian roots. For instance, he was related to painter Alfred Stevens. This French Wikipedia entry on Mallet-Stevens has more detail than does the one in English, so I suggest you to have your computer translate it if your French is weak.

    Most of the important work by "Rob." -- as he was referred to in France -- was done roughly 1923-1932. Considering the novelty of what Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Phillip Johnson (in their book and Museum of Modern Art exhibit of 1932) named International Style, Mallet-Stevens was kept suprisingly busy with many commissions. Besides architecture, both residential and commercial, he did interior design and designed sets for a number of films.

    Although his architecture avoided explicitly decorative ornamentation (something verboten by modernists), his most important buildings exhibited a good deal of variation in forms of wings and other appendages. That makes them interesting and not as stark as some of the more pure examples of the style. Which is perhaps why the Wikipedia entry notes "L'apport de Mallet-Stevens n'a été pleinement apprécié que longtemps après sa mort. Même au-delà des années 1970, les historiens de l'architecture le considèrent comme un dandy ou un couturier."

    Gallery

    Villa Cavrois in Croix (1929-1932).

    Villa Cavrois, aerial view showing the park.

    Villa Cavrois and reflecting pool after restoration.

    Villa Noailles, Hyères on the Côte d'Azur (1923-27).

    Villa Noailles, jardin.

    Set for 1924 movie L'Inhumaine.

    Bally store, Paris - 1929.

    Hôtel et Casino La Pergola, Saint-jean de Luz - 1929.

    Rue Mallet-Stevens, early street view with Voisin automobile. This was a private street in the 16th Arrondissement, not far from the Musée Marmottan Monet.

    Villa frères Martel, rue Mallet-Stevens, 1927.

    Villa de Mme Reifenberg, rue Mallet-Stevens, ca. 1927. Villa Martel is at left.

    Tamara de Lempicka studio, 1929. Example of Mallet-Stevens' interior design.

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    Santiago Rusiñol i Prats (1861-1931) was a highly skilled Catalonian painter who had the advantage of coming from a wealthy family. His Wikipedia entry stresses his paintings of gardens and includes some images of those. Much more comprehensive is his Catalan entry (link to it from the English version) that goes into considerable detail on his literary and theatrical work. The English entry notes that he was influenced by Modernism and Symbolism, though the paintings below show little or no such influence: Rusiñol was fundamentally representational until fairly late in his career.

    Although trained in Spain, Rusiñol made sure to spend a few years in Paris for seasoning. Other Catalonian painters including Ramon Casas, Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa and Ignacio Zuloaga did the same in those days.

    Here are examples of Rusiñol's work.

    Gallery

    Carretera en otoño - 1888
    An autumn scene.

    Casa de penhores - 1889
    He did a few courtyard paintings as well.

    La cuisine du Moulin de la Galette
    Kitchen of the famous Montmartre night-spot.

    La morfinómona - 1894
    He had another painting of the same setting titled "Before the Morphine.".

    Miguel Utrillo - 1890-91
    Utrillo was probably the father of cityscape modernist Maurice Utrillo, whose mother most certainly was model and painter Suzanne Valadon.

    El Bohemi, Erik Satie al seu estudi - 1891
    That's Erik Satie the modernist composer.

    Romanza - 1894
    And here he is with Suzanne Valadon, with whom he had perhaps his only serious affair.  For some reason Rusiñol has Suzanne at the piano (so far as I know, she didn't play piano) and piano-playing Satie as the observer.

    Interior con Figura Femenina

    Patio de la Alberca, El Generalife Granada
    What it looks like without the usual mobs of tourists.

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  • 04/09/18--01:00: Binary Stoplights
  • The typical stoplight or traffic light or traffic signal (these are alternative names for the same thing) has three lenses of different color. The one at the top in a vertically-oriented unit shines red when lighted. Below that is an orange light, and the one at the bottom signals in green. For more information that you will likely want or need, link to this Wikipedia entry.

    But there was a time when stoplights were binary -- only red and green lenses were mounted. I remember seeing them here in Seattle when I was very young. Don't believe me? Then take a look at this:


    This fuzzy color photo taken in the summer of 1941 is of an intersection in downtown Seattle. Note the stoplight at the upper-left corner.

    It can be pretty hairy driving along when all of a sudden that green light switches to red when you're driving 25 miles per hour and are less than 100 feet from the intersection. You have no choice but to continue on through, hoping that cars getting the green light don't immediately enter the intersection. How it probably worked was that when the signal changed from red to green, drivers would hesitate stepping on the accelerator, realizing that cars could still be approaching on the cross-street.

    At the time I first became aware of stoplights, Seattle was transitioning from binary to the triple-lens variety, and binary lights were long gone by the time I learned to drive.

    All-in-all, this is an instance of human factors being neglected in design work: The problem should have been recognized much earlier.

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    One of the minor themes of this blog is my contempt for political art -- paintings or drawings manifestly espousing a political point of view. I contend that this subject matter degrades artistic quality most of the time (there might be a few exceptions, so I included the word "most" in this sentence).

    An example of this is the famous Mexican painter and muralist Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez (AKA Diego Rivera, 1886-1957). Some biographical information is here and more detail regarding his early career is here.

    Rivera came from a well-to-do family and was able to study art both in Mexico and in Spain. From Spain he went to Paris to joint the modernist art scene there. By the early 1920s his politics had solidified into Marxism. He was became a Communist Party member, but was cut loose because his sympathies were with Leon Trotsky rather than Stalin. However, he remained a strong "fellow traveler" for the rest of his life.

    Below are examples of Rivera's painting over his career. Some of the stylistic evolution was due to normal maturation -- sloughing off earlier styles for different ones. Also, his work was influenced by stylistic fashions of the inter-war years. Whereas he experimented with abstract art in Paris, by the time he returned to Mexico Rivera had settled into a slightly stylized form of representational art suited for his propaganda murals.

    For what it might be worth, I prefer the pre- Great War art to his later works.

    Gallery

    Non-Political:

    Vista de Toledo - 1912
    This is a nice painting: note the triangular element of the composition.

    The Adoration of the Virgin - 1913
    A touch of cubist faceting here on the figures, but it works well.

    The Mathematician - 1918
    The whiff of distortion adds interest to this portrait.

    Subterranean Forces - 1926-27
    Rivera had a good command of the human figure when he chose to use it. The pose of the central figure is unusual, but effectively done.

    Portrait of Natasha Zakólkowa Gelman - 1943
    Stylized, and very 1940s. A far cry from his paeans to the proletariat: Rivera must have been bought one way or another here.

    Political:

    The Uprising - 1931
    A stereotypical propaganda scene.

    Night of the Rich - 1928
    The lower part would have made a nice 1928 Vanity Fair magazine cover illustration.

    Detroit Industry mural - north wall segment - Detroit Institute of Arts - 1933
    Little overt propaganda here, but this represents the mature Rivera style.

    Glorioso Victoria - 1954
    A late mural-on-canvas dripping with antiAmerican hostility and general ugliness typically found in political art.

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    Walter Gotschke (1912-2000) is considered by many automobile art fans as one of the very best in that field. Some background regarding him can be found here and here. I wrote about him here, but might have overstated things when I asserted that he was self-taught. Gotschke was trained in architecture, so must have received some basic training in drawing and watercolor (the latter commonly used for presentations in those days).

    His career until he went blind in his early 70s was as a commercial illustrator specializing in automotive subjects. Some of this was for advertising, other works were commissioned as editorial material for magazines. The latter were usually racing scenes created with pen, watercolor and gouache (as best I can tell), often done in an impressionistic, almost slapdash manner.

    Below are some examples that appeared in Automobile Quarterly, a horizontal format hardbound publication (Volume 15, No. 4, 1977). Gotschke's work was in conjunction with an article about the Adler, an automobile company based in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.

    Due to AQ'a horizontal format (chosen because cars are wider than they are tall, so are best presented that way) combined with my scanner's capabilities, most of the images below are either partial or fragmented. Much of this was because Gotschke's illustrations were splashed across the "gutter" over two facing pages.

    Gallery

    Eröffnung der Autobahn Frankfurt-Darmstadt (opening of the first Autobahn section), 1935. A lineup of Adlers is seen here.

    Right-hand segment of the same illustration showing Der Führer behind the Mercedes in the foreground.  The "gutter" line can be seen towards the left side of this scan.

    Start of the 1937 race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium. The red cars are Alfa-Romeos, the ones in the foreground painted blue are Delages, and the two white cars are Adlers.

    Scene featuring an Adler at the 1937 race at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

    Adler streamline rennwagen during a nighttime pit stop at 24 Heures du Mans, 1937. At the left is Mme Anne-Cécile Rose-Itier who co-drove an Adler Trumpf with Huschke von Hanstein, later Porsche's racing director.

    Right side of same illustration. Adler is the German word for eagle, and an eagle symbol is on the car's grille.

    Adler Trumpf 1.5-liter racing car of the type shown in the previous images. Note Gotschke's treatment of reflections on the shiny body of the car.

    1938 Adler 2.5-liter limousine. His handling of color and reflections is even more impressive in this illustration fragment.  Note how he combines cool blue-gray sky reflections with the warm brown/tan body color.

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    Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) permanently moved the the USA from his native Germany when he was in his early 50s and by the mid-1930s had established his own art school that was highly influential in terms of the mid-century New York milieu of modernist painting. The list of former students is impressive, as can be seen in his Wikipedia entry. Useful information regarding him can be found here, and a Web site devoted to Hofmann is here.

    Hofmann was a convinced modernist who stressed respecting the flat picture plane, among other articles of the modernist faith. His ideas regarding color might have been more useful for artists in general.

    Below are examples of Hofmann's work, mostly over the last 30 years of his long career. Details on the Internet are sketchy, but it seems he was in Paris when the Great War broke out and was unable to return to Germany. Being an enemy alien, it is likely his life was circumscribed in some way, but I have no information regarding that. What one of the above sources mentions is that his paintings in Germany were lost, so there is little to document his early career. Oddly, I could not find much from the post-war German period either.

    However, Hofmann was prolific, and there are paintings from the mid-1930s when he was doing his influential teaching that inspired many painters who became Abstract Expressionists in the 1940s and 1950s.

    Gallery

    Self-Portrait - 1902
    This is the only early Hofmann painting I found on the Internet.

    St. Tropez - 1928
    A drawing with a jumbled-up view of the Riviera port, part of which is indeed on a hill.

    Japanese Girl - 1935
    Now we are in the zone when he was teaching in New York City and Provincetown on Cape Cod.

    Lighthouse - 1936
    Cade Cod landscape of sorts.  Hofmann often painted fairly thinly: Was the price of paint a factor during the Great Depression years?

    Table with Teakettle, Green Vase and Red Flowers - 1936
    Hofmann is said to have been influenced by Matisse, and this painting tends to suggest just that.

    Untitled No. 30A - 1937
    Here is a work that is fully abstract with lots of brushstroke expression. I imagine that this would have influenced those who later became the Abstract Expressionist school in New York.

    Untitled (Provincetown) - 1941
    He did not totally abandon representation until a few years later.

    The Painter - 1941
    Again, vigorous brushwork, striking use of color and almost total abstraction.

    Untitled - 1949
    The New York school of Abstract Expressionism was well into its ascendency when Hofmann painted this vaguely cubist work.

    Deep within the Ravine - 1965
    One of his last paintings. Very strong colors and composition. I'm not a big fan of Modernism, but I like this one.

    The Castle - 1965
    During the 1960s Hofmann made a number of paintings that included rectangles. Perhaps he was interested in adding opposition to less-structured parts of these paintings.

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    The woman is the portrait detail above is Rebecca H. (Harbert?) Whelan (1877? - 1950?), about whom little seems to be known, if Googling the Internet is any indication. It seems that her father (can't get a Google hit on him, either) was a trustee of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where the painter, Thomas Pollock Anshutz (1851-1912) taught. Here is the entire painting:

    A Rose - 1907

    The painting can be seen at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the museum's Web page devoted to the painting is here.

    I wrote about Anshutz here, wondering if the woman who posed for "The Rose" was the same one depicted in "The Incense Burner." It turns out she was the same model. Moreover, Anshutz portrayed her more than twice.

    Below are paintings by Anshutz where Rebecca was either definitely the model or quite possibly was.

    Gallery

    The Incense Burner - c. 1905
    From about the same time as "The Rose."

    Tanagra - 1909
    This is the largest image I could find of this painting. Rebecca is known to be the model.

    Figure Piece - 1909
    I'm not sure if this is Rebecca. The complexion is too ruddy compared to other Anshutz depictions, but the hair, nose and eyebrows suggest it might be her.

    Portrait of Rebecca H. Whelan - c. 1910

    Woman Reading - c. 1910
    Another "maybe" portrait. This is the largest image I could locate while assembling this post: a larger one might offer a closer look at the nose which then could be compared to the profile in "Tanagra." The nose seems somewhat like Rebecca's and ditto the eyebrows and chin, though the position of the head makes comparisons difficult.

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  • 04/26/18--01:00: Max Ernst After Surrealism
  • Max Ernst (1891-1976), as this fairly lengthy Wikipedia entry mentions, was involved in the Dada and Surrealist movements.

    Despite -- or perhaps because -- Surrealism having entered middlebrow American culture by the early 1940s (several movies had Surrealist "dream sequences") avant-garde painters in the USA moved on to various kinds of abstract art after World War 2.

    So did Ernst, though his post-surrealist paintings are not as well known as his Dada and Surrealism. Some examples of his later paintings are below.

    Gallery

    Napoleon in the Wilderness - 1941
    An example of Ernst's Surrealism.

    A Sunny Afternoon - 1957

    Migration - 1963

    A Double Life - 1964

    Homage to Velazquez - 1965

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