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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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    Stockton Mulford (1886-1960) lost his right eye in an accident when he was seven years old, yet became an illustrator. The best source of information regarding Mulford is David Saunders' Pulp Artists blog. It mentions that it took a while for him to work into becoming a full-time illustrator: he was active from around 1920 to 1946 when he was able to retire. During the Depression he seems to have mostly produced cover art for pulp magazines of various kinds.

    Examples of Mulford's art are below. They vary in quality, the pulp art being the lowest. Perhaps because the pay was poor he put less time into those pieces. Judging from the examples below, he seems to have done his best work during the mid-1920s.

    There is one outstanding illustration that he never came close to equaling, so far as I can tell at present. Sort of like the novelist who has only one great book. You'll find it at the bottom of the scroll.


    Delineator cover - July, 1924

    Argosy cover - 2 February 1924

    Interior story illustration, American Magazine - February 1928

    The plain area at the top suggests this is cover art for a magazine or perhaps a book (it provides room for a title, etc.).

    Liberty Magazine cover - 3 June 1933

    Black Mask cover - April 1937
    An example of Mulford's pulp magazine cover art.

    Adventure Magazine cover - May 1942
    Probably painted a couple months after the Pearl Harbor attack. At that time, the only major encounter between the American and Japanese armies was in the Philippines, on Bataan Peninsula.

    The Long Call - Everybody's Magazine cover art - April 1924
    This is a fine illustration. In my opinion, only the Delineator cover art and the American story illustration come close -- but not very close. I wonder why Mulford wasn't able to consistently do this well.

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    Edmund Dulac (1882-1953) was yet another artist who abandoned a professional career track (law, in his case) for art. He also left his native country (France) for another (England) where he became a noted book illustrator. His Wikipedia entry is here, but a much more useful source for art fans is this post by Jim Vadeboncoeur that offers insights regarding how changes in printing technology worked to Dulac's advantage.

    It seems that Dulac's book illustration heyday was between 1905 and the start of the Great War -- a relatively short span. His career continued with moderate success until his death.

    Those heyday illustrations were mostly for classical fantasies, often Orientalist subjects. They are charmingly done, though today's Politically Correct crowd would probably find their usual reasons to hate them.

    Take a look at some of them below, if you dare.


    Circe the Enchantress

    The Emperor's New Clothes

    From the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

    "Open, Sesame!"

    The Fisherman and the Genie

    Princess Scheherazade

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    As regular Art Contrarian readers probably sense, I am perhaps more interested than I should be with paintings made in the 1920s and 1930s.

    This post is yet another in that vein. But I can justify it! How? It happened that Jacob Alexander Elshin (1892-1976) lived only about two miles away when I was growing up, and down the street from where one of my high school buddies lived. So how can I not write this post?

    His Wikipedia entry is little more than a placeholder. There are a few other snippets about him on the Internet such as here, where it mentions that "Jacob Elshin was born in Russia in 1892 and received his education and art training there. He fled the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Following the Revolution, he went to Shanghai where he worked as a newspaper cartoonist for three years before moving to Seattle in 1923. From then on, Elshin maintained a long and active painting career in the Pacific Northwest and became one of the region's most noted painters and teachers. He had four solo exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum in 1934, 1943, 1956 and 1965."

    Wikipedia mentions that he was an officer in the Imperial army. So was his father, as is reported here that General Alexander Jacob Elshin (1865-1951) during the First World War commanded the XX Army Corps of the Russian Imperial Army. The link suggests Elshin was a 4-star general, but in Western armies, a corps commander would normally be a Lieutenant General (three stars in the US Army). Jacob was probably at most a captain, given his age. I also speculate that the Elshins' escape from Russia was later than 1917, given that the Bolshevik Revolution didn't happen until towards the end of that year. They probably went to eastern Siberia which was controlled by White Russian forces and then moved on to China around 1920, as many anti-Red Russians did when White resistance collapsed.

    Your Humble Blogger could probably clear up such matters by reading a 1965 transcript of an Elshin interview held by the Smithsonian. But that would involve obtaining a microfilm copy, and I'm not willing to go to that much trouble researching him. The transcript is said to deal with the following: "Elshin speaks of his background in Russia and China; moving to Seattle in 1923; his work as a free-lance commercial artist and working as a greeting card artist; painting for the Public Works of Art Project; working on murals for the WPA Federal Art Project; political problems with the WPA; the destruction of some of the work that was produced by the project; some of the injustices he suffered during his years with the WPA. He recalls Robert Bruce Inverarity, Edward Rowan and Mark Tobey."

    Below are examples of Elshin's paintings.


    General Alexander Elshin and Jacob Elshin

    Marusia - 1933
    Russian scene ... from memory? ... invented?

    Grand Coulee Dam Construction Triptych
    The huge dam being built in eastern Washington State in the late 1930s.

    Mural study for the University District Post Office, Seattle - 1939
    Located less than a block from the University of Washington campus, hence the subject matter.

    Alamo Mural study for Dallas Post Office competition - 1937
    Pretty static for what one would expect to be an action scene, which might have been why Elshin didn't win the competition.

    Sawmill on Puget Sound

    Smith Cove, Seattle
    During World War 2 and many years later this was a U.S. navy terminal. Now Smith Cove is a cruise ship port.

    Mt. Baker Beach, Seattle
    On Seattle's Lake Washington. Now the site for annual hydroplane races.

    Gates to Nowhere - 1948
    Postwar, Elshin must have decided to move from a conservative version of Social Realism to a more fashionable form of Modernism.

    Flight into Egypt - 1959
    More of the same a few years later.

    Based on the images above plus some that I didn't post, my conclusion is that Elshin never came close to creating a masterpiece. At best he was a journeyman painter who managed to make a living at his trade in difficult economic times.

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    A mental game I sometimes play is trying to guess how a highway interchange or building under construction will look when completed. Yes, in many cases I could get on the Internet to find out. But that would take the fun out of it.

    A recent example is the new Apple Store in Seattle's University Village shopping center. It's less than three miles from where I live and I visit the Village at least once a day to walk around and go to a Starbucks. So I watched the construction at every stage of development. Playing my little game, I had no clue as to what store or stores the building might contain.

    Construction lasted for about a year, the foundation work being done during Seattle's summer dry season. Such timing is almost always a good idea because building a foundation in mud and glop might lead to trouble. In Apple's case, foundation construction risks were heightened by the fact that 100 years earlier the site was on low-lying, possibly marshy land a few hundred feet from the shore of Lake Washington. In 1917 the ship canal system from the lake to Puget Sound was opened and water level of the lake dropped by around nine feet, putting the shopping center safely above lake level.

    The above-ground part of the building eventually appeared and it was evident that it was not coming close to occupying the entire site. This, and the large wall areas devoted to what might be windows, became the focus of my mental game. Would there be more than one shop there? What would happen if the tenant left and the structure had to be modified for a new one? -- it didn't look easy to modify. All this contradicted conventional design practices for open-air shopping centers, of which University Village is a highly successful example.

    Two or three days before the store opened it became evident that it would be a new Apple Store, replacing the existing one a few feet away. Then it all made sense. Apple stores have very high levels of sales income to square-footage of floor space, so there was no necessity for the building to fill out the entire site. Plus, given Apple's huge amount of liquid assets, the company is unlikely to abandon the store for a long time, so the matter of renovating it for a new tenant is unlikely to happen for many years.

    Some background regarding the new Apple Store is here. It mentions that there is a basement. The basement is used for storage of inventory. And it's in that zone of low, possibly somewhat formerly waterlogged land of a century and more ago. It hope the storage area is highly waterproofed.

    Now for the architecture: two iPhone photos I took on a Sunday morning before the store opened for the day. It seems that for the last few years Apple has been building some new stores using classical modernist style, though these store are not identical. This building sits on a platform of about the same extent as the overhanging roof. Although the overall design differs, its details gives me the feeling of Mies van der Rohe's famous 1929 Barcelona Pavilion.

    Here is a photo I took of part of the rebuilt pavilion in 2010. Note the thin, square, pillar, the platform, the overhanging roof, and the floor-to-ceiling windows. All are found on the Apple Store.

    The solid projection at the left in the Pavilion photo is echoed by the projecting slab with the Apple logo at the center of this photo.

    Very elegant.  Better yet, it is unlike the nearby connected-storefronts of the Village.  I am of the opinion that International Style architecture works well only when it is contrasted by its setting -- concentrations of International are visually lethal.

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    Cigarette makers haven't been allowed to advertise in publications or broadcast media in the United States for a long time now. Before that, cigarettes were heavily advertised and a number of well-known illustrators helped put food on their tables by working on those ads.

    The glory years for this lasted from the mid-1920s into the early 1930s. After that, though some cigarette advertising was illustrated, photography had largely taken over in an effort to have readers relate better to celebrity or glamorous smokers featured in those ads.

    Although some variation in taste was possible via blending tobaccos from different sources (Egypt, Turkey, the American South), cigarettes are to a considerable extent a commodity. Therefore, most advertising themes in those days featured distinguished, older, rich-appearing people and, more often, attractive, youthful smokers in sophisticated settings. Earlier ads often used illustrations of exotic scenes from tobacco growing countries, while later ads sometimes used photos or illustrations of supposed physicians stressing that cigarettes had health benefits. Still, lifestyle themes predominated until the end.

    Here are some cigarette ads from that era.


    These first two examples are unsigned, but clearly illustrated by J.C. Leyendecker.

    Art signed by Adolph Treidler.

    Army-Navy football game theme, signed by McClelland Barclay.

    By John La Gatta.

    This is unsigned. The lady is nicely done ... not so much the man, who seems a bit strange but supposedly sophisticated.

    Now for some early 1930s ads. This is by ace fashion illustrator Eric (Carl Erickson).

    Art by Howard Chandler Christy, another case of a nicely done woman and a strange man.

    By Bradshaw Crandell who specialized in depicting pretty faces.

    A wedding theme painted by Neysa McMein.

    Another illustration by John La Gatta. Note the theme. The slogan was repeated in a series of ads.

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    Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918) was one of the first architects to move away from Classicism towards Modernism. His mature style was something of a geometrical version of the Art Nouveau style or Jugendstil, as it was known in German speaking countries. A brief biography is here.

    One of his noteworthy creations was the 1899 Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station in Vienna -- the Stadtbahn being the municipal railway system.

    Ten years or so ago when I was visiting Vienna, I noticed a poster dealing with the Karlsplatz station building in a display window. I continued walking for a short distance, but then turned back to the shop because I felt I had to have that poster (and I almost never buy posters).

    I know nothing about the poster's origin. It incorporates elements of architectural presentations, but might possibly be a presentation in itself created by Wagner's firm.

    Here it is: click on the images to enlarge.


    A slightly cropped photo I took of my poster.

    I find these women charmingly depicted. Whoever drew them knew what he was doing artistically.  When I was taking first-year architectural design, most renderings on display showed people as blobs with legs.

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    Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is widely regarded as one of Finland's most significant artists. I'd put her raw talent up there with that of Albert Edelfelt and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. She was a very good representational painter with a deft brushwork touch, but began to be seduced by Modernism about the time she turned 40. Thereafter, she painted some interesting works along with a number of second-rate derivative ones.

    Her background is a little too complicated for this blog post to present, so I encourage you to link to her Wikipedia entry, these comments dealing with a Frankfurt Kunsthalle exhibit, and this rather lengthy and detailed set of observations and biographical items by a Belgian art critic.

    The key point to bear in mind is that even though she lived to age 83, Schjerfbeck had poor health for most of her life. A childhood hip injury is mentioned, so perhaps she remained partly crippled. Also mentioned is chronic lack of energy that could have had a different cause.

    Below is a chronologically arranged selection of images of her work found here and there on the Internet.


    On the Jetty - 1879
    This is the earliest painting of hers that I could find, made when she was about 17.

    Wounded Warrior in the Snow - 1880

    Dancing Shoes - 1882
    One of her best-known paintings. It sold for £3,044,500 at a 2008 Sotheby's auction.

    Portrait of a Child - 1883
    Note the brushwork.

    Funeral in Brittany - 1884
    Schjerfbeck had some art training in Paris and, like a number of other painters, spent some time in Brittany.

    Death of Wilhelm von Schwerin - 1886
    Perhaps because this kind of thing was expected in those days, she painted a scene from history.

    The Seamstress - 1903
    During the 1890s Schjerfbeck taught at a Finnish art school and apparently painted little, if what can be found on the Internet is any clue. But here, in her early 40s, we find representation starting to edge away into Modernism.

    Costume Picture II (also known as Girl with Orange, The Baker's Daughter) - 1909
    By this point, her paintings are becoming more thinly painted and the subjects simplified. I wonder how much of this was modernist influence versus whether this was somewhat due to her limited energy level.

    Self-Portrait - 1915
    About age 53.

    Girl from Eydtkuhnen - 1927
    Cubist influence. She did many paintings of women featuring simplified faces similar to what you see here.

    Angel Fragment (after El Greco) - 1928
    A slight return to her representational roots: nicely done Modernism-lite.

    Brown Eyes - 1935-37
    Schjerfbeck was aware of art trends outside Finland, but avoided the fashionable Social Realism style during the 1920s and 30s.

    Friends - 1942
    Age 80, painting very thinly.

    Self-Portrait with Red Spot - 1944
    One of her last works.

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    This post is frustrating to write. That's because I want to make a point, but have nearly zero in the way of illustrations to support it.

    This has to do with the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. The famous one "mad" King Ludwig II caused to be built that's now a major tourist attraction. I visited it perhaps 20 years ago and finally got around to seeing it again in May, this time paying more attention to its murals.

    The place is filled with murals, most dealing with German legends that Richard Wagner (who Ludwig patronized) incorporated in his operas. A sense of this is conveyed here on the part of the Neuschwanstein Web site that presents a "tour" of the castle.

    My problem? It's that I noticed that one artist who seemed especially good at conveying facial expressions -- something akin to stage actors who act even with their eyes to convey something to the audience. But the castle tour rules strongly state that no photography is permitted, so I couldn't capture images of examples. Worse, the number of images of Neuschanstein murals on the Internet is small, so only one decent example turned up. All of this meaning that it's essentially impossible to convey to you what I found on my tour of the place.

    The artist who stagecraft I noticed is August Spieß (1841-1923), a Munich-based painter about whom little can be found other than this. Worse, there are almost no images of his work on the Web other than parts of some of his Neuschwanstein murals or possibly related work.

    So the point of this post is to alert readers planning to visit Neuschwanstein to keep their eyes peeled for murals by Spieß in various rooms (they aren't all in Ludwig's bedroom).


    Ludwig's bedroom where the murals deal with Tristan and Isolde.

    This is the only example I could find regarding stagecraft: note the woman at the left. The images below are also  dealing with Tristan and Isolde, but they lack that stagecraft. For some reason, Spieß portrayed Isolde as being rather bland, undramatic.

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    A while ago I wrote about the French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and included some period images of the rue Mallet-Stevens in Paris'16e arrondissement, a private street containing Moderne residential buildings designed by him.

    I've been both aware and curious about it for many years, so when I visited Paris in April, I made a point to track it down and take a few photos to use for this blog. It's a bit off the beaten track, about a 5-10 minute walk through a nondescript apartment neighborhood from the nearest subway stop. It's also 90 years old, but in pretty good shape, as the photos indicate. When I took the photos I didn't have reference material handy, so they don't quite match the viewpoints of photos taken when the development was new.

    A much more detailed treatment of the rue is here. Besides period images, it has recent photos of the exteriors as well as some interior views.


    View of the street - c. 1927
    That's a Voisin automobile -- very modern in those days.

    Street view - April 2018
    I happened to take this photo from a similar spot.

    Rue Mallet Stevens veille de l'inauguration
    Before the formal opening. The building on the left is Mallet-Steven's.

    Hôtel Mallet-Stevens - April 2018

    Villa de Mme. Reifenberg - c. 1927

    Villa of Mme. Reifenberg - April 2018

    Atelier frères Joël et Jon Martel, Sculpteurs - c. 1927
    Workshop and residence of brothers who were sculptors.

    Atelier Martel - April 2018

    Hôtel Dreyfus - c. 1927

    Hôtel Dreyfus - April 2018

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    Several years ago I did a Molti Riratti post on Winston Churchill.

    One of the paintings was the one in the image above, a 1954 portrait by Graham Vivian Sutherland (1903-1980), his Wikipedia entry here. This portrait was noteworthy because Churchill and his wife hated it, and as explained here, Clementine had it destroyed after Winston's death. She did the right thing.

    Even though the painting is gone, traces of it remain in the form of sketches and studies Sutherland made. Some of these can be found by Googling. There is one study that can be viewed in person if you happen to be in London.

    Here is my photo of it taken at the National Portrait Gallery in April. Click to enlarge, and you might be able to read the plaque dealing with it. Better yet, you can find a larger image by linking here to the Portrait Gallery's page dealing with the painting. The caption material can be found by scrolling down.

    Although Sutherland seems to have been highly regarded in Britain in his day, his work is not to my taste. Images of many of his painting can be found on the Internet, but I include a few below so that you can get a sense of what he was doing during his career.


    Entrance to a Lane - 1939
    During the 1930s and 1940s he favored Surrealistic and semi-abstract styles.

    Crucifixion - 1946
    He made a number of Christian-themes paintings and created works for the Coventry Cathedral replacement.

    Somerset Maugham - 1949
    A portrait painted a few years before the Churchill project.  Also anti-flattering.

    Self-portrait - 1977
    Made when in his mid-70s.

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    August Bleser, Jr. (1898-1966) was an illustrator active during the 1920s and 30s and probably beyond, for whom I can find no biographical information on the Internet. Well, I dug five pages into Google and was seeing a lot of extraneous items, so the odds of hitting research paydirt were getting pretty slim. About all I could find were his birth and death years.

    On the other hand, Google turned up quite a few examples of his work. Information as to where his illustrations were published was skimpy, but it seems to me that he appeared in magazines a notch down from the Saturday Evening Post -- the holy grail for illustrators in his time. That's because many of his works on the Web are in color, something third and lower tier publications could seldom afford aside from cover art.

    I rate Blaser as being entirely competent in the context of 1920-1940 magazine illustration. But as I've mentioned at times, there was plenty of competition, including illustrators who were slightly better and had more recognizable (and therefore salable) styles.

    Here are examples of his work.


    The Casino - 1927
    Vignette style was popular then.

    Commercial art studio scene - 1930

    In the Office - 1932

    Meeting at the Train
    This looks like it was cropped from the original at the top, but perhaps not. The bottom is okay because his signature is visible.

    Night Bridge

    Surprise Attack - 1932

    A Reflective Moment - 1936
    Graveside scene.

    Candlelight dinner scene
    In the background is New York City's George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson River. It's not clear if the restaurant in on the Manhattan side or the New Jersey side, though I'm inclined to guess the latter. Regardless, I doubt there was such a place when Blaser made this illustration around 1940: there are no restaurants in that setting nowadays, if Google maps offers any clue. But I confess it has been decades since I got to New York a lot, so I might be mistaken.

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    I last wrote about Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) here.

    He was a prolific portrait painter, creating works both fine and mediocre, though most were competently done. Some were never completed, and a few of those are the subject of this post.

    I find unfinished works interesting because they shed light on artists' techniques and general approach to the job. In Lawrences's case, he invariably completed the face first, along with enough background to put the colors in intended context. The remainder would be very roughly indicated.

    One strongly recommended approach to painting is to work the entire canvas throughout the process. This indeed makes a lot of sense when painting landscapes or still-lifes. But a portrait painter needs to be sure the subject's face is captured to his (and probably his sitter's) satisfaction. So why waste time and paint working the whole canvas if it turns out that the face isn't done right? That seems to have been Lawrence's philosophy if the paintings shown below are any indication.


    King George IV, When Prince of Wales - c. 1814
    This can be seen in London's National Portrait Gallery.

    Maria, Lady Callcott - 1819

    William Wilberforce - 1828
    Also in the National Portrait Gallery.  Here Lawrence sketched in more non-facial detail than usual, perhaps due to the size and shape of the canvas.  He probably wanted to make sure he got the overall composition right, something not needed on more tightly focused subjects.

    John Frederick Campbell, 2nd Baron Campbell and 1st Earl Cawdor - 1829
    Painted not long before Lawrences' death, so perhaps he didn't have the time or energy to complete it.

    Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington - c. 1829
    The same hold true for this portrait of the Duke of Wellington as Prime Minister.  It is a recent acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery.  The caption on the painting's plaque notes that Lady Jersey, who commissioned the portrait, refused to have a studio assistant complete it following Lawrences's death.

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    Recently I was on a get-out-of-town jaunt and found myself driving through Ellensburg, a college town in central Washington where I noticed signs directing folks to the Clymer Museum & Gallery. I was vaguely aware that there was such a museum, but hadn't bothered to track it down. Having some free time, I finally did so.

    The focus is John Clymer (1907-1989), an Ellensburg native who had a successful career as an illustrator. I posted about him here, and his Wikipedia entry is here.

    I snapped a number of pictures using my iPhone, and some of them are displayed below. Click on them to enlarge.


    Clymer illustrations for his high school yearbook. Very good for teenager work.

    Early example of his commercial work. My father had a .22 that was the same or quite similar to the one illustrated. I used it to shoot at tin cans, my father supervising.

    When the USA entered World War 2, not-young Clymer and fellow illustrator Tom Lovell enlisted in the Marine Corps.

    Here are the artist jarheads (as we Army types fondly called them).  Lovell is on the left, Clymer on the right.  I posted about Lovell here.

    Clymer at work during his Corps years.

    Two of Clymer's pallettes.

    Part of a Clymer family display. He pictured family members in the Post cover illustration shown.

    * * * * *

    Below are texts providing interesting background information about Clymer and how he worked.

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    Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886) was a leading Munich academic painter during the third quarter of the 19th century (Wikipedia entry here). That entry and Google prefer to spell his first name as Karl -- the typical German spelling. However, the German Wikipedia entry as well as plaques for his works displayed at Munich's Neue Pinakothek use the spelling seen in this post's lead sentence. Presumably that version was his preference.

    The term "pompier" used in the title was a late-19th century term a derision applied to academic painting, as explained here. True, Piloty was that for most of his career, but I find his paintings generally less stilted than many others of that ilk.

    Let's take a look:


    Seni in front of Wallenstein's Body - 1855
    Wallenstein was a leading general during the Thirty Years War (biographical information here). Eventually he was assassinated, the inspiration for this painting.

    Christopher Columbus - 1865
    On display at the Neue Pinakothek.

    The Taking of Jerusalem by Godfrey de Bouillon 1099 - c. 1855-60
    Pompier subject matter -- a scene from the Crusades. Note the strong triangular composition.

    Death of Alexander the Great - c. 1885
    A late painting. Here the composition is a wedge at the left pointing towards the sheet covering Alexander's body.

    Thusnelda at the Triumph of Germanicus - 1873
    Background on the subject matter is here. This was painted when Piloty was probably at the height of his powers. His approach is something like that of a mural painter where an important objective is to fill the real estate with detail. In other words, it's not a painting to be grasped at a glance. The viewer is expected to scan it, seeking out and savoring various details the artist has provided. I must confess that, alas, my attention span is not geared for this.

    The painting is huge. Note the youngsters at the lower right of my Neue Pinakothek photo that provide some scale.

    Here is a part of the painting featuring Thusnelda. For some reason I don't find her very
    interesting. In compensation, look at the expressions on the faces of the men at the right. Also, apologies for the usual poor-quality museum setting photography.

    Another close-up. This is of the soldier at the lower right shown riding a bear. Again, note the facial expressions: well painted.

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    Some European cities have chosen to keep large Modern and Postmodern buildings separated from their core areas that contain premodern architecture. Examples that come to mind are Paris (to some extent), Vienna and Prague. Other cities allow large glass-and steel structures. Berlin, for instance, has its horrible Potsdamer Platz, while Frankfurt-am-Main has hosted skyscrapers for many years now. An important reason for Frankfurt's choice besides the factor of war damage to its previous architecture is because it is the financial center of continental Europe. Lots of floor space was needed, so building up made sense.

    The same applies to London, another world-class financial center that's focused in the City. The City and the Canary Wharf area downstream in the old Docklands district are where London's flashy contemporary architecture is largely concentrated. Much of the rest of the central area has preserved its old character, thank Heaven.

    Aside from Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Edwin Lutyens, I find it hard to quickly come up with names of outstanding British architects. I'm sure I could do a little research and identify a few more. Nevertheless, the country lacks a reputation for outstanding architectural design when compared to other places in Europe and the USA. Some of London's new buildings were designed by architects from other countries, but the results strike me as being generally second-rate even in the Postmodern context. Makes me wonder why this characteristic persists.

    To illustrate this, below are photos of two government-related building completed around 1912 along with some views along the Thames River where construction a century later appeared.


    This shows the entrance area of Middlesex Guildhall, home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. It is located across the street from Westminster Abbey. A nice touch is the contrast between the dense sculpting and nearby plain surfaces.

    Looking upwards the effect is reminiscent of entrances to Gothic cathedrals. Perhaps the intention was to relate the building to the nearby Abbey.

    This is Admiralty Arch linking The Mall and Trafalgar Square. Ornamentation is much more dense than on the contemporaneous Middlesex Guildhall. It is unusual in that it combines the features of an arch (that is usefully placed) and an office/residential building (at one time the Admiralty's First Sea Lord resided here).

    The dark, shaded structure to the left is a wall of The Tower of London. The classical facade beyond the park belongs to 12 Trinity Square. And the large, Postmodern structure in the distance is 20 Fenchurch Street, popularly known as the Walkie-Talkie (named after a American World War 2 communication device).

    The Walkie-Talkie and other new City buildings as seen from across the Thames.

    A little farther upstream towards London Bridge we find this view. the tall structure is called The Shard, and it's the tallest building in London. The designer is the well-known Renzo Piano. No doubt, as witnessed by the seemingly inefficient floor space, the building was intended to make a statement. I think the current building-as-sculpture fashion is not a large improvement over the rectangular box style of 1950s-1960s New York City, but it's what those independent architectural minds see fit to design these days. I think the Shard's best feature is the treatment at its top where the machinery area is screened by latticework.

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    London's National Portrait Gallery has been using the centenary of the 1914-1918 Great War as a theme for presentations in some of its rooms. Among the paintings I saw there in April were three huge works commissioned by Sir Abraham Bailey who Wikipedia describes as a "South African diamond tycoon, politician, financier and cricketer."

    These are group portraits of generals, admirals and statesmen. One is just simply that, so far as I can tell. But two of them seem to incorporate commentary, as I explain below in captions.

    The images of entire paintings below are via the National Portrait Gallery, London. Click on images to enlarge.


    General Officers of World War I - John Singer Sargent - 1922
    Wikipedia identifies them here. Most of the most senior officers (French, Haig and Robertson) are placed slightly to the right of center, but as best I can tell, Sargent and perhaps Bailey had no particular point to make in the form of placement of the subjects.

    Naval Officers of World War I - Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope - 1921
    This is not the case so far as admirals are concerned. At the far right is Sir John Jellicoe who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, the most important naval battle of the war and then became First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy (the top position for a serving officer). So why is he pushed off the an extreme side of the canvas while his successor, David Beatty, is shown at the center, his admiral's sleeve stripes prominent? Because of Royal Navy and British government politics. Jutland, or a similar battle, was expected by many in government and in the population at large to be another Trafalgar, where the enemy fleet was to have been destroyed. As it happened, the battle was something of a standoff, where the Royal Navy sustained the greater losses while the German High Seas Fleet pretty much stayed in port for the rest of the war -- strategically defeated. Many blamed Jellicoe for the mixed outcome while Beatty, who made some questionable decisions during the battle, was regarded as a hero. Given existing Royal Navy doctrine and weather conditions when the battle was fought, Jellicoe might have done better, but didn't do badly (in my opinion). But Beatty prevailed in the battle post-mortems, and was First Sea Lord when the painting was made. I suspect Bailey desired Jellicoe's placement at the far edge and Beatty's at the center.

    Statesmen of World War I - James Guthrie - 1924-1930
    Guthrie was a "Glasgow Boy" near the end of his career when this painting was made. I wrote about him here. Depicted men are identified here. Interestingly, Prime Minister (1908-1916) H.H. Asquith is shown seated below the standing/gesturing Arthur Balfour, and Prime Minister (1916-1922) David Lloyd George is seated third from the left. One might think PMs would be more prominent. But the featured statesman is Winston Churchill, highlighted and facing the viewer. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), Minister of Munitions (1917-1919) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) 1924-1929 -- essentially the time the painting was made. While he was an important statesman in those days, he was probably not the most important. Again, I think Bailly influenced how he was depicted.

    Statesmen of World War I - detail
    This is a photo I took at the Portrait Gallery showing Guthrie's depiction of Churchill in greater detail.  He is looking directly at the viewer, while the others are not, thus also attracting further attention to him.  And as it turned out, he proved to be the most important one shown in light of future history.

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    If you happen to be interested in the Paris art scene from around, say, 1880 into the 1920s, a museum well worth a visit is the Musée de Montmartre. It's located on grounds containing a vineyard and the main building was once home to artists such as Raoul Dufy, Suzanne Valadon, and her son Maurice Utrillo.

    Perhaps the best-known painting in its collection is the large canvas by Adolphe Léon Willette (1857-1926) titled in Latin "Parce Domine" (refering to the antiphon "Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo -- Spare, Lord, spare your people." It was first housed in Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), a famous late 19th century cabaret. It depicts a fantasy Parisian bohemian scene.

    I can't find a satisfactory overall image of it on the Internet, though there are some decent detail images. So I might as well add to that pile with some of my own photos taken in 2015 and earlier this year. That's because Parce Domine has a lot of content, much of it both charming and interesting. Click on images to enlarge.


    Slightly cropped version of the entire painting. In the upper right are words and music of the antiphon.

    Zooming in towards the left.

    Zooming further.

    Panning to the right.

    Zooming to the lower central part of that image.

    And towards the right.

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  • 09/10/18--01:00: Kolo Moser: Some Graphic Art
  • Koloman Moser (1868-1918) was one of the key players in the Vienna Secession movement, active in a variety of media as I posted here. Biographical information can be found here and here.

    He was very good at everything he did except, perhaps, painting. Below are examples of his graphic art -- posters, Ex Libris stickers, book covers and the like.


    Study and the final, printed version of "Allegory of Spring" from around 1896.

    Full book cover design -- back, spine and front -- for a book of German poetry.

    Poster for exhibit of German art and decoration.

    Ex Libris sticker.

    Poster for a Secession event.

    Vorfrühling - Illustation zum gleichnamigen Gedicht von Rainer Maria Rilke - 1901
    "Early Spring" poems by Rilke.

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    I enjoy posting about unfinished paintings because I am curious as to how various artists went about their work, and unfinished paintings reveal intermediate levels of that process. For more on this, here is an interesting link to Christie's.

    This post's subject is Edgar Degas (1834-1917) who left many unfinished paintings. In some cases he signed them, perhaps signifying that he considered them complete enough to his satisfaction.

    Examples are shown below. Interestingly, those I found on the Internet had women as subjects. But then, that is true of the majority of his paintings.


    Woman Ironing - c. 1869
    I found this in Munich's Neue Pinakothek, which prompted me to write this post. The image is very slightly cropped around the edges. The face seems to be completed. Note the two versions of her left arm and the muddled right hand. His signature is at the lower right.

    Madame Théodore Gobillard - Berthe Morisot's older sister - 1869
    Essentially monochrome aside for the foliage in the background. The subject's face isn't much more developed than the rest of the painting. Hands are roughly indicated. He signed this.

    Ballet Dancer with Crossed Arms - 1872
    Not much more than a sketch, yet it has his signature.

    Woman Seated on Balcony - 1872
    Note his working out the room's perspective (it's not quite correct). Again the hands seem to be saved for later development.

    Woman with an Umbrella - Berthe Jeantaud - 1876
    Like most other portrait painters Degas chose to complete the face before expending time and materials on the rest.

    Study of a Girl's Head - late 1970s
    If this is indeed a study (the title was as I found it on the Web), then it's not really an unfinished painting. I include it here to show Degas' brushwork and use of color.

    Combing the Hair - 1895
    This was painted later than the others and features his more familiar mature style. Interestingly, whereas it's largely "flat" Degas includes a table that provides as sense of depth by its shape and position.

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    In the 1930s most American adventure-type comic strips lacked illustrator-quality artwork. One example I used here was the Buck Rogers strip drawn by Dick Calkins. There were a few comic strips that featured convincing depictions -- especially those by Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) and Hal Foster (Tarzan, and Prince Valiant).

    So quality artwork was not necessary for popular appeal, as there were a number of strips in those days that were as successful as Raymond's and Foster's. Those other adventure strips tended to feature adequate depictions given the constraints of the size of panels as they appeared in print and the need to crank out artwork at a pace necessary for daily and sometimes daily-plus-Sunday publication. That is, corners had to be cut even though a successful strip allowed the main artist to hire one or more assistants to help out.

    But the main reasons for an adventure strip's success were plotting and characters. Readers had to be pulled along by the action, anticipating each day what might happen next. And the characters had to be interesting enough that readers didn't lose interest in them.

    An example of this was the long-lived (1933-1973) comic strip Smilin' Jack by Zack Mosley (1906-1993).  A detailed appreciation worth reading is here.

    Smilin' Jack was an adventure strip featuring airplanes, one of several in the 1930s and later. Mosley included drawings of planes as much as he could, placing a tiny one in the background if he couldn't find an excuse to make it more prominent. His drawings of people were marginal. They were simply done, useful for rapid production and appearance in comparatively small space on newspaper pages. But their anatomy -- especially for shapely women -- was distorted. In later decades he tended to make heads and faces too large compared to the rest of bodies. Perhaps that was due to shrinking publication size and a need to somehow compensate.

    The strip had a limited set of consistently-appearing characters. This was true of most adventure comics. But the Smilin' Jack cast might have been a little smaller than average around the end of the '30s. Most prominent were Jack himself, a heavy Polynesian named Fat Stuff (or Fatstuff) and Downwind Jaxon, another pilot who often stole the show from Jack.

    As the second link above describes it, Mosley wanted to add a character who was really handsome and more successful attracting women than Jack himself (some of the plots dealt more with love life than flying). But he couldn't draw a really handsome face to his satisfaction. So that character, Downwind, was always shown is a pose where his face was averted (usually) or hidden by an object or a speech balloon (sometimes).

    (Aside for non-aviation buffs: the term "downwind" has highly negative implications for pilots. One should, if at all possible, never take off or land downwind -- with the wind blowing the same direction as the airplane. That's because airspeed (the speed at which the craft is encountering the air) is lower than its apparent ground speed. For example, a given plane's stalling speed is 100 miles per hour. If it is on final approach for a downwind landing traveling at 110 MPH ground speed but has a 20 MPH tailwind, its airspeed is only 90 MPH. That's below its stalling speed, so the airplane will crash rather than accomplish a normal landing.)

    Below are some Smilin' Jack panels taken from the Internet. Click to enlarge.


    This features Downwind. The other character is Jack himself.

    Fat Stuff: his shirt buttons are continually popping off, so Mosley eventually added a chicken that likes to eat them.

    The "Dixi" in the final scene refers to a previous girlfriend of Jack's.

    Some panels from 1939. In the lower two a photographer snaps a picture of Downwind's face and what happened next.

    The April 20, 1940 Sunday strip featuring Fat Stuff and Downwind.-- and an airplane.

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