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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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    There are plenty of images of the work of Edgar Maxence (1871-1954) on the Internet, but little information about him. His Wikipedia entry is here, and the French Wikipedia entry is about the same size. One possibly noteworthy fact is that he studied under Gustave Moreau, the noted Symbolist painter.

    Maxence painted a good many religious scenes and a number of his other subjects were treated in a similar manner. He was a good draftsman and used other media besides oil. As best I can tell, he painted in a higher key (less darks) by the 1920s and some of his landscape paintings are loosely done. Perhaps because of the war or maybe because he had turned 70, his production seems to have fallen off drastically after 1941.

    Although he occasionally depicted men, his subjects were almost always attractive young women.


    L'Âme de la Forêt - 1898

    Les fleurs du lac - 1900
    Note the two ladies glancing at us.  Plus the rare inclusion of male subjects.

    La femme à l'orchidée - 1900
    Might that be a cigarette in her right hand?  Don't notice any smoke, though.  Must be unlit.

    Not a religious painting, and not very Symbolic, so far as I can tell (though I'm ignorant of many symbols, religious or otherwise). But, as noted above, the treatment is similar.

    Jeune fille nourrissant des cygnes
    Portrait de jeune fille - c.1900
    study of a young woman's head
    It looks like the same model was used for these three paintings.  A caption I found on the Internet for the middle one stated that the media were watercolor, gouache and pastel.  The lower work clearly incorporates some watercolor.

    Serenité - 1912
    Le livre de la paix
    All three women look like they were derived from the same model.


    Le carrefoure de Prigny
    This is dated, but I can't quite read it. Might be 1944. But it's freely done and modernist-influenced.

    Portrait du femme - 1941
    One of his later works. Its style shows a modernist influence in its simplicity, but only slightly.

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  • 08/28/13--01:00: Other Savage Illustrators
  • Fictional heroes can come and go. A few come and stay. One such hero with staying power is Doc Savage, whose stories were written by "Kenneth Robeson," the pen name of several writers, but predominantly Lester Dent. I previously posted about Doc Savage here.

    I would imagine that readers familiar with Doc Savage visualize him in terms of James Bama's depictions such as on the book cover shown above. Bama's first Savage cover appeared in 1964 and was followed by 61 others over the next 30 or so years. Subsequent images of Savage by other artists in other media retained Bama's concept of Savage's appearance.

    The original Doc Savage illustrator was Walter Baumhofer who did the cover art for the Doc Savage pulp magazine series from 1933 until he began moving from pulp to "slick" magazines around 1936-37. Background information on Baumhofer can be found here, here and here.

    The image above is a typical Baumhofer Doc Savage cover, this for May 1934. Since Savage was described as the "man of bronze" in the stories, referring to his coloration, Baumhofer indulged in a degree of artistic license by introducing violet shaded areas in his paintings to contrast with the bronze hues required by his subject.

    For what it's worth, I consider Bama and Baumhofer (and not necessarily in that order where Doc Savage is concerned) as the best of the lot over the first half century of the character's existence. Which implies that other brushes were in the game.

    The best of these was Robert G. Harris, a talented illustrator who had little choice but to follow Baumhofer's Doc Savage characterization and style, as can be seen in the two covers above. Biographical links for Harris are here and here.

    Quality began to noticeably slide to my eyes when Emery Clarke became the main cover artist. His images are a little less distinct, lacking the punch Baumhofer and Harris delivered.  One source contends that the figure in glasses in the upper image is a self-portrait of the artist.

    Last and least among the Savage illustrators I located (and I must have missed some others) was former (almost bomb-throwing) anarchist Modest Stein, whose colorful career is described here. Whereas Baumhofer's images were classy (especially considering their pulp magazine locale) and Bama's were monumental (and not much like the physial description of Savage in the stories), Stein's strike me as little better than smudges in many cases, a step down from Clarke's work.

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    Illustrator Ed Valigursky (1926-2009) originally focused his efforts on science-fiction and other speculative subjects. Eventually he drifted over to depicting aircraft and other real-life technological objects and became one of the best in that business. Unfortunately, I couldn't find many examples of his aviation art on the Internet, so what's displayed below will have to do for now.

    My take on aviation art is that there are several approaches to depicting airplanes. One is the "show all the rivets" hard-edge style. I suppose this appeals to the crowd that loves seeing details. The other extreme is what I'll call the "French watercolor" approach where hardly any details are seen, and the details present are inaccurately drawn. My conjecture is that the audience for this is comprised of people who do not like or understand airplanes. Then there is a middle ground where aircraft are portrayed as they might be seen in real life at a glance, with one area in focus, others de-emphasized. A master in this was R.G. Smith who I mentioned here. Valigursky's aviation art fell in the range between the rivets school and Smith, presenting his subjects clearly and with artistic flair.

    Below are examples of his aviation art along with science-fiction and other subjects as context.


    To set the scene, here is one of his aviation paintings.

    Amazing Stories cover - December 1956
    "Space Viking" cover - 1963
    "The Cosmic Computer" cover - 1964
    The two lower covers are examples of his better SciFi work. Sometimes he dashed off cover art with sad results, as can be seen in the topmost cover.

    Saga magazine cover - September 1953
    Nautilus - for Saga, April 1959
    Two illustrations featuring submarines.

    "Flying in Flanders" cover
    "No Parachute" cover
    "Full Circle" cover
    P-38s and Messerschmitt
    More aviation art. The lower two examples are the kind of Valigursky illustrations I like best. But to nit-pick, the P-38s seem to have 1942-43 vintage U.S. markings, yet the serial number on the tail of the near aircraft has a 1944 fiscal year serial number indicating when its construction was budgeted.

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    Olga Boznańska (1865-1940) was born in Kraków (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in southern Poland) and died impoverished in Paris, where she seems to have spent much of her career. Her Wikipedia entry is here, and a much more detailed biography here.

    The second link states that Boznańska was not as honored in Poland as she felt she should be. That problem seems to have been corrected posthumously, because (at least when I visited a while ago) part of a gallery in Warsaw's National Museum was devoted to her work. The National Museum in Kraków also had examples of her work on display.

    Boznańska trained in Munich and Paris and soon was influenced by Impressionism and Post-Impressionist painting. Much of her career was based on portraiture, and she incorporated as much of those approaches as she could, given the need to have her depictions recognizable people. My opinion is that Impressionism, in its extreme form at least, is barely compatible with portraiture and not worth the trouble of trying to combine the two.

    Below are examples of her work up to 1906. Examples of later work are hard to locate in a Google Images screen dump, possibly because none stood out as being interesting.


    Portrait of a young woman - 1888
    Japonka - 1889
    Woman in white - 1890
    These paintings are essentially Impressionism-free.

    Young Breton Woman - 1889
    Bretonka - 1890
    Portraits of a young Breton woman (or perhaps of different people who look similar) painted a year or so apart.  The first painting uses comparatively clean, definite brush strokes, whereas the second one has a more Impressionist feeling.

    Self-Portrait - 1893
    Self-Portrait- pastel - 1906
    Comparative self-portraits.

    Girl with Chrysanthemums - 1894
    Portrait of girls - 1906
    Here are examples of Boznańska's Impressionism-influenced portraiture style.

    City scene - 1885
    View from Cracow studio - c.1900
    Nasturcje - 1906
    Above are various non-portrait works where Impressionism is more at home.

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    The reputation of Anders Zorn (1860-1920) continues to climb along with those of his friends John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla, each of whom made a good living painting portraits while doing other painting on the side, sometimes for cash and otherwise simply for the enjoyment of doing it. There are two major Zorn exhibits in the United States in 2013. In the first part of the year was one held at the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, and starting in the fall is one at San Francisco's California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

    Biographical information on Zorn can be found here and here.

    As mentioned, Zorn was a leading portrait painter. He is also known for his etchings and the many paintings of nicely padded young, nude Swedish women in the outdoors. As I recall, one of the essays in the Gardner exhibit catalog mentioned that Zorn didn't seem interested in painting still lifes. And a quick scroll through Zorn images on Google suggests that he didn't paint many pure landscapes either; his outdoor scenes normally included people -- especially those nudes. But he did manage to paint some genre scenes. Here are a few:


    Impressions of London - c.1885
    Could this be of one of those notorious "pea soupers" that used to plague the city?

    In the Harbor of Algiers - 1887
    Yes, the place still looks something like that as best I remember. But instead of those women, what I mostly noticed were tourists embarking and debarking Spanish ferries.

    Valsen - 1891
    A highly unusually setting for Zorn.

    Omnibus (1st version - 1891-92)
    Omnibus (2nd version) - 1892
    Passengers crammed into a Paris horse-drawn omnibus must have fascinated Zorn because from this setting he made at least several studies, two paintings and one etching (of the final painting). I think his depiction of the beam of light on the cheek and coat of the women in the foreground is a brilliant concept well-executed.

    Night Effect - 1895
    This painting was controversial in its time because the subject was (or was thought to have been) a drunken prostitute.

    Midsummer Dance - 1897
    Perhaps Zorn's most iconic genre work.

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  • 09/06/13--01:00: Ugly Car: Nissan Juke
  • The Nissan Juke, a vehicle occupying the cloudy space between sport-utility (SUV) and hatchback, was styled at the company's British design center and refined in Japan. Then Nissan styling supremo Shiro Nakamura must have signed off on it, for reasons I find hard to fathom.

    Actually, I can imagine a likely justification from some of the younger folks in Nissan's marketing and product planning groups.  Expressed in American English, words such as "edgy," "funky," "provocative," "postmodern" and "countercultural" and others might have been bandied about conference tables or infested emails and memoranda.  For the Juke seems to have been slotted into a market segment of young buyers with just enough extra money to indulge themselves with a vehicle that makes a statement.

    I'm note sure how large this market might be, world-wide, but Nissan hedged its bet by building the car on the Nissan B platform shared by a number of other Renault-controlled brands including the Nissan Leaf electricity powered car (which has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Juke).


    The Juke does not have much brightwork, yet nevertheless is a "busy" design due to the elaborate sheet metal bulges and creases, especially those on its stubby sides.  Such sculpting might be expected these days on standard-size cars, but everything is jammed onto the Juke.  This is not to say that the Juke's shaping had to be austere and bland; but a compromise such as having the fenderlines flow a little more might have helped.  The really off touches are the taillights and front turn-signal and auxiliary lighting fixtures set atop the fenders.  They enhance the stubby appearance and generally clash with the rest of the design, such as it is.  I find the use of round headlamps a nice touch, though their placement on the front strike-panel is both odd and risky.

    This side view clearly shows the strange roofline.  It is nearly flat, which makes me wonder about its aerodynamic usefulness.  But its most serious defect is that it slopes to the rear, pinching off potential carrying capacity for objects placed in the trunk area.

    A view of the lumpy rear.  The most interesting feature here is the wraparound backlight (rear window).

    These views from above provide more detail as to how the body was shaped.  I would have placed the front auxiliary light ensembles right above the grille opening with the hood cut-lines as their inner edge.  But I suppose that wouldn't have been funky enough for the target market.

    From the standpoint of the arts, I find the Juke interesting in that it strikes me as being yet another dreary symptom of self-indulgent, cultureless faux-creativity of this "postmodern" era that we must endure.

    A slightly different version of this post can be found at Car Style Critic

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  • 09/07/13--01:00: Blogging Note: Off to Europe
  • This is to let you know that I'll be in Europe for a couple of weeks or so, but that posts should continue to appear as usual on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

    The itinerary is: Amsterdam, Haarlem, The Hague, Delft, Arnhem, Cologne, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels and Paris, topped by an unplanned layover in New York City.

    I'll be visiting art museums when and where I can fit them into the kind of tourism I prefer: getting to know cities. If any readers know of any not-so-famous-hidden-gem museums in those places, let me know via Comments or email (which I'll check whenever I have a little spare time and can find a WiFi hotspot for my iPad Mini). I can't promise to visit such places, but will try to do so when circumstances permit.

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  • 09/09/13--01:00: Murky Painters
  • Each era has its associated painting styles. Of course, there is plenty of variation and always artists whose styles are unique or otherwise hard to characterize temporally. Nevertheless, in general, paintings made in 1830 and 1930 for instance (give or take a decade or two) can be tied to when they were done by their general appearance, even when setting aside other identifiers such as clothing people wear or modes of transportation that might appear in outdoor scenes.

    Around the last couple of decades of the 19th century some artists painted in a style I'll call "murky," where images were indistinct or smudged and colors often tended towards monochrome. Below are examples from three artists. I don't know if there was any direct influence between any of them or whether similarity in approach was a matter of part of the artistic zeitgeist of the period.

    Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917) for many years has been held by the Art Establishment as a pioneer of modernism. Since I no longer consider modernism as the capstone or end-state of painting, whatever Ryder might have done to somehow inspire later painters is moot in my mind. Looking at his paintings and setting aside that Art Establishment imprimatur suggests that he just wasn't very good.

    Eugène Carrière (1849-1906) produced a stronger air of mystery and fascination in his paintings than Daingerfield for sure and Ryder to a lesser degree. Readers who have visited Paris' Musée d'Orsay in recent years might have noticed a few of his works tucked away in one of the upper galleries.

    Elliott Daingerfield (1859-1932) is a painter I was unaware of until recently when I came across some images of his paintings on the Internet. This served as inspiration for the present post. Daingerfield's images were generally fuzzy looking, but less monochromatic than the others'.


    Ryder: The Lover's Boat

    Ryder: Toilers of the Sea
    Via the Internet, I found two paintings supposedly with the same title as above. Not being a Ryder expert, I don't know if he re-used titles, so I'm not certain that this title is correct. Note the serious cracking, indicating poor oil painting practice or faulty materials.

    Carrière: Mme Auguste Bonheur

    Carrière: Clemanceau

    Daingerfield: Two women
    Again, I'm not sure of the title.

    Daingerfield: The Ivory Tree

    Daingerfield: Village After a Storm

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    Alas, I've never been a fan of the art of Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924). That's because I've never liked broken-color Impressionist style paintings. I probably never will like that style. And I can't easily explain why I don't like it; something visceral, I suppose. Try not to hold it against me.

    As for Prendergast, some biographical information can be found here and here.

    Being a committed broken-color guy, he usually painted outdoor scenes, though not many still lifes. Interestingly, he often included small, full-length human figures in his landscape works, usually with many such figures in a single painting.

    Another genre he tended to avoid was portraiture. That's not surprising because painters using broken-color or small-areas-of-flat-color styles as Prendergast did, probably found that such styles weren't compatible with portraiture. Nevertheless, he did paint a few portraits in the years immediately after he moved to New York City. I located three such images on the internet, and here they are:


    Portrait of a Young Girl - c.1913

    Portrait of a Young Girl with Flowers - c.1910-13

    Miss Edith King - c.1913

    Like many American Impressionists, Prendergast retained a certain amount of delineation and structure in his paintings. This is particularly noticeable in the portraits shown above, because if an artist's intent when making a portrait is to actually portray, then the Impressionistic approach has to be dialed back, as they say.

    The images above strike me as being satisfactory Impressionist style portraits, but not very satisfactory from the standpoint of pure portraiture.

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    Walter Ernest Webster (1878-1959), British.

    That's it. That is about all I could find about the man on the Internet aside from a good many of his paintings. Something about him will surely turn up, but for now all I can do is display some of his works.


    After the Performance - watercolor


    Lady Diana
    I'm not sure about the title, but that's what one Web site called it.


    Sweet Lavender

    The Japanese Fan - 1909

    The Lute Player

    Clearly, he liked to depict young women, and did that well. He also painted a number of nudes that might be a little stark for viewing at the office.

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    Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905) was one of the artists who served as inspiration for my "Peripheral Artists" series of posts during my time Second or Third Banana at the old Two Blowhards blog.

    The phrase Peripheral Artists is actually a kind of pun, because it means artists who were (and to some extent still are) peripheral to the Art Establishment version of art history while also being from lands peripheral to the major art centers of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This dawned on me while touring Helsinki, Finland and visiting its prime art museum, the Ateneum. There were a number of fine paintings by this Edelfelt, a fellow I had never heard of, not to mention other good paintings by other artists flying below the Art Establishment radar.

    As for background on Edelfelt, there's his Wikipedia entry here, but it is skimpy indeed. A much more detailed source is here. Edelfelt, after studying in his native Finland (then a Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire), went to Amsterdam for a while, but moved on to Paris, as many Peripheral Artists did. There he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme and became friends with Jules Bastien-Lepage, two of the most important non-Impressionists of the day.

    Edelfelt's portrait of Louis Pasteur proved to be a prize-winner that launched his career in that genre, later sitters included the Czar. And he painted other subjects as well, as shown below.


    Kuningater Blanka (White Queen) - 1877

    Louis Pasteur - 1885

    Nicholas II - 1896

    A Child's Funeral - 1879

    Kaukola Ridge at Sunset - 1890

    The Gossips - 1887

    Portrait of a Young Lady - 1889

    Emilie von Etter, Cannes - 1891

    Brunette - 1885

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    There's the old saw that goes something like "Them's that cain't do, teach." A grain of truth there for certain fields, but by no means generally so. When it comes to art instruction books, as best I can tell, the authors actually seem to be artists.

    Then there's the case of sports, where it is said that the best coaches and instructors are usually not the best athletes. The reason offered is that really gifted athletes practice their techniques intuitively, and aren't really aware of the details less gifted people need to learn in order to improve their skills. A lesser athlete has to pay close attention to such details and therefore is better equipped to impart them to others.

    So does this apply to art instruction in studios or via books? Maybe, but I'm not sure, never having seriously analyzed the situation. The reason why I haven't is that when I buy an art instruction book (something I seldom do anymore), I gravitate to books where the author's drawings or paintings influence my decision to purchase. That is, if I don't care for the author's artistic style and degree of expertise, I won't buy the book.

    Do other aspiring artists do what I do? I have no idea. But let's consider the case of an artist whose books have been in print for the better part of a century, clearly implying broad acceptance.

    That would be Harold Speed (1872-1957). A short Wikipedia entry on Speed is here. Matthew Innis has a long post dealing with Speed here.  Besides many examples of Speed's paintings, Innis includes step-by-step images from a portrait tutorial.

    Speed wrote two books about doing art. They are "The Practice and Science of Drawing" and "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," respective Amazon links here and here. Innis mentions that the latter book is in the public domain and can be found online.

    So how good was Harold Speed? Let's look at a few of the portraits he painted.


    Frank Pomeroy - 1898

    Lady Diana Bridgeman

    Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman - 1907

    Lady in Green

    Lillah McCarthy as Jocasta - c.1907

    My reaction is that Speed did good, competent work, capturing his subjects with solid skill. Lacking is the flash, dash and artistic personality that more famous portrait painters such as John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Joaquin Sorolla, Giovanni Boldini, Philip de Laszlo and a few other contemporaries and near-contemporaries. I suppose this comes close to the case of sports mentioned above. Whereas the painters just listed might have some students or might have passed along tips regarding painting, so far as I know they never wrote books on the subject. Speed wasn't quite an absolute top-level painter if fame is the criterion, but he was highly competent and able to convey what students of drawing and painting needed (and still need) to know.

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    Readers of this blog who plan to visit Russia are most likely to do so via a cruise ship, which means that St. Petersburg and vicinity is what will be seen. And as for art, the place most likely to be visited will be the Hermitage. But there is more good art to be seen in St. Petersburg besides the Hermitage's collection, so I urge you to try to find time to tour The Russian Museum. It's not far -- about one kilometer east -- as the double-headed Imperial eagle flies.

    There you will find examples of paintings by Russia's best late 19th century and early 20th century artists including the great Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) who died before reaching his 40th birthday. His Wikipedia entry is here and more biographical information is here.

    By their nature, landscape paintings require less commentary that those dealing with people, so I'll simply let you examine some examples of Levitan's work below. However, let me note that he seems to have included water in his images where possible.  Perhaps selecting scenes with water was one of his strategies to add viasual interest in the part of Russia where he lived and worked -- a land with no mountains.



    Evening on the Volga - 1888


    Silent Monastary - 1890

    After the Rain, Pylos - 1889

    River Istra at Twilight - 1885

    The Evening Bells - 1892

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    Gertrude Stein famously said regarding Oakland, California that "there is no there there." If you consider Oakland's context in the Bay Area setting and when she last lived there (1903), she might have had a point. (These days, I think the East Bay towns of San Leandro, San Lorenzo and a few others along the flats could be more aptly described thus.) But even today, if you exclude the part of Oakland in the hills and perhaps the part around Lake Merritt and bits of downtown, her point still holds.

    One positive Oakland item is the fact that its Oakland Museum of California has a good collection of works by Arthur Frank Mathews (1860-1945) and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews (1870-1955). Their paintings, picture frames and other objects might be pigeonholed as Art Nouveau or Tonalist and clearly seemed old-fashioned during the 1950s when the classical phase of Modernism reached its peak of influence. Now that we are a century away from Arthur Mathews' heyday, his art is oddly compelling, perhaps because it is utterly lacking in irony, transgressive statements, snide cultural references and whatever other characteristics are honored these days by the Art Establishment.

    A brief Wikipedia entry on Mathews is here and another short biographical piece is here. A checklist of his mural work can be found here. There's even something I wrote regarding Mathews several years ago here.

    Let's take a look at some of his paintings (click to enlarge).


    Youth - c.1917
    Although he painted a variety of subjects, Mathews might be best known for his images of dancers.

    Centaur and Mermaid on a Beach at Sunset
    He did on occasion draw on mythology, as seen here. He also did historical paintings, the most important being murals for the state capitol building in Sacramento.

    Afternoon Among the Cypress - 1905
    Then there were landscapes, many of which featured cypress trees.

    Scene with orange poppies
    Mathews studied at Paris' Académie Julian 1885-89, so might have been aware of paintings of poppy fields done by Claude Monet in the late 1870s.

    Girls dancing
    Spring Dance
    The Dancers
    Young women donning flowing robes and dancing as ancient Greeks supposedly did was a fad on American college campuses in the early twentieth century; plenty of old college yearbooks have photos that attest to this. Mathews was surely aware because the University of California (in the years before other campuses were added) was at nearby Berkeley.

    Three women walking - c.1917
    Three women gazing
    Not the same women, and none are dancing, either.

    Apparently unfinished painting
    I don't know if this was a mural or an easel painting. Some of the background figures are unfinished. Mathews at this time (1915-20?) seems to have blocked in the main elements -- clothing, faces, etc. -- and then worked in shading and details.

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    People have differing opinions regarding when New York City went to hell (I say it was around 1965) and the same goes for what span of years represented the Golden Age of American illustration art. However, most observers seem to agree that the illustration party was pretty much over by 1970.

    So what was a (previously) successful illustrator to do when the market for his work was in a state of collapse? Some migrated to doing cover art for books. Others went into portrait painting. And a few, including James Bama and Howard Terpning (born 1927), the subject of this post, left the New York area to do Western fine art painting.

    Biographical information on Terpning can be linked here and here. He was part of the last generation of traditional illustrators, those just old enough to have establish themselves by the early 1960s when the market for their work started to crumble. For instance, he was born the same year as Bob Peak; both Peak and Terpning (for a while) taking up the slack by doing movie poster art (See Leif Peng's post on Terpning's posters here.)

    Peak died comparatively young, but Bama and Terpning were still alive when this post was written. From what I've read, Bama is no longer active, but Terpning continues to paint and his works have been well received by buyers favoring Western art.

    Terpning focuses on American Indians as subject matter as the images below suggest.

    Signals in the Wind

    War Stories

    Status Symbols

    Now for examples of Terpning's illustration work.


    Beer advertisement

    Poster for "Cromwell" - 1970

    Poster illustration for "The Sand Pebbles" - 1966

    "The Wild Bunch" - 1969

    Bar scene

    The first illustration is a pretty conventional 1960-vintage work that might have been done by other good illustrators. The movie poster art make use of compositional clichés of the time, and Terpning used a smoother, less painterly style that probably was in line with his clients' expectations.  The two lower illustrations use a sketchy style popularized in the 1960s by the great Bernie Fuchs.  So Terpning was both skilled and versatile, but never quite attained a distinctive style.

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    A comparatively easy way to increase fuel efficiency in the wake of the gasoline shortages on the 1970s was to improve the streamlining of cars.  Ford was one of the first American manufacturers to do this in the early-to-mid 1980s, the best-known example being the Taurus line.  These early wind tunnel tested Fords tended to have windows featuring large-radius corners.  This was something in the spirit of 1936 vintage models from General Motors, Chrysler and others introducing all-steel bodies in those days when metal stamping technology could not easily accommodate tight surface curves.

    But when the aerodynamic Fords appeared, stamping technology didn't force large-radius window corners; stylists apparently chose strong rounding as a means of emphasizing the curved design theme derived from the wind tunnel testing.  At the time, I felt that all that curving wasn't really necessary and resulted in designs that seemed excessively soft looking; more crisp styling elements in the details would have been better.  And of course others came to the same conclusion, so today's aerodynamically efficient cars include many crisp elements along with the curves.

    So why, when it came time for a complete 1996 redesign on the Taurus, did Jack Telnack and his crew decide to emphasize curves even more than they did for the original Taurus design?  I have no idea, other than they might have decided to zig while the rest of the industry zagged.  Or perhaps corporate management interfered.

    In any case, while the Taurus design had some nice features (I like the subtle sculpting around the front of the hood and fenders), other parts of the car are simply odd -- especially the windows at or near the rear along with the instrument panel.

    In fact, I now entertain the amusing thought that surrealist artist Salvador Dalí of drooping watches fame could have been on the Taurus styling team had he lived long enough.  This is especially true for the station wagon model, the subject of this post.


    Here is a general view of the 1996 Taurus station wagon showing the subtle front end styling and hinting at the window curves towards the rear.

    This appears to be a factory photo showing the rear of the wagon.  It was taken from close to the ground, a view few people normally have of the car.

    I found this image on the Internet.  The car is painted white, eliminating distracting highlights and allowing us a good view of the large, rounded, droopy looking window shapes around the rear.  The rear passenger door looks to be the same as that for the sedan, a cost-saving detail (no special door tooling for the station wagon version).  The problem, as I see it, is that the rear area window treatment is not integrated with the rest of the design.  In particular, the upper edge of the rear side windows fails to link to the upper edge curves of the other side windows, giving the window a tacked-on appearance.

    This is the Taurus instrument panel where curves further abound.  To me, the problem area is the cluster in the oval at the center, just forward of the shifter lever.  Control buttons are strewn across it in a somewhat organic pattern, not in well organized (from an ergonomics standpoint) groupings.

    Also posted at Car Style Critic

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  • 09/29/13--01:00: New York City Notes

  • I spent nearly ten years of my life within striking distance of New York City. But I've seldom been there since around 1990 and my touch with the place is pretty well lost.

    One advantage to seldom visiting a city is that changes that might be too gradual to perceive by residents can be clearly seen. I was in New York for part of a day recently thanks to an unwanted layover on our return flight from Paris and was able to stroll a segment of Fifth Avenue, among other streets. And I indeed noticed changes.

    What I noticed was that Fifth up to around 55th Street was no longer so ritzy or upscale as it was in the 1960s and before. Back then, there were nice stores along that stretch such as Bonwit Teller and Scribner's bookstore. These have been replaced to a considerable degree by the likes of H&M, a retail chain featuring budget-priced clothing. Shops in Rockefeller Center facing Fifth Avenue now include Bananna Republic, which features moderate-priced clothing. Other nice stores in the upper 40s have been replaced by souvenir shops and other socially lesser forms of retail.

    What this seems to represent is the continuation of a long-term geographical trend whereby fancy stores gradually migrate up Manhattan Island, mostly along or near Fifth Avenue. But the Fifth Avenue retail zone is blocked on the north by Central Park. So outlets for Hermès and its likes above 59th Street can be found over on Madison Avenue rather than Fifth.

    Unfortunately, my time in New York was far too limited to allow a more systematic exploration of parts of Midtown that I used to know well.

    And as for the photo at the top, it's one I took in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center site.

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  • 09/30/13--01:00: Travel Pix: Europe, 2013

  • I'm back in Seattle following a 16-day European visit. Sorting through my trip photos, I came across six that while not directly art-related, I thought were nice enough to share. No digital adjustments were made -- what you see is what came directly from the camera. Click on the images to enlarge. The picture above is of the market square (Markt) in Bruges, Belgium taken during a pause in a rainstorm.

    Brussels near the Grand Place, as seen from our hotel room. The tower is that of the Hôtel de Ville.

    Two old structures wedged near the rue Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris.

    Looking up at the Eiffel Tower while waiting for the elevator to arrive. The glass ceiling is dirty, but its effect interested me.

    Carriage ride tourists seen in Ghent, Belgium.

    The Seine in Paris near the Notre Dame at twilight.

    * * * * *
    Images in this post Copyright 2013, Donald B. Pittenger.
    Bloggers have my permission to use any of the images above provided their source is credited. Commercial use in the sense of travel sites or other Internet or printed publications requires my permission on a case-by-case basis: contact me via the email address on this blog.

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  • 10/02/13--01:00: The Night Watch Everywhere!
  • Perhaps the most famous painting by the prolific Rembrandt is The Night Watch (its popular name) which is given a place of honor in the refurbished Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

    Here it is in its new setting. I took this photo and the others in this post when visiting Holland in September of this year.

    It seems that The Night Watch can be hard to avoid. Near central Amsterdam is the Rembrandtplein, a square renamed in honor of the artist. And in that square I found a sculpted version of the painting:

    Having finished the Amsterdam part of our trip, my wife and I picked up a rental car and drove to Delft. While there, we visited the Royal Delft factory, the last of the makers of Delftware. Part of the facility is a small museum featuring creations the firm has made over the year, including ...

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    Fashion illustration, aside from pattern packets and low-end catalogs, has traditionally assumed the form of stylized, often sketchy pictures. So back in the 1970s and 1980s I found it interesting when paging through The New York Times to find fashion illustrations that were tightly drawn. They stood out due to their contrast to the ink wash drawings that populated other advertisements, and were signed "Stavrinos."

    That would be George Stavrinos (1948-1990), who died young thanks to his lifestyle choices.

    His works and biography can be found in issue number 41 of Illustration magazine. And the Society of Illustrators has an exhibit devoted to him in its New York gallery: it closes 19 October.

    I recently visited the Society's digs to view works by Greg Manchess, but took time to take a few photos of the Stavrinos display.


    A nice touch was a drawing board/work area re-creation.

    Here are two detail shots of the above.

    Besides finished drawings, the exhibit had some workup examples showing reference photos, an intermediate study, final art, and a clipping of part of a published ad. Note that Stavrinos hewed closely to his reference photos. That was necessitated by his very tight rendering style that left little room for inventing details in garments folds and so forth.

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