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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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    William Cumming (1917-2000) was a Seattle area artist who knew the nationally acclaimed "Northwest Mystics" Mark Tobey, Morris Graves and the rest, but was not considered part of that group at the time. When I was in high school and college, Bill Cumming was mentioned so rarely by my mentor circles that I wasn't aware of him. Nowadays, his local reputation is much higher. My take on Cumming can be found here.

    Recently I was at an opening at the Woodside / Braseth Gallery where, in addition to the featured painter, there was displayed a rediscovered WPA-era mural that Cumming painted in 1941 for the Burlington High School, some 60 miles north of Seattle.

    Background regarding the mural can be found here and here.

    I am not a fan of Cumming's art, though I respect him for not falling fully into the clutches of abstraction, as so many of his generation did. And even though the second mural-related link suggests the mural might be worth a six-digit sum (were it salable), it does not impress me.

    What interests me about it is that it shows some Cumming traits that he still practiced almost 60 years later. One is the lumpy depiction of human forms. Another is Cumming's reluctance to include his subject's faces.

    Here is the mural. Note that only one complete face is shown. Detail views are below.





    This is a painting made in 1998, also displayed at the gallery. It is an example of the artist's late style.

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  • 10/30/17--01:00: Artists Versus the Landscape
  • I think I've mentioned that there are cases where the appearance of a landscape is so powerful that differences in artists' styles can get largely washed away. That is the case for many parts of California. Some artists currently active are making paintings that have their character similar to those of the California Impressionists of the early decades of the 20th century.

    Then there are painters who impose their style on whatever landscape comes before them. This can be a bit difficult in a California environment, because California's visual character can get diminished in the process.

    What got me to thinking about this again was a visit to Seattle's Woodside / Braseth Gallery where an opening party was being held for landscape artist Lisa Gilley. She represents the case of an artist imposing style upon subject matter. Her paintings are strongly done, oil-on-board. I note that the settings she chooses to depict have clear skies and little or no forestation. That is, even though she lives in western Washington, there was no painting showing lots of fir trees and gray, misty skies. Her style cannot easily accommodate that.

    Gallery

    Franz Bischoff - Evening Glory: Santa Barbara Mountains
    First, some examples of California Impressionism.

    Edgar Payne - Canyon Mission Viejo, Capistrano
    Payne's coloring is not quite the same as Bischoff's, but the influence of Southern California mountains strongly affects both works.

    Edgar Payne - Sierra Lake and Peaks
    Here Payne deals with the rugged part of the Sierras.

    William Wendt - Where nature's God hath Wrought - 1925
    Wendt's take on California mountains showing bare rock.

    Now for some Lisa Gilley paintings. This one's subject is the Chugash Range in Alaska.

    A Grand Canyon scene.

    Joseph Canyon,in Oregon

    Yakima River, in Washington. In all four cases, her landscapes seem more designed than depicted.

    Gilley's paintings are somewhat in the spirit of Lawren Harris, leader of the Group of Seven painters in Canada. This is a painting of Mt. Lefroy (1930), one of many in which he imposed his own style and concepts on nature.

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    William Ernest Reynolds-Stephens (1862-1943), that is, Sir William Reynolds-Stephens was both a painter and sculptor. And despite having been knighted, seems virtually unknown nowadays. For example, aside from one web site that requires registration to view, biographical information on the internet is sketchy as of the time this post was drafted (mid-June, 2017). There also are very few examples of his paintings to be found.

    What I do know is that he was born in Detroit to British parents, soon moved to Canada and then on to England. He was trained as an engineer, but took up art in his early twenties, studying in England and Germany. By the time he was 40 he had essentially transitioned from painting to sculpture, and it seems that, to the extent he is known today (in England, anyway), it is for that phase of his career. And that's pretty much it, aside from this contemporary appreciation.

    Given what I wrote above, how did I manage to "discover" Reynolds-Stephens? Well, I saw one of his paintings, "Roman Courtship" (ca. 1900) at the Ringling Art Museum in Sarasota, Florida in May. Here is what a museum docent has to say about it.

    And I took photos, a few of which are displayed below (click on them to enlarge).

    I found the painting to be strikingly composed and well-executed.  However, lacking a classical education, the symbolism escaped me at the time. Symbolism aside, it can be appreciated on its merits as well as being a fine example of late-Victorian painting.

    Gallery




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    Joseph Clement Coll (1881-1921) died at too young an age, of appendicitis. A cynic might call that tragic event "a smart career move" because Coll's pen-and-ink+brush style would rapidly fall out of illustration fashion during the 1920s. On the other hand, he did produce some illustrations in other media that were competently done. That competence plus his sense of portraying dramatic action might have stood him well had he lived longer.

    His brief Wikipedia entry is here. A more personal appraisal by Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr. is here, and a Muddy Colors post about him by Greg Ruth is here.

    Coll produced a huge amount of illustrations during his comparatively short career, so there naturally was variation in quality. Below I present a collection of what I consider his better work. Most of his illustrations were vignettes or non-framed full-page illustrations with plenty of white space. When he did framed illustrations or illustrations of night scenes, the results were usually murky looking -- an effect hard to avoid given his preferred medium.

    Gallery

    Strong composition.

    A confrontation with Fu Manchu.

    Fu Manchu again.

    Another striking composition.

    A "King of the Khyber Rifles" illustration from 1916 (Kelly collection) that's so cluttered and murky that some of the action is lost.

    A "framed" illustration, also from the Kelly collection, where the penwork works against the subject matter again.

    Here we find penwork augmented by spots of bold brushwork.

    Another example of Coll's brushwork-plus-line. There might be some water-thinned ink or ink washes here too, but one would have to view the original art to be sure.

    A fine example of Coll's brush+line.

    I wonder if some of this was scratchboard. It's framed, but not as heavy as in some examples above. At the top of the image appear to be U.S. Cavalry troopers, and the female might be Victory. Perhaps the 1916 Mexican incursion rather than the Great War.

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    Robert Henri (1865-1929) was an important American painter and teacher in the decades around the turn of the 20th century (Wikipedia entry here).

    Among his works were two versions of the Biblical character Salome, the dancer. I wrote about various interpretations of her here.

    According to this and other sources, Henri got caught up with something of a Salome craze. The link states: "Robert Henri was a cognoscenti of modern music, dance, and theater. When New York audiences were scandalized by Richard Strauss’s 1907 opera ‘Salome’, based upon Oscar Wilde’s play of the same name, the opera performance inspired the intrepid artist to invite Mademoiselle Voclexca to perform the notorious ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’ in his studio."

    I Googled on Mademoiselle Voclexca, but turned up nothing of interest. Clearly, it's a stage name, and her being active a century or more ago, references are probably buried in decaying newspaper file morgues or yellowing theatre programs.

    I visited the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida in early May and took a few photos of their version of Salome that offer closeup views of Henri's brushwork. Click on the images for enlargements showing details of Henri's style.

    Gallery

    The Salome at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College in Massachusetts. It seems sketchier than the Ringling version.

    The Ringling Salome -- image found on the internet.

    My photo showing the upper part of her body and costume.

    Mademoiselle Voclexca's face.

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    Joseph Clement Coll (1881-1921) died age 40 of an appendicitis. I recently posted about him here and mentioned that his pen-and-ink+brush style would have become unfashionable during the 1920s decade and wondered if he would have been able to adjust his style to the new times.

    The present post presents examples of Coll's work in color including some illustrations where linework is largely abandoned while colored ink washes or watercolors are used to model his subject matter. This suggests that he could have maintained his career, though perhaps at the price of losing some individuality compared to other illustrators using the same media.

    Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr. offers some background on Coll here.

    Gallery

    This is an example of Coll's regular pen-and-ink style.



    Above are three covers of a Sunday supplement magazine distributed to various American newspapers. They are promoting a serialized Arthur Conan Doyle book.

    Artwork for the first cover shown above. Note that in this instance Coll was not using line plus color fills, but instead is using color to help model surfaces of the subject matter.

    Detail of "Astro the Seer and Valeska." Another example where linework is minimized.

    Probably an interior illustration for Sir Nigel. This uses line and color fill.

    No information about this detail of a study. This demonstrates that Coll wouldn't have had much trouble migrating to 1920s illustration style fashions had he lived longer.

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  • 11/16/17--01:00: Up Close: Reginald Marsh
  • Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) was an illustrator and painter of blue-collar life who himself attended the very best schools (Lawrenceville and Yale). I wrote about him here, in a post subtitled "Yalie Gone Slumming."

    The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida has a large Marsh painting in its collection titled "Wonderland Circus, Sideshow Coney Island," a 1930 work of tempera on canvas stretched on masonite. I visited the museum in May and took some photos of the painting, two of which are shown below. The original of the lowest image is fairly large, so click on it to enlarge and view details of Marsh's style.

    Regarding style, aside from supports and media, his paintings and illustrations are similar in general appearance.

    Gallery

    The painting via the museum's web site.

    A closer view. Marsh's signature and date are at the bottom.

    The blue-eyed blonde staring at you, the viewer, strikes me as being the focus of the painting. She is holding hands with a stereotypical swarthy Italian, an occasional real-life happening that Marsh must have hoped would set-off WASPy viewers in his day.  Click on the image to enlarge.

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    Alexandre Roubtzoff (1884-1949) was born in St. Petersburg, Russia and trained in art there. However, shortly before the Great War he visited Tangiers and transitioned to Orientalist painting, spending most of his career in Tunis. His French Wikipedia entry is here, but at the time this post was drafted it was criticized as not being up to Wikipedia standards.

    Not all his post-Russia works were set in North Africa. There are at least two dealing with mid-1920s Paris high life.

    Gallery

    Bédouine à la couverture (Zohra et Salha)
    First of two examples of Roubtzoff's Orientalist work.

    Alia Sitting and Grinding Vegetables

    Impressions de Paris - 1926
    There are at least two paintings, seemingly with the same title, showing jumbled details of Jazz Age Paris. Here is one.

    Impressions de Paris - 1926
    This is the other one I am aware of. The original is large, but this is the biggest image of the whole thing I could find on the Internet. However, I did find a large reproduction in a French automobile magazine, spreading over two pages. I scanned each page segment separately, and those images are below. Click on them to enlarge.

    Both paintings contain many of the same elements, but they are placed differently. My guess is that the first image above was a study for or an earlier version of this painting.

    Details include Metro signs, plenty of cars, newspapers ranging from the leftist L'Intransigeant to the rightist Le Figaro, many faces of young women (but few men's faces), and plenty of women's legs revealed by Flapper dresses. Very witty and fun.

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    I've mentioned more than a few times that I'd rather see prosperous artists than starving ones. Posthumous fame and high auction prices don't compare well to an unrewarded lifetime.

    Leading American illustrators enjoyed financial success, at least while their work remained in demand. And their fame could lead to other sources of income. One case would be appearing in advertisements.

    This post features two examples.

    First, we see Jon Whitcomb in 1952, painter of gorgeous gals, claiming he loved Fatima cigarettes, a second-tier brand in those days. A biographical snippet on Whitcomb is here, and here is a link with examples of his work.

    Melbourne Brindle was less famous than Whitcomb, but well-known nevertheless. He was a "car guy," indeed owning that 1916 Crane-Simplex with boating features shown in the upper part of the Gulf ad from the 1950s (click on the image to enlarge). During the late 1940s he illustrated ads for Packard and in the 1950s did the same for Chevrolet.

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    For some reason I've been interested in 1920s and 30s art, architecture, design, movies and other cultural things for most of my life. Some of that might be because there were remainders of those times still rattling around when I was growing up.

    This isn't to say that I think what that interwar period produced was outstandingly good, though some of it was, especially the commercial architecture from, say, 1924 to 1932. And as I've mentioned in this blog and in my Art Adrift e-book, painting during those times was in a fascinating state. Modernism (anti-traditionalism, really) had finished 30-50 years of experimentation, an effort so complete that there was little left to innovate. So modernists didn't quite know what to do next, and other painters didn't know quite what to do with all those concepts modernists had come up with in the years before the Great War.

    George Telfer Bear (1874-1973) was a long-lived Scottish painter who seems to have spent most of his career there aside from a few years in the Canadian prairies. There is almost nothing about him on the Internet: the two most revealing links are here and here.

    Bear accepted some modernist ideas, but like many others in those days he did so cautiously. For instance, he did little or nothing in the way of distorting the proportions of his subjects. On the other hand, he did "flatten" his picture planes a little (reduced depth effects), and simplified his subjects slightly. As a result, most of the paintings shown below are clearly from the 1920s even though only one has a date.

    His work strikes me as being not especially distinctive in the context just mentioned. To my mind they are simply representative of his times and their artistic fashions.

    Gallery

    The White Cottage
    He painted outdoor scenes and still lifes as well as portraits of women.

    La Jeunesse
    This might be from the 1930s.

    Girl with a Fan - 1931
    More poster-like than usual for Bear.

    seated woman
    Yet another woman in a yellow costume -- could they be the same person?

    Portrait with Still Life
    Perhaps Bear's best-known work.

    The Red Hat
    A very 1920s style.

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    Lionello Balestrieri (1872-1958) received honors in his day, but now seems to be considered a minor figure. For instance, although he was an Italian, there is no Italian language Wikipedia entry for him as of mid-September when I'm drafting this post. The entry in English is here, and there also is one in French offering other details regarding his life and career.

    Balestrieri experimented with various styles, but most of his images seen on the Internet seem to be from the years around the turn of the 20th century when he hadn't strayed very far from traditional painting. That is, he didn't distort the proportions of his subjects, but his brushwork varied.

    Music seemed to be a passion, and he painted many works dealing with the music scene.

    Gallery

    Il bacio

    The Painter and Pianist

    Beethoven (Kreutzer Sonata) - 1900
    Beethoven is the bust in the background.

    Woman on a Paris Street at Night

    Chopin Triptych: Chopin and George Sand - c.1905

    Chopin Triptych: Death of Chopin - c.1905

    Andando a teatro - c.1910

    Giovane donna che sorseggia il tè - 1910-14

    Autoritratto in piedi - 1929

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  • 12/04/17--01:00: Drafting Board Cities
  • Planned cities are nothing new: perhaps the first one, Mohenjo-Daro in present-day Pakistan, was created around 4,500 years ago. Usually such planning is little more than platting a grid pattern for streets. Here in the United States, large, early examples include Philadelphia in the 1680s and the grid layout established for New York in 1811.

    Not all planned cities consisted of pure street grids. Philadelphia's plan included some squares for parks, and Savanna, Georgia has many such squares. At some point, vistas, focal points, circles and other details became fashionable concepts for planners slaving over their drawing boards. I suspect that there were times that a plan was proposed and accepted simply because it looked attractive as a graphic layout -- an extension of the plan-based studies 19th century architectural students had to produce.

    Such street patterns might have seemed nice when displayed on a wall, but often were somewhat defective when implemented. Let's take a look.

    Gallery

    Brasilia
    This image and the following one are from this collection of space views of planned cities. Brasilia features a sort of arrow or wing motif. I've never been there so can't offer an opinion, through I've read that inhabitants were not fully pleased with its layout.

    Canberra
    I've never been to Canberra, either. Its designer, Walter Burley Griffin, was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, so the plan has an "organic" feeling to it.

    Longview, Washington
    Longview is a small city planned in the late 1920s. The lake on the left side of this image from Bing is artificial, part of the plan. There are a few diagonal streets, holdovers from the thinking shown in the following images.

    Chicago, Burnham Plan of 1909
    Little of the Burnham Plan was implemented as designed. The grid-layout central area (the Loop) was too well established to be altered. (It's the area the river bends around in this view where the top of the image faces west, away from Lake Michigan.) In addition to some formal layouts by the lake, the street plan features diagonal avenues, circles, focal points and a civic center square from which many of the diagonals radiate. None of that was built.

    Washington Plan of 1800
    One such plan that largely came to be is the L'Enfant-Ellicot Plan for Washington, D.C., capital of the USA.

    Washington, D.C.
    Here is how the street layout looks today viewed from above. Perhaps those angled streets bouncing off various circles and small squares handled horse-and-buggy traffic adequately in the early days.
    But when I was in the army stationed nearby in the early 1960s I found it a hassle to work my way to the Mall on those diagonal avenues even on a quiet Sunday morning. (Though there were plenty of parking spots on the Mall when I got there.) A pure grid pattern might have been better for traffic flow. Furthermore, despite all those diagonals, squares and circles, there are few impressive vistas once one leaves the Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue (running from the Capitol to near the White House).

    Paris: central area
    Paris with its boulevards by Baron Haussmann and others works better than Washington. That's because Paris' street layout is essentially unplanned, having grown from pre-Roman days through the Dark and Middle ages to the point where creating boulevards was necessary for traffic circulation. Note how irregular is the "background" to the dark boulevard pattern in this view from above.

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    The book whose cover is shown above is about illustrator/cartoonist John Cullen Murphy (1919-2004) and fellow cartoonist friends living in or near Fairfield County Connecticut during the early 1950s and beyond. It was written by his son Cullen Murphy who for many years worked with his father on the Prince Valiant comic strip. Some links dealing with Murphy are here and here.

    A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal had a favorable review of the book. Having grown up during the final glory decades of continuity and adventure comic strips, I almost immediately ordered a copy from Amazon. When it arrived, I read the whole thing in a single five-hour shot.

    I was aware of John Cullen Murphy, but never followed his Big Ben Bolt strip or Prince Valiant, created by Hal Foster who transitioned it to Murphy starting in 1971. The reason is that both strips were from Hearst's King Features distribution syndicate, whereas my parents subscribed to the Seattle Times, and not to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the local Hearst rag.

    It turns out that John Cullen Murphy was an impressive man. He was good at portraiture even in his mid-20s, could have made a good career in commercial illustration had he not been diverted into the comic strip trade, and was knowledgeable and sophisticated even though his academic education ended with high school. As for the latter point, it's further proof that real education can happen once one has left school -- provided one has the will and wits to learn on one's own.

    Murphy was raised in New Rochelle, New York, in the county immediately north of New York City. Nearby lived famous illustrators J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell. Rockwell even used teen-aged Murphy as the subject of a Saturday Evening Post cover (shown in the book). During World War 2 he was attached to Douglas MacArthur's staff and remained friends with Mrs. MacArthur (whose portrait he painted) for many years thereafter.

    Besides Murphy family lore, the book provides many interesting details regarding well-known cartoonists who lived nearby. Also included are fascinating insights on the comic strip trade including Hal Foster's thoughts on treating continuity for strips appearing only on Sundays.

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    There are a few artists whose personal lives are more interesting than their work: Frieda Kahlo immediately comes to mind. Then there are others where paintings and biographies come close to striking a balance. Salvandor Dalí is a famous example. A less well-known example is Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), whose biography is lightly sketched here. For some, she is best known for being the mother of Maurice Utrillo, a more famous Montmartre painter.

    A while ago I visited the Montmartre museum housed in a building where she had her apartment and studio for a number of years. I took photos and posted about it here and here. Probably as a result of those posts the publisher of "Renoir's Dancer: The Secret Life of Suzanne Valadon" by Catherine Hewitt sent me a review copy. The book, already available in England, is due to be published in the USA late February: Amazon link here.

    The image on the cover is of probably the most famous painting for which she modeled. It's by Renoir (hence the book's title), who depicted women in something approaching a uniform style. That's why the young lady doesn't resemble Valadon as closely as it might. During her modeling days, she slept around a lot, probably the reason for the book's subtitle. As for modeling, other famous artists she worked for included Puvis de Chevannes and Toulouse-Lautrec. The latter encouraged her drawing efforts (she was a "natural"), but it was the prickly Degas who was most responsible for giving her confidence and help.

    I have a tattered 1959 edition of "The Valadon Drama: the Life of Suzanne Valadon" by John Storm (link to recent reprint here). I skimmed through it before reading Hewitt's book so as to have a mental yardstick for evaluation. There are other Valadon biographies out there, given her colorful life.

    So why another Valadon biography? The author, who has a doctorate, set her goal as providing a well-researched treatment that would be accessible to the general public. Did she succeed?

    Well, the bibliography is extensive, even referencing dozens of newspaper articles and web sites as well as the expected books and journal articles. She provides suitable background information on Valadon's various living environments as well as on the famous and not so well-known people in her life. This should be useful for readers who have little knowledge of the 1880-1935 Paris art scene or even France in general during that time. Hewitt mentions many of Valadon's paintings during the course of the book along with paintings and drawings made of her by famous artists for whom she posed (and sometimes more!). My review copy has no color images of such works nor a contents reference to any. However, the English edition has color inserts, so presumably there will be the same for the American edition. After all, it can be frustrating to read about paintings without being able to see them, so that is good. Paintings mentioned, but not in the book, can often be found via the internet, if a reader is especially curious.

    The main substantive difference from Storm's book is the he insisted that she was never legally married to Paul Moussis, whereas Hewitt makes it clear that she was indeed married to him.

    My main complaint about Hewitt's treatment is that she fairly often mentions the mental and emotional states of Suzanne, her mother, and some others that are not documented in the many footnotes. That is, she is making educated guesses. I assume that to keep the narrative flowing for her target audience, she does not qualify these statements. For example, she might have written "Suzanne was probably most worried about Maurice's latest drunken spree." I invented that sentence, but if it had appeared in the book, the word "probably" would not be found. My stripped-down review copy has no author introduction, so if there is one in the published version, perhaps Hewitt will mention her reasoning regarding this policy.

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    Sir Walter Westley Russell (1867-1949) is yet another competent English painter I am including on this blog: the supply of same seems inexhaustible.

    A brief biography is here. Even though Russell is not well known these days, he was noteworthy enough in his time to be knighted.

    Like many English contemporaries, his style changed little over his career. Based on images found on the Internet, he tended to make paintings with a warm (in the color sense) feeling, though there are some that differ. It seems he liked to portray women. A quirk in many of those portraits was his use of backgrounds with green-blue wallpaper containing many small elements in other colors. Besides similar or identical background wallpaper, Russell usually included framed pictures hanging on those walls. Doubtless these details were from his house or studio.

    Gallery

    Dover
    Russell did some landscape painting.

    Joseph Crawhall
    Crawhall was one of the Scottish "Glasgow Boys" group of painters.

    Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding - 1942
    "Stuffy" Dowding was in charge of aerial defenses during the Battle of Britain.

    Camilla - c. 1910
    A carefully done background, but no wallpaper in this comparatively early work.

    The Blue Dress - 1911
    Still no wallpaper, but there are pictures on the background wall, so we're getting closer.

    Amelia - c. 1937
    A late portrait with wallpaper and pictures.

    Girl in a Muslin Dress
    I don't have a date for this, but the background is archetypical Russell.

    Marion
    Again.

    Cordelia - c. 1930
    And again.

    Isabella
    Here Russell adds a mirror, but the standard background remains.

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    Not all of it is good, and just like modernist architecture it would be bad if it were everywhere. That said, I am fond of Art Nouveau. When it's not overdone, it offers interesting decoration that goes beyond Greek and Roman ornamentation. The same can be said for Art Deco -- in some respects a late-stage Art Nouveau.

    Most Art Nouveau architecture is found in Europe. The best-known examples are in large cities such as Paris and Brussels, but a number of smaller cities such as Riga in Latvia have plenty of Art Nouveau. Another small city to add to the list is Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia, a Slavic country tucked in by Italy and Austria and ruled by Austria's Hapsburgs, starting in the 14th century and ending with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918.

    A major earthquake in 1895 resulted in some rebuilding in the Art Nouveau style -- actually Vienna Secession style, an Art Nouveau variation with less ornamentation and comparatively little of that with plant tendril themes. Below are some Ljubljana scenes I photographed when I was there a few months ago.

    Gallery












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    Once upon a time -- 150 years ago, perhaps -- the consensus was that paintings should be beautiful. Modernism was a conscious, ideological reaction to and condemnation of traditional art. In other words, what academic painters did, hard-core modernists tried to do the opposite. So rejection of beauty became part of that hard-core package.

    I don't hold that a painting must be beautiful to be great. But I also think that great paintings are far more often beautiful than not. Moreover, I find it difficult to think that really ugly paintings are great ones.

    There are always a few exceptions, but not the ones of women by Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning featured here. The art world seems to disagree with me because the Picassos auctioned for many tens of millions of dollars, and the de Koonings aren't worth chicken feed either.

    First, two Picasso paintings -- the first, a portrait of one woman, the second showing women. Then two de Koonings in the same sequence.

    Gallery

    Dora Maar au chat - 1941
    An auction sale report is here.

    Women of Algiers - 1955
    A report for this painting of a bordello is here.

    Woman I - 1950-52
    As the numeral implies, de Kooning painted a series dealing with women.

    Two Women in the Country - 1954

    Picasso's paintings are more structured than de Kooning's, the Algiers being almost cheerful.
    Borderline ugly, I'd call it. The Dora Maar is just plain awful so far as I'm concerned, though I'll credit Picasso for doing a reasonably good job on the kitten. I find the de Koonings simply horrible. His apologists would praise the emotion and artistic action seen in his brushwork. A lot of emotion does not guarantee a painting's greatness. Here, ugliness rules.

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    Starting when I was a boy and for decades thereafter I had trouble telling American cruisers from battleships. Specifically, cruisers and battleships of the World War 2 era from, say, 1935 to 1950. Before the 1930s cruiser and battleship appearances were fairly distinctly different.

    I was not the only one who confused the two types. Aerial reconnaissance observers fairly often identified enemy cruisers as being battleships. An example is the early Japanese sighting reports of an American task force during the battle of Midway in June of 1942.

    Consider the two photos at the top of this post. Which ship is the cruiser and which is the battleship?

    The upper image is of BB-60 USS Alabama, a battleship, and the lower image is of heavy cruiser CA-74 USS Columbus.

    Here are ways to distinguish the two types of warship:

    Gallery

    Top: CB-1 USS Alaska, bottom: BB-63 USS Missouri, docked at Norfolk, Virginia - 1944
    The USS Alaska was a very large cruiser not typical of those in the rest of the US fleet (only two Alaska Class ships were built). Regardless, the image is instructive. Cruiser lengths were in the same range as contemporary battleships, sometimes a little shorter, sometimes even longer.

    However, cruisers were narrower to allow higher speeds. The fineness ratio (waterline length to beam) of cruisers approached and sometimes equaled ten, whereas that of Great War era battleships was about six, and World War 2 "fast battleships" ranged from about 6.5 to around eight. More specifically, the final US dreadnaught class of the early 1920s (Colorados) had a fineness ratio of about 6.4, whereas the Missouri's was 8.2 and the Alaska's was 8.9.

    I include this photo because it's the only aerial one I know of showing a cruiser and a battleship close together. So generally speaking, cruisers are proportionally narrower than battleships.

    BB-56 USS Washington
    CA-71 USS Quincy
    The Washington was one of the first US fast battleships, having a fineness ratio of 6.7, whereas the heavy cruiser Quincy's ratio was 9.5. These high-angle photos made the difference obvious, but seen from a low angle, as in the top images, the ships look similar because their superstructures are similar. Another difference is in the size of the main battery guns. Heavy cruisers has 8-inch guns and World War 2 US battleship classes had 16-inch guns.

    CA-68 USS Baltimore
    CL-48 USS Honolulu
    For sake of completeness, we should consider appearance differences between heavy and light US cruisers. Baltimore's fineness ratio is 9.5 and that of the light cruiser Honolulu is 9.8, Baltimore being about ten percent longer. Setting aside displacements, light cruiser main armament was six-inch guns in greater numbers than heavy cruiser eight-inchers. So Honolulu has three main turrets forward of the bridge compared to Baltimore's two. This is distinctly different from battleship practice (aside from the Royal Navy's HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney that also had three turrets forward), making it easier to distinguish the Honolulu from a battleship. Later light cruiser classes had a different turret arrangement, but the comparatively delicate gun barrels are a strong difference from a battleship's armament.

    Before the 1930s it was much easier to distinguish cruisers from battleships. Two examples from around 1920 are compared below.

    BB-38 USS Pennsylvania
    CL-5 USS Milwaukee
    Cruiser Milwaukee has small turrets with small guns positioned close to the bow and stern, with a long stretch in the mid area having little but four smokestacks.  Battleship Pennsylvania's topside elements are more compactly arranged.  The reason for this difference is that the cruiser was designed for high speed and therefore required a much larger machinery area whose boilers and engines developed 90,000 horsepower compared to Pennsylvania's 35,000.  The post-1935 battleships and cruisers mentioned in the first part of this post had about the same horsepower from more advanced, more compact machinery systems, which largely explains their similar appearance.

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    Porter Woodruff (1894-1959) was one of five American fashion illustrators Vogue magazine had based in Paris in the early 1920s. He continued illustrating for Vogue through the 1930s, residing in New York City and Tunisia as well as Paris. He died in Tunisia. Why little else is known about him can be gleaned here (click on the "learn more ..." line).

    Besides Vogue, he contributed covers to House & Garden magazine (another Condé Nast publication) around the time of the Great War, before moving to Paris. He also painted North African scenes that fail to impress me. You can Google on his name to locate some of these if you are curious.

    Woodruff was not a great fashion illustrator, but was good in the context of his times.

    Gallery

    House & Garden cover - June 1917
    A nice composition in synch with the architectural style.

    House & Garden cover - November 1917

    Sketch of Chanel costume - 1923

    Vogue cover - March 1926
    Interesting minimalist concept.

    Wedding dress by Jean Patou - 1926

    Fashion illustration - 1926

    Vogue cover art - January 1928
    Woodruff's best-known work.

    Pen & wash illustration - Vogue - May 1929

    Franklin Simon hat - Vogue - December 1931
    By the 1930s, Deco geometry was out and flowing lines were in.

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  • 01/01/18--01:00: Some Stations are Terminals
  • This blog is mostly about painting and illustration. One exception has to do with design, architecture and by extension the urban setting. This post is a bit of a stretch from even those topics, but I think it's okay to have a change of pace occasionally, especially on a holiday.

    In England, the place where one catches an inter-city railway train is called a station. Some London examples are Paddington Station, Euston Station and Victoria Station. The same is generally true here in the USA -- but not completely. Most people, me usually included, call one such place in New York City Grand Central Station. But its actual name is Grand Central Terminal.

    Technically, the place is a terminal because it is the final stopping point or initial starting point for trains. A station, by contrast, is an intermediate point.

    Regardless of what they officially or popularly are called, railroad depots that are functionally terminals are relatively rare because the power of railroad systems lies in the fact that they are basically networks where what is carried can flow from place to place. An exception is at a transportation break, typically where a railway spur ends at a ship docking facility for transferring goods from one transportation mode to another.

    Another exceptional case is certain large, old, dominant cities that serve as transportation hubs for their countries. In these cases, when railroading started in the 1800s it was already considered too disruptive to carve rail lines across those cities' central areas. Instead, terminals were established at various points around the peripheries of central areas, the rail lines heading away to places in their same general direction from the cities' centers. This is the case for London and Paris.

    An alternative is to have a large, central terminal that serves a large number of places, rail lines serving them diverging a ways away from the center. This is approximately how it works in Rome and Milan, though each city does have lesser terminals and stations for commuter lines.

    Below are a photo and some maps illustrating some terminals.

    Gallery

    Seattle Depots - 1913
    In the center of the photo is Union Station, actually a terminal used by the Union Pacific and Milwaukee Road lines.  To its right, with the tower, is King Street Station used by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads.  It actually is a station because some tracks head in our direction and reach a tunnel under Seattle's downtown.  You can glimpse those below-street-level tracks if you drop your eyes down from Union Station.

    London terminals
    They all bear the Station name, but are terminals except for London Bridge Station.  Before the postwar nationalization of railways, each station was associated with a railroad serving its own (but sometimes overlapping) region of Britain.

    Paris terminals - 1900
    This image featured a peripheral line running just inside Paris' fortifications that approximate the route of the Périphérique, Paris' beltway freeway.  Not all these terminals remain: the D'Orsay is now an art museum, for example.  The functioning intercity terminals are the St. Lazare, Nord, Est, Lyon, Austerlitz, and Montparnasse.

    New York - 1909
    This map features a subway commuter line connecting parts of Manhattan with New Jersey.  At the upper right is Grand Central Terminal (called "Station" here), and nearby black lines indicate subway and elevated local transportation lines.  Grand Central served the now-defunct New York Central and New Haven lines for many years.  Pennsylvania Station, the other major New York depot, is a true station because some tracks under the station structure connect Pennsylvania Railroad tracks (to the west) to Long Island Railroad tracks (to the east).  The Pennsy also no longer exists but the tracks remain.

    Chicago - 1908
    I include this map mostly because of the long list of railroads serving Chicago more than a century ago.  Aside from the present government-run Amtrak passenger system (started in 1971) that uses private lines' rails, there never has been a transcontinental railroad company in the United States.  A number of major lines served the eastern part of the county and extended as far west as places such as St. Louis and Chicago.  And there were western railroads serving places as far east as those and a few other cities.  There also were railroads serving the central part of the country, but their tracks did not extend to the east and west coasts.  For someone traveling by train from coast to coast in the heyday of passenger railroading, it was necessary to change railroads in places such as Chicago.

    Chicago - 1958
    This map shows that downtown Chicago was served by seven terminals (most called Station) in the 1950s.  When I was young, I once arrived in Chicago on the Milwaukee Road at Union Station.  We departed on the New York Central a few days later at La Salle Street Station.  Note that Union Station served the westerly Milwaukee Road and the easterly Pennsylvania Railroad.  But being a terminal, there was no through trackage.  The lines branched a ways out of town.

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    Ramon Tusquets i Maignon (1837-1904) came from a well-to-do Barcelona family and became a full-time artist once his father died. Some biographical information is here.

    I will assume that Tusquets never had serious financial worries. One piece of evidence in favor of that idea is that he doesn't seem to have relied on portraiture as an income source. Instead, he painted genre scenes in his beloved Italy along with a smattering of other subjects including a few large historical scenes.

    Although he was a contemporary of French Impressionists Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir as well as the Italian Macchiaioli Giovanni Boldini and Telemaco Signorini, Tusquets tended to paint in a traditional, less painterly styles. As a result, while his works were competently done, few strike me as being noteworthy, and it seems that the art world in general shares that opinion.

    Gallery

    Burial of Mariano Fortuny - 1874
    This has a Macchiaioli feeling to it, so perhaps Tusquets was influenced by them early in his career.
    I'd be tempted to call this a sketch, but the artist took care to sign it.

    Seeking Shelter - c. 1883

    Joan Fiveller davant Ferran d'Antequera - 1885
    That's a French title to this example of his historical paintings.

    washerwomen
    I don't have a formal title to this.

    Washing Day

    hillside village scene in Italy
    Again, I lack a title.

    Fishing Boats in Venice
    Colorful sails on Venice Lagoon fishing boats made it easy for artists to make interesting paintings. I consider this Tusquets' best.

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    Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a theoretician. Highly educated, around age 30 he was on the verge of becoming a law professor but chucked it and became an artist, an art teacher, and a theoretician of art.

    Here are some background links. The Wikipedia entry is long on analysis, but short on biographical information. This site focuses more on biography, and includes the nice feature of having a gallery of his paintings arranged by year. A short biography can be found here.

    The older I get, the less trust I put in theories that have to do with humans and their acts. So it seems for art. To me, art is something of a craft, so I have no problem with rules-of-thumb such as "fat over lean" when painting in oils. That sort of thing isn't theory: it's a matter of practice that can be ignored if the painter so chooses. On the other hand, Kandinsky who apparently was always fascinated by color, applied his intellectual skills to the matter of painting, and before many years elapsed concluded that abstraction was what the facts (as he saw them) demanded. He created some of the first-ever abstract paintings a few years before the Great War, and by the war's end he had essentially abandoned representational painting.

    Kandinsky is perhaps best known for paintings with lines and geometrical forms distributed on flat backgrounds. But he did more than that. Over his abstract art (or Non-Objective Art -- as the Museum of Modern Art called in in the 1930s) career, he did a good deal of experimentation. Often he would be playing with several themes simultaneously.  In the Gallery below I present part of what he was working on around the year 1940. Also included are works from more distant years using elements of what he was doing around 1940. Kandinsky therefore can be seen to have added and dropped abstract painting styles over his career while usually playing with more than one ideas at any given time -- an evolving set of parallel projects or (for him) intellectual investigations.

    Gallery

    First, a few paintings he made during 1939-1941. Note the variety.

    Untitled - 1941

    Red Circle - 1939

    Complex-Simple - 1939

    Sky Blue - 1940

    Next, some paintings using layered or stacked Egyptian-like elements. He did these from time to time over a decade.

    Untitled - 1940

    Succession - 1935

    Sign Series - 1931

    Besides geometric forms, Kandinsky also played around with organic blobs. "Fingered" blobs reappear in the paintings below made over another ten-year period.

    Brown with Supplement - 1935

    Green and Red - 1940

    Untitled - 1941

    Composition - 1944
    One of his last paintings.

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    Henry Russell Ballinger (1892-1993) lived to be 100 years old and was active into his mid-90s. There is little biographical information about him on the Internet. However, this notes that he "studied at the University of California, San Francisco; the Art Students League with Harvey Dunn; and the Academy Colarossi, Paris." And here is another snippet that mentions he "worked as an illustrator for almost 20 years, doing magazine covers for Yankee Magazine, McCall's magazine and the Saturday Evening Post."

    Ballinger was a skilled landscape, seascape and shoreline painter who wrote several books dealing with paintings those subjects (an example is here ). His works are found in several museums.

    What is not clear to me from the limited information available is the arc of his career. My best guess is that, since he had training by Dunn, he probably did his illustration work in the 1920s and 30s, then shifted to fine arts. Or maybe he did fine art painting all the while and worked as an illustrator to maintain his income.

    There are a few examples of his paintings found in Google searches, but I turned up only one sure example of his illustration work. Perhaps lengthy digging or better use of key words might have located Saturday Evening Post covers, but all I found were random cover images.

    All this is too bad, because Ballinger seems to have known his stuff, and I would like to see more of it to be sure of that.

    Gallery

    The Harbor (Kahala Bay) - 1958

    A landscape by Ballinger

    Illustration for "The Wolf Chaser"
    I don't know what magazine this appeared in, nor the date. My guess as to the latter is 1934 or thereabouts. I base this on the women's hairdos and clothing along with the fact that they are shown with alcoholic drinks (Prohibition was abolished in the USA in March of 1933). The cloisoné style is similar to that used by McClelland Barclay at times during the late 1920s and early 30s (examples are here -- scroll down). Click on the image to enlarge considerably.

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    Edwin Georgi (1896-1964) is the subject of a fine new book crammed with his illustrations. I wrote about Georgi's early illustration years here. For more information about the book, you can click here.

    On thing that struck me was how limited the biographical part was. For one thing, no date of death was mentioned. And the text was the same or nearly that of an article in Illustration Magazine's issue No. 30 (Summer, 2010) written by its editor/publisher Dan Zimmer, who also authored the new book. I then grabbed my copy of Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked to see how it treated Georgi. Again, not a lot was said. A brief Google search turned up next to nothing new.

    What is reported regarding Georgi is interesting. He attended Princeton and was on the Tigers' football team. When the USA entered the Great War, he became an Army pilot. Like many, he was shot down in those pre-parachute times, but survived the crash only to be hospitalized for a year. He became an illustrator in the 1920s and had a very successful career into the early 1960s. At some unstated point he married and then had children. He owned several houses and continued to fly. And that was about all important biographical information about him that I've been able to find. Zimmer did have contact with family members, but little information about his career and artistic methods seems to have come from them.

    So, what to make of this? Maybe Georgi was a very private man. Another possibility, given the large amount of work included in the book, is that he spent much of his time laboring to hit his deadlines and spent the rest of his time as a normal, upper-middle class American in the 1940s and 50s.

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    Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) had a long, prolific career. His Wikipedia entry is extensive.

    While I was surfing through collections of his work via the Internet, I came across three unfinished works. I'm not sure how interesting this is for the average reader, but I know that people who paint, along with art historians, usually enjoy stumbling across such items that reveal an artist's technique.

    Gallery

    Mountain Landscape at Saint Thomas, Antilles - 1854-55
    One of Pissarro's earliest surviving works. Painted on his return to Saint Thomas, but quite possibly interrupted when he left again for France. At this stage of his career, Pissarro seems to be finishing a painting area-by-area.

    Peasant Woman - 1885
    Thirty years later, he is more into assembling his painting on a balanced basis. This seems to be a gouache or watercolor that requires different handling than oils. Nevertheless, he leaves important areas to be finished later.

    Poultry Market at Gisors - 1889
    Here Pissarro spent his time on the featured foreground subjects. Heads and faces in the distant crowd might or might not receive a bit more detail.  The far side of the market square is was roughed in when he set this painting aside. (Though he did add his initials instead of his usual signature, indicating ... something.)