Thursday, February 23, 2017

Howard Somerville, Who Cut Them Off at the Knees

Howard Somerville Adamson (1873-1952) who painted using the name Howard Somerville is one of those obscure British artists who made a few striking paintings.

It seems that the most complete biographical information is here, though it's accessible for many of us only on Fridays. It's worth reading if you find that you might be interested in the artist. Apparently he was reasonably successful, being fairly widely exhibited in his day. He also made illustrations to earn his keep. A detailed critique of Somerville is here.

The writer of the second link is Robert Holden, a New York City based artist who paints, among other subjects, portraits from life. Much of his post is a discussion regarding Somerville's possible use of photographs rather than live sitting as the basis for his portraiture. Holden has an axe to grind, given that he stresses his policy of painting from life in his blog's biographical statement. To me, this is not such a huge matter. Holden also complains about Somerville truncating his subjects around knee-level. This seems to be a signature style or trait Somerville probably used to distinguish his work; a number of his portraits have that feature, and some of them also feature a fairly large background area above the subject's head (a few examples are shown below).

The first link, on the other hand, stresses that Somerville made little use of photography. Apparently this was in response to more than one accusation that Somerville made much use of that vile technology.

Gallery

The Red Bernous

Norah
I find the two paintings above to be the most striking and interesting of Somerville's work. The portrait immediately above is of the actress Norah Baring.

Miss Norah Baring
Another portrait of Norah Baring. I could find no Internet photograph of Baring that matches the poses in the two portraits, so Somerville most likely did work from life or took his own reference photos or (perhaps most likely) made use of both possibilities in the same project. Note the amount of space above Baring's head.

Sylvia - 1922

Butler Wood

Elissa Landi
Another painting with plenty of space above the subject's head.

Elizabeth Woodville

Gypsy
The sitter's first name apparently was Florence, and she attested that she sat for this painting.

In the Studio IV, Self Portrait
No truncation at the knees here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Towards the End: Brangwyn at Radio City

Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was in his mid-60s when he painted murals for the lobby floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the tallest building in the original Rockefeller Center complex in New York City. (In its early years, Rockefeller Center was popularly called Radio City, and the Radio City Music Hall is the name of its famous huge theatre where the Rockettes danced.) The Center's web site mentions him here.

Brangwyn is an artist that interests me greatly, especially for his work as a muralist. I posted about that aspect of his career here.

It seems that the Rockefellers were in the market for Big Name Artists to create murals for their huge, Depression-era project. Matisse and Picasso were approached, but weren't interested. Diego Rivera, the well-known Mexican muralist accepted, but he famously created a work of political propaganda that was inappropriate for its setting and destroyed.

So the Rockefellers dropped to their B-list, selecting Josep (José) Maria Sert and Brangwyn to paint huge, monochrome murals. Sert's murals are rather bombastic, and are better known than Brangwyn's because some are located in a large, open area. All of Brangwyn's are found on a side corridor.

Worse, Brangwyn's murals are not very good. He was an interesting colorist, but the Rockefellers apparently desired monochrome murals that would blend with the rich, late Art Deco interior architecture and decoration of the building. It is possible that Brangwyn was also losing his touch due to age.

When I was in New York City in September I made a point of tracking down his murals and photographing them. Unfortunately, lighting conditions and the comparatively cramped setting made it impossible to get decent photos. Still, I hope you will find them of interest.

Gallery

If you enter 30 Rockefeller Plaza from the eastern, sunken plaza side, this huge Sert mural awaits you. Branwyn's are to be found around the corner by the pillar seen at the far left of the mural.

For some reason Brangwyn filled his Rockefeller Center murals with ugly people.

Another mural.

Detail of the mural in the previous image. Not being able to use color, Brangwyn had to resort to hatching. This, and his use of lightened paint to depict depth, resulted images that are weak by normal Brangwyn standards.

The murals would wrap around corners. Here is a side-aisle example that's distorted because I couldn't shoot the photo squarely-on.

This is a squared-up photomontage image found on the internet. Brangwyn used it for the mural shown in the next few images. This mural wrapped around a corner, and the soldier shown in the previous photo can be seen here at the left.

That is Christ at the top. He is facing away because the Rockefellers apparently decided His face should not be shown.

Detail of the above mural.

Another detail. Note that in this set of murals Brangwyn chose to have many of his subjects depicted with large, oddly-shaped noses.  I can speculate why, but won't because I have no way of reading his mind.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Federico Beltrán Masses, Painter of Lips

Federico Armando Beltran Masses (1885–1949) was born in Cuba, but left for Barcelona when young. A controversial painting's reception led to his moving to Paris in 1916 where he continued his career. He returned to Barcelona late in life as his health failed. It seems that Beltran studied under Joaquín Sorolla, though it isn't clear for how long. In any case, Baltran's painting style was different from Sorolla's by the mid-1910s.

A good deal of information about Beltran can be found here, here and here.

I find it interesting that Beltran is quoted in the second link above as follows: "Lips, for Beltran Masses, were the only way to tell the true character of his sitters, as he explained to the Los Angeles Examiner in 1925, 'eyes may lie – lips never!'". A different perspective than most artists would have, but use it as a guide for viewing the images below.

Gallery

Tanagra - 1914
This is the earliest of his works that I noticed on the Internet. He soon abandoned this Neoimpressionist style.

Now for three similarly posed paintings...

La Maja Maldita - 1918
Carmen Tortóla Valencia is said to be the subject.

La Marquesa Casati - 1920
The famously extravagant Casati is said not to have paid for this portrait.

Femme dans le chale espagno - c.1925

King George VI - c.1938
Beltran painted many well-connected subjects.

Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino - c.1925
Beltran spent some time in Hollywood in the 1920s.

Mrs Freda Dudley Ward (later Marquesa de Casa Maury) - 1921

Madame Bonnardel, Condesa Montgomery - 1934
Venice was a favorite setting for Beltran. Stunning portrait, this.

Mme. Wellington Koo - 1934
Wife of the famous Chinese politician and diplomat.

Mujer de Azul

Tres Para Uno - c.1934
Note the blue background in this and other images. It became associated with Beltran.

Granadas - 1929
Beltran made a number of paintings of nude or partly nude women that you ought to be able to find via Google or Bing.

Monday, February 13, 2017

John C. Wenrich: Forgotten Architectural Delineator

John C. Wenrich (1894-1970) was a fine architectural delineator. While he wasn't as famous as his near-contemporary Hugh Ferris, he was involved in some important projects, one of which was Rockefeller Center.

Biographical information on Wenrich is scanty. This link is the best I could find using Google. And here is a blog dealing with Wenrich at a site featuring architectural illustration. It was the source of some of the images below.

The current post presents some of Wenrich's Rockefeller Center work. He had a nice, effective touch that wasn't as dramatic or impressionistic as Ferris' renderings often were.

Gallery

This features the Maison Française (left) and British Empire Building (right) separated by the "channel." The buildings as completed feature less ornamentation than shown in the rendering.

Rendering of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, best known to me as the RCA Building.

An earlier rendering showing the RCA Building. The two tall buildings to the left were conjectural. The left-hand one was never built, but a building somewhat similar to the one to the right exists, though it lacks the tower and other details vary. Wenrich included the Empire State Building (3/4 of a mile -- about one kilometer -- south on Fifth Avenue) at the far left.

Another rendering done at about the same time as the previous one. Those two tall buildings on Fifth Avenue appear, as do the low-lying Maison Française and British Empire Building nestled between them.

Showing rooftop gardens on the Maison Française and British Empire Building. These buildings actually received such gardens. The orientation of Wenrich's image is a view from the southwest, where St. Patrick's Cathedral is shown at the top of the image on the other side of Fifth Avenue.

This 1932 rendering depicts a proposed rooftop garden on the Radio City Music Hall theatre. It was never made, the same being the case for the skybridge shown crossing West 50th Street.

This later rendering is of Rockefeller Center's essentially completed first phase planning. It doesn't quite agree with what was actually built. For instance, a Music Hall rooftop garden is still included.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Whistler at the Frick

New York City's Frick Collection is comparatively small, yet astonishingly good.

For example, it holds nearly ten percent of all the known Vermeer paintings. Three, to be exact, two of which are very good and one so inferior that I wonder if it was actually done by that great artist. (You can find links to the Frick's works by name of artist here).

Much of the collection was acquired during the lifetime of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and the New York museum at his Fifth Avenue mansion was established in 1935 following the death of his widow.

I've been meaning to visit the Frick for some time. I was first there many decades ago, before my knowledge of art history was great enough to appreciate what I was seeing. More recently, I planned to visit, but instead spent far more time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art than expected, so never got to the Frick that day. While visiting New York last September I finally did return to the Frick. The only downside was that photography was prohibited.

Two of the many works that interested me were portraits of women painted nearly ten years apart but in a similar spirit by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) ... Wikipedia biography here. As was his slightly pretentious (in my feeble judgment) wont, Whistler's primary titles of these portraits named the theme he was dealing with, rather than the actual subject.


"Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland" - 1871-74
The Frick's webpage for this painting (acquired 1916) is here. Image copyrighted by the Frick.

"Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux" - 1881-82
It was acquired 1916-18 and its Frick link is here.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Up Close: Maxfield Parrish's King Cole Bar Mural

Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) was famed in his day as an illustrator and painter. The advent of modernism forced him towards eclipse, but his reputation has grown considerably in recent decades. His Wikipedia entry is here.

Parrish's works seem to be mostly in private collections along with a few scattered museums. For many of us, the most conveniently seen examples are murals in two bars. The west coast example is his Pied Piper mural at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The other is the King Cole mural in New York City's St. Regis Hotel. The locale is the King Cole Bar that I briefly visited last September.

The mural dates to 1906 and has been in the St. Regis since 1932. Happily, it was given a cleaning a few years ago, as this New York Times article mentions.

Here are some photos from our visit.

Gallery

Here it the whole huge thing. It is comprised of three joined canvas panels, the joins being clearly visible.

The left-hand section showing the fiddlers three.

The central section where King Cole occupies his throne.

The right hand section showing the arrival of his pipe and bowl (that seems to be a jug here).

A close-up of Cole taken by my wife who seems to have had her camera's flash activated, to judge by the colors compared to my non-flash photos. King Cole is wearing glasses that fog over his right eye. Moreover, he doesn't seem to be "a merry old soul," as the poem would have it. Elsewhere on the Internet can be found a possible explanation, and I leave it to any interested Constant Readers to discover this on your own.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Up Close: Anders Zorn's Mrs Bacon

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) is generally placed with John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla in the top rank of late-19th / early 20th century portrait painters. I posted about him here and here.

It seems that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has a very nice Zorn portrait, that of Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon (Virginia Purdy Barker), made in 1897 and presented to the museum by her in 1917.

Since I seldom get to New York City these days and visit the Met even less often, I have to wonder if the portrait of Mrs Bacon has been on display very much. But it was on display when I visited early last September. Hence, the present post.

This is the image of the painting found here on the Met's web site. If you click on it, your computer should be directed to an image that allows you to greatly enlarge areas of it you select. Seriously Up Close, in other words. One thing about the image: It is more yellowed than it appeared on display. I have to assume it was cleaned since it was photographed.

This is a slightly cropped and doctored version of a photo I took during my hurried visit.