Friday, January 23, 2015

Brian Cook: Illustrator and Parliament Member

The poster-like illustration above is probably book cover or poster art by Brian Caldwell Cook Batsford (1910-1991), something apparently innovative in its day and now considered collectible.

A brief Wikipedia entry on Cook is here, and a better, much more detailed biographical sketch is here.

It seems that Cook was a bored student in school whose only interest was painting. His grades were so mediocre that university was out of the question for him. Fortunately, an uncle was a publisher, so Cook went to work at Batsford's, a firm he eventually led. He added Batsford to his name after leaving the RAF after World War 2 when he returned to the firm. Cook created many wraparound book covers for Batsford as well as posters for others.

On the side, he was a Tory parliamentarian and eventually was knighted.


The front cover of a book I'm currently reading that deals with the London of 1932. Missing is the bloc containing the writer's name (Paul Cohen-Portheim).  The orange stripe at the right is not on my copy.

Here are examples of wrap-around book covers illustrated by Cook.

Cook didn't always do landscapes and cityscapes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Golden Years: John La Gatta

One of the most successful American illustrators of the 1930s was John La Gatta (1894-1977). His last name is also rendered as LaGatta, the way it usually seemed to appear in his distinctive signature block. But I see where his son has it as La Gatta, so I will use that version here even though I'll likely slip back to LaGatta in other posts dealing with him.

La Gatta was born in Naples, Italy, and came to America when he was a young boy. His art training was at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. By the early 1920s he had begun to establish a reputation as an illustrator of beautiful women, and from the mid-20s through most of the 1930s his career was at its peak. His earnings allowed him to live on the posh North Shore of Long Island and own a yacht. More about his life and career can be found here, here and here.

Unlike many 1920s vintage illustrators, and perhaps because in some sense he was a fashion artist, he relied heavily on drawing with charcoal or other drawing tools, adding color when required using water-based or thinned oil paint washes. Examples of this classic La Gatta style are shown below. Of course, he also used other styles and media when called for, and I might deal with that in another post.


Fashion drawing - early 1920s

Life cover - 27 October 1927

Fancy dress couple - 1929

Life cover - 11 January 1929

"Great Gatsby" scene

Laros Lingerie advertising art

Ladies' Home Journal cover - March 1933

Ladies' Home Journal cover - October 1932

Young lady drinking tea - late 1930s?

Saturday Evening Post cover - 5 July 1930

"Milk and Honey" illustration - March 1933

La Gatta's iconic illustration

Monday, January 19, 2015

JJ Shannon's Portrait Art

James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) was born in New York State, the child of Irish immigrants. The family moved to Canada a few years later, and when Shannon's artistic abilities became obvious he was sent to London for training at South Kensington.  Thereafter, he worked mostly in England, became a member of the Royal Academy and was knighted at some point along the way. Biographical and other information can be found here, here and here.

There were many very good portrait painters in England during Shannon's time, John Singer Sargent being the best known. Perhaps for that reason Shannon does not easily come to mind. I think that is unfortunate because he made attractive likenesses using a nice painterly touch. Take a look:


Ruby Miller

Estelle - 1886

Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland - c.1890

Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland

Violet Lindsay, Duchess of Rutland - 1918
Three portraits of the Duchess of Rutland, painted at various times.

Mary, Princess Royal - 1914
Mary was the only daughter of King George V.

Marjory Manners, later Marchioness of Anglesey

The Sevres Vase

Mary Gascoigne-Cecil when Marchioness of Hartington - c.1917-18

Blessed Are They (unfinished)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Identify the Artist

I download a lot of images to my desktop computer. Some are reference photos. Others are intended to be used in posts on this blog. Quite a few are snagged simply because they interest me.

Of the latter group, there are a few where I can't identify the artist. In some cases, they are not signed. Others, I can't quite read the artist's signature. I think I'm in need of help, so please take a look at the images below and, if you know who the artist was, let me know in a comment. Thank you in advance.


Number 1
An interesting setting, though not a great fine arts painting. But it might be a pretty good illustration.
* * *
Aha! Even before I added this post to the publication queue, I discovered that it's by Charles Hoffbauer, painted in 1907 and given the English title "In the Restaurant." Hoffbauer was one of those artists who did edge near the border of fine arts painting and illustration.

Number 2
Not a high priority here, but I find it interesting because it's so 1930s escapist from the Depression (which had eased a bit at the time this was done). Note the use of watercolor, a big shift from the common use of oil paints in the 1920s.

Number 3
This looks like a detail from ad advertisement, perhaps an ad for cigarettes. Very 1920s. I like it.

Number 4
This I don't especially like, but the treatment of the background figures interests me. It's from 1930 and the style is similar to what Bernard Boutet de Monvel was doing around that time. I wrote about him here. In this case, there is a signature. The first name looks like it might be "James," but the rest is hard for me to read. It looks like there's a "+" sign, so maybe two artists contributed; the style for the foreground and background figures look like they might be by different hands.

Number 5
From a Simoniz car wax advertisement of around 1936 or 37. No signature, but it reminds me of Earl Cordrey's work. However, there were plenty of other illustrators in those days who could have done it.

Number 6
This interests me the most, so I find it the most frustrating. No signature, but the little box with initials that might be "BT." Or something else. It was painted in 1926, but my reference material for that era comes up short.
* * *
On the other hand, this source says it's by Saul Tepper, and that could very well be true, given the quality of the painting. It also includes a Tepper image from 1939 with a similar identification, but where the "S" doesn't look like a "B" or whatever. (Tepper typically signed an illustration using his full name.) So in this case, let me know if this image is not by Tepper.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vanessa Bell, Modernist Amateur

Vanessa Bell, née Stephen, (1879-1961) was a member of the Bloomsbury Group. A brief Wikipedia entry about her is here and a lengthy Guardian article dealing with her painting is here.

She had some formal art training and painted for much of her adult life. From what I've read about her, it seems that most of the paintings she made were for herself; she didn't have to paint to make a living.

Given when she lived and who she associated with (artist Duncan Grant and artist / art critic Roger Fry, among others), she was swept up in modernism, especially 1910-20. By the late 1930s she pulled back and made more conventionally representational paintings. I am not aware that she painted abstractions.

The Guardian piece linked above makes her out to be far more than she was, if the images below are any evidence.


Photo of Vanessa by George Charles Beresford - 1902

Virginia Woolf - ca. 1912
She painted several pictures of people where faces were either lightly indicated or simply rendered as colored blobs. My conjecture is that she (or one of her friends, likely Roger Fry) thought that including facial detail would make faces the painting's focus, whereas a blank face would allow viewers to contemplate the image in "formal" terms -- color, composition, and such.

Virginia Woolf - ca. 1912
A Cézanne-like treatment of Vanessa's sister, the writer Virginia Woolf.

Conversation Piece - 1912
More faceless subjects, thinly painted.

Lytton Strachey - 1913
The biographer before he gained fame and wealth.

Molly MacCarthy - 1914-15
This is the only Cubist-inspired portrait I'm aware of, though others might have been destroyed in a World War 2 air raid.

Mrs. John Hutchinson - 1915
The pink face and pink wall provide a modernist version of a Coles Phillips illustration.

The Blue Room, Wissett Lodge - 1916
Accurate anatomy, linear perspective, scale and other attributes are sacrificed to the gods of modernism.

View of the Pond at Charleston, East Sussex - ca. 1919
Here she retreats a little from extreme modernism. Drawing is more accurate, but brushwork remains dabby.

8 Fitzroy Street
Perspective is ignored, and the colors give this a whiff of Henri Matisse.

Dora Morris - ca. 1937
This is much more representational, but the brushwork remains haphazard.

Angelica Garnett (Vanessa's daughter)

Leonard Woolf - 1940
Virginia Woolf's husband, perhaps doing his obsession, the finances for the Hogarth Press.

Lady with a Book - 1945-46
A postwar painting with even more compromises with representationalism, though it retains a modernist feel.

Self Portrait - ca. 1958
Done not long before her death.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Otis (and Dorothy) Shepard: Billbord Masters

Otis "Shep" Shepard (1894-1969) and his wife Dorothy Van Gorder Shepard (1906-2000) were important figures in American poster and billboard design. Dorothy was trained at the California School of Arts and Crafts, whereas Otis ended formal education after the fourth grade and left home at age 12 to get on with life. His art training was informal, but he had plenty of natural ability along with an active mind that allowed him to exploit it. He got involved with billboards working at Foster & Kleiser, a major West Coast firm, rising to general art director in 1923.

Otis and Dorothy were married November 8, 1929, a few days after the Wall Street Crash, and went to Europe on honeymoon where they experienced first-hand modernistic poster designs. They carried that inspiration home and Otis applied it and the use of the airbrush to a poster for Chesterfield cigarettes (see below). This success led him to go free-lance.

In 1932, not long after he took charge of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Philip K. Wrigley met Shepard and soon hired him as what amounted to design chief for the chewing gum company whose other interests included the Chicago Cubs baseball team and Catalina Island, near Los Angeles. Shepard was involved with everything from billboards to designing Cubs uniforms to creating architectural and design harmony for Catalina. Not bad for a man lacking formal education.

I wrote about Shepard here in 2009 on the 2Blowhards blog.

An excellent book about the Shepards was recently published. Its cover is shown above and its Amazon link is here.

A web site devoted to the Shepards and the book is here. An interview with one of the authors about the Shepards is here.

Below are (mostly) examples of their poster and billboard work.  Unless otherwise noted, the design and artwork was by Otis.


Otis and Dorothy Christmas card - by Dorothy - 1929

Chesterfield cigarettes billboard - 1930
This launched Otis' national-level career as a billboard artist/designer.  Dorothy was used as the model.

Underwood typewriters poster by Dorothy
Besides images, Dorothy often did typography.

Doublemint chewing gum billboard

Doublemint chewing gum billboard
The Doublemint Twins theme was used for years.

Juicy Fruit chewing gum billboard

Juicy Fruit chewing gum billboard
An interesting feature is the mouth appearing on the slogan banner.