Friday, November 30, 2012

1930s Automobile Front-End Styling Detailing

Modernist design purists during the first half of the twentieth century made avoiding decoration a central part of their design religion: Thou Shalt Not Decorate!

Easier said than done, once one moves away from architecture and perhaps furniture and dining-wear design. That's because it's possible to take functional elements of the object and arrange them in a pleasing and, yes, decorative manner ("function" was another religious tenet, especially for architects and industrial designers). Actually, one can do that for architectural objects as well.

During the mid-1920s, once automobiles became reliable to operate, it began to dawn on manufacturers that a car's appearance could become a selling point if customers no longer felt it necessary to shop with reliability in mind. So styling operations began to emerge in the larger companies as well as in firms specializing in providing car bodies.

Speaking of "function," an important function for any consumer-goods product is saleability, and a good designer needs to keep this in mind. Even if car stylists were of the modernist-purist school of thought, design proposals for production cars had to face approval by corporate officers whose fields included engineering and sales as well as general management. Which is why automobiles have almost always included styling elements that might be considered decorative.

The 1930s were years when automobile styling was becoming established along with the new field of industrial design. Those years also marked the transition in decorative fashion from what we now call Art Deco to "Moderne," a simpler style incorporating elements related to streamlining.

Below are some examples of front-end or "face" styling elements from that period. I took those photos during visits to various automobile museums over the past few years.


Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow - 1933
Phil Wright's sensational (for its time) Silver Arrow is noted for his predictive design for the main body of the car: it includes a number of features that did not appear on mass-production cars until around the 1948 model year. The front end is not heavily decorated, this in keeping with early 1930s practices on the luxury end of the automobile spectrum.

Studebaker - 1933
Studebaker (which at the time owned Pierce-Arrow) presented a transitional front end, also typical of 1933. Decorative elements include the radiator cap "mascot," the crest on the grille V-divider and those curious, sad-looking oval headlamps.

Chrysler Airflow - 1934
Chrysler's radical, but ill-fated (sales-wise) Airflow used several Deco/Moderne elements. The front seats featured chromed tubing as frames. Above the radiator intake opening are extensions of the vertical grille-bars over the hood's sheet metal as a decorative element that are shown here. Also note the winged mascot coupled with the Chrysler blue ribbon symbol.

Hudson - 1936
Hudson came out with a completely new body for 1936 and for a reason I cannot fathom, Frank Spring's styling crew planted a bizarre grille design on it. "Fencer's mask" (noticeably convex) grilles were the rage across the industry that year, but they took the form of uniform bar or mesh patterns. Instead, Hudson opted for a central section featuring vertical bars that was flanked by areas of thick mesh created by perforating some sheet metal. Note the baroque curve along the top end of the grillework that transitions to the centerline of the hood. The oddest detail is that winged, aerodynamically-shaped amber-like plastic mascot. It resembles a winged cigar. Hudson used a different mascot for its 1937 cars for some strange reason.

Hispano-Suiza - 1937
Shown is one of the last of the famed Hispano-Suiza line of luxury cars built in France. Very conservative in terms of decoration, though the shapes of the hood, grille and headlamp-fender ensemble has a decorative cast. Pseudo-streamlining was the rage by the mid-30s, so we see teardrop-shaped front fenders and blended headlamp housings offsetting a hood-grille combination more appropriate for 1931.

Lagonda - 1939
lagonda was a British luxury automobile, and British styling at all price levels was conservative well beyond World War 2. The Lagonda grille-hood grouping is rounded as a bow to aerodynamics, as are the fenders. But the headlamps, fog lights and exterior-mounted horns make for an interesting older-fashion decorative counterpoint.

Plymouth - 1939
The 1939 Plymouth's front end is in line with American Streamlined Moderne styling of that year. Note that the headlamps are buried in the front fenders and the grille in in the process of transitioning from a vertical to a horizontal shape. The mascot is a streamlined version of the good ship Mayflower that deposited the Pilgrim Fathers and their families at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts in 1620; Plymouth used similar mascot designs for many years. The most decorative bits are the thin chromed strips that define the grille openings -- flutings, speed lines and similar touches being the height of fashion in those days.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mark Tobey: "Local" Boy Made Good

When I was a lad, Mark Tobey (1890-1976) was Seattle's claim to artistic fame. Tobey was born in Wisconsin and died in Switzerland, living only parts of his life in or near Seattle, as his Wikipedia entry indicates. He was associated with a school of Pacific Northwest painters that I wrote about here.

Tobey seems to hold a marginal place in standard histories of modernist painting despite the honors and showings of his work in major museums during his lifetime (see the Wikipedia link above for details). He isn't completely ignored, yet he isn't featured with the likes of de Kooning, Rothko, Kline or even Pollock whose famous "drip" paintings look similar to the careful calligraphic abstractions Tobey was creating a few years earlier.

Tobey's signature "white writing" style of abstract or almost-abstract painting gelled in the early 1940s and, so far as I can tell, he never really transcended it during the remaining 30 years of his career. Here are examples of his work.


Self-Portrait - 1953

Man with Closed Eyes - c.1925
These two portraits indicate that Tobey was perfectly capable of producing representational art.

Farmer's Market - 1941

From farmer's market series
In the 1930s and 40s when Tobey used what now is known as the Pike Place Market for subject matter. Seattle was hardly the sleek, world-class city it is today. The market back then was perched above a long row of working piers topped by warehouses and on its uphill side was First Avenue, in those days a street lined with taverns, pawn shops, girlie show theaters, third-run movie houses, flop houses and missions. Such grittiness seems to appeal to many artists, Tobey among them.

Image containing people - 1945

The New Day - c.1945
Tobey had been doing "white writing" for a few years, but still was willing to include more recognizable human figures and other colors in some of his works.

Meditative Series VIII - 1954
An example of the visually dense works he made as his preferred technique evolved a little.

Lovers of Light - 1961
This small "white writing" tempera measures 4.5 x 6.5 inches (11 x 16.5 cm).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Edwin Holgate's Apogee and Fall

Edwin Holgate (1892-1977), Wikipedia entry here, was part of Canada's legendary Group of Seven painters. But he wasn't one of the original Seven, having joined in 1930 during one of the membership turnovers.

Group of Seven artists had their similarities and differences. I posted on Frederick Varley here and Lawren Harris here, discussing their styles and subject preferences. Like Varley and Harris, Holgate painted landscapes (the one thing common to Group of Seven members), but otherwise went his own way, as did the others.

At his peak, Holgate painted strong images, particularly of people. I like them in general, though this source is less enthusiastic.

Many artists of his vintage, perhaps for career reasons, eventually compromised more than they should have (in my judgment) to modernism, and Holgate was no exception. Below are presented examples of his work over nearly 50 years of his career. Missing are images of his earliest paintings, so I'm not sure what he was doing while in his early 20s. At any rate, so far as I am concerned, he started strongly, but was losing his grip by the mid-1940s. For example, about 1946 he painted "Lady by the Window" a flabby, dabby work at odds with what he was doing ten or 20 years before. I couldn't find the image on the Web, but it's on page 102 of this book, if you are curious.


Near Amiens - c.1917
Holgate was a war artist during the Great War; I'm guessing as to the date this was painted.

Suzy - 1921
A strong image in the spirit of his later work. He seems to have attained his artistic maturity by age 30.

Evening, Baie-Saint-Paul - 1922
Though not yet a Group of Seven member, Holgate was painting in their landscape style and in the kind of setting favored by other Canadian artists.

Ludivine - 1930
Marie Hinde Huestis - 1930
Nude in Landscape - 1930
The three paintings above are credited as being completed in 1930. There are stylistic differences, the least typical being the portrait of Marie Heustis probably because Holgate was painting on commission rather than for himself. He painted a series of nudes about this time. The image shown at the bottom is perhaps the best of that lot. Nudes in landscape settings can be difficult to pull off due to matters of color. Holgate's painting is successful thanks to his treatment of values (light and dark); note that the shading around the woman's head is linked to the darker part of the background.

Stephen Leacock - 1943
Leacock was a popular essayist both in his native Canada and elsewhere.

Laurentian Cemetery - c.1948
An example of his post-World War 2 painting style. Like the Baie-Saint-Paul painting above, it is less crisp than his stronger works. Moreover, it strikes me as being too sketchy as well as too soft. Some people are fond of this style, but not me.

Ski Patroller - 1949
A portrait from the same period. Again, Holgate is showing comparative flabbiness in part due to a limited value range on the face and clothing.

Pastures Under Gabriel - 1952
Like the painting mentioned in the main text, I consider this a low point for Holgate; a weak piece of work.

The Pool - 1965
He redeems himself somewhat in this painting done in his early 70s.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Same Basics, Different Looks: Sonata and Optima

As I've probably noted before, automobile makers can reduce expenses by having different brands share important components such as motors and the basic body shell. This has been done in many places for many years. Sometimes the strategy has been effective and sometimes not. Certain British makes during the 1960s were noted for their "badge engineering" (differentiating brands through small changes in exterior trim) as did Chrysler's brands from the 1970s on. A low point was encapsulated in Fortune magazine's 22 August 1963 cover showing identically painted cars from four different General Motors brands positioned so that they looked essentially the same. Implicit was a contrast from the days when GM brands had distinctive appearances even when sharing major body components.

Avoiding this problem costs money in the form of having differently shaped sheet metal for different brands using the same underlying components. I could cite a number of good examples, but for this post I'll use the current Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima models. At first glance, they look entirely different. But statistics show they share the same basic dimensions -- wheelbase length, for example. And close inspection of the shapes of doorposts, cut lines and other body essentials confirms underlying commonality.

Let's take a look.

Sonata front 3/4 view
Optima front 3/4 view
Note the shape of the windshields (the black parts behind the glass, not the exterior metal shapes), and the shape and locations of the front and center roof pillars. Also look at the cut lines of the doors in relation to other features such as the front wheel well openings.

Sonata rear 3/4 view
Optima rear 3/4 view
These views offer a different perspective regarding the same features just mentioned, especially the cut lines and pillars.

Which car's styling do I like better? I find the Sonata more dramatic, but the sweeping side creases seem a little awkward as they wrap around the rear of the car. I marginally prefer the Optima. In particular, I like the way Peter Schreyer's "Tiger Nose" grille shape is echoed along the top of the windshield.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Frederick Bosley, Nearly-Unknown Bostonian

Frederick Andrew Bosley apparently was an artist of at least some consequence in Boston during the early decades of the 20th century. Today he is so little-known that only a few images of his paintings can be found on the Internet. Moreover, biographical information is so skimpy that I can't be certain when he was born or died; birth years are either 1881 or 1884 and he died either in 1941 or 1942, depending on what source one uses, though the majority have it as 1941.

Biographical information can be found here and here. From these I offer the following:

Bosley was a star pupil at Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts, graduating in 1906. He won the Sears Prize in 1904 and the Paige Traveling Fellowship in 1907. Following two years in Europe he returned to Boston, married, and taught painting at the Abbott Academy and the Groton School. He was charter member of the Guild of Boston Painters. In 1915 he won a medal at San Francisco's Pan-Pacific Exposition. In 1912 he replaced Edmund Tarbell at the Museum School, resigning in 1931 when the school introduced modern art into its program. That same year he became an Associate National Academician.

Here are most of the images of his work that I could find on the Web.


Reverie - 1913

Looking at Prints

The Letter - 1919

Peggy Reading to Elizabeth

Catherine Whyte (neé Robb)

Miss Peggy Bush in the Blue Mandarin Coat - 1927

Monday, November 19, 2012

J.C. Leyendecker's Lighting from Below

J.C. (Joseph Christian, "Joe") Leyendecker (1874-1951) was one of the most famous American illustrators during the first four decades of the 20th century. The most important general-interest magazine in those days was the Saturday Evening Post, and Leyendecker's count of cover illustrations for it was in the same ballpark as that for Norman Rockwell, the top illustrator 1920-1960.

Leyendecker's Wikipedia entry is here, another biographical entry is
here and a site with more examples of his work is here.

Leyendecker had a distinctive style featuring crisp delineation of shapes along with hatching and cross-hatching on his subject's surfaces. This made attempts at imitation too obvious for rival illustrators to try, reinforcing his distinctiveness. Moreover, Leyendecker stuck close to his signature style for most of his career, unlike Dean Cornwell, Mead Schaeffer and other prominent illustrators who modified their styles as illustration fashions and demands of art directors shifted over time.

The Leyendecker dazzle distracted my attention from a tactic that he occasionally made use of. Thumbing through a collection of Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations recently, it suddenly struck me that he was using a light source positioned below the level of his subject's heads in some of his work. The effect of such a light source is nothing unusual for illustrating evil villains and other pulp fiction dramatic scenes. But Leyendecker was using it for elegant subjects.

Consider: a low light source can cast the shadow of a lovely woman's nose upward over the region of one of her beautiful eyes. Painting this effect while maintaining the attractiveness of the subject can be tricky to pull off, yet Leyendecker managed it.

Here are examples of his work that incorporate this form of lighting.


Saturday Evening Post cover - 3 December, 1904

Saturday Evening Post cover - 25 December, 1926

Illustration for Arrow shirt advertisement - 1932

Arrow Shirt advertisement - 1930

Illustration for Arrow collar advertisement - 1920s

Friday, November 16, 2012

Artist to Admiral, Admiral to Artist

This is about an oddity, a random happening that occurred (oddly enough) for contemporaneous families.

Let's start with Augustus John (1878-1961), best known as a portraitist who sired children by his wife and other women. His second son (by his wife) was Caspar John (1903-1984), who went on to become First Sea Lord (1960-63), attaining the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1962. In the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord is the highest position that an officer can attain.

Then there is Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves (1872-1948), Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet (1934-36). As his Wikipedia entry indicates, Reeves was a key figure in the development of carrier-based aviation. On a lesser note, he has been credited as the first football player to wear a protective helmet. Unlike Caspar John, Reeves did not lead a navy, but his position was that of top operational officer.

Reeves' oldest son, Joseph Mason Reeves, Jr. (1898-1973, biographical snippet here, became an artist (although he too served as a naval officer, though briefly). He trained at the University of California and, after the Great War, in Europe. Unlike Augustus John, he and his work are not well known today. Below are a few examples of his paintings I found on the Web.


Marjorie Moore

Portrait of a young woman

Seated woman

Woman in evening dress

Woman in red shawl

Like John, Reeves seems to have done a good deal of portrait painting. The examples I found were all of women. I rate his work as adequate, but just barely.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

William John Leech: Irish Painter in Brittany

William John Leech (1881-1968) was an Irish artist who spent much of his life painting elsewhere. Although there is at least one book about him, biographical information on the Internet is thin; some sites are here, here and here.

Leech had a long career, and the following paintings are, or seem to be, from the later part of it when he was based in England and painted there and in the South of France. But these are not the works of his that I prefer.

Chloe Abbott - 1965

Boats on the Stour - c.1960

Shipping, Billingsgate

Farm Gate

The paintings that impressed me when I visited Dublin recently were done in Brittany and often featured his stunning wife (for a time) Elizabeth Saurine. The reason I was impressed might well have been Elizabeth. Here are some from that phase of Leech's career:

Les Soeurs de Saint-Ésprit, Concarneau - c.1911

Girl with a Tinsel Scarf - c.1912

The Sunshade

Portrait of Elizabeth (Mrs Kerlin, neé Lane) - c.1910

A Convent Garden in Brittany - c.1913
Perhaps Leech's best-known painting. Information about it is here.