Friday, February 8, 2013

John Beauchamp: Depression-Era Muralist

For some reason 1930s Depression-era art attracts my attention. I can't say I actually like it, so maybe that attraction might be because some of it was still around in the form of murals in public buildings such as schools and post offices when I was young, and seeing them triggers some kind of recognition reaction. But I really don't know.

I want to call your attention to two murals by John W. Beauchamp (1906-1957) because they include some interesting distortions.

This is called "Rachel Silverthorne's Ride," a 1938 public works mural in the Muncy, Pennsylvania post office building. Some background information is here (scroll down).

Although Beauchamp was trained in art, distortions are easy to find in this mural. Note the man holding the horse's bridle. By his size relative to the horse, he should be several feet in front of it. Note that his right leg is also large and distant compared to the animal's right foreleg. Could this be artistic license to stress the man's importance to the scene? Might it have been a composition consideration? Beauchamp is long gone and cannot tell us.

Another distortion seems more like a case of bad drawing. Look at Rachel's leg. It seems out of proportion or perhaps it's something to do with the way the rest of her is drawn.

Here is "The Arts, Education and the Sciences" from around 1943 (not all that long after the Depression) now in the Commission Chamber of the City-County Building of Helena, Montana. It and two others were originally commissioned by the owner of the Mint Cigar Store and Tavern of Helena. More details are here (scroll down for images by Beauchamp).

The photo I found on the Web was taken from below, so that alone might make things look a little odd. Even so, several of the heads of figures in the foreground strike me as being the same size as or smaller than those in the background. Examples are the artist at the left and the men wearing white at the right. Similar cases can be found in the other two murals pictured in the link, so I suppose Beauchamp had his reasons for doing what he did.


Wendy said...

Since these murals are presumably intended to be viewed from below are the distortions parhaps an attempt to take the viewers perspective into account?

Alex said...

May I point to an astonishingly similar work in Switzerland? It is not a revolutionary discovery, as both works are placed somewhere in the artistic mainstream of those times. Nevertheless, there is a huge physical distance between them, and it is almost excluded that the two (rather unknown) artists knew each other: