Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Molti Ritratti: Duke of Wellington

Some of my Molti Ritratti (many portraits) posts dealt with subjects who lived before the invention of photography. Others lived in the photographic era and had comparatively few portrait paintings made of them. Then there is the interesting situation where most of the subject's life was lived before photography, yet an image or two might exist. Such was the case for Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), subject of this post. The same is true for Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), a near contemporary of Jackson.

The two led lives that mirrored each other in some important respects, though Jackson was born into humble circumstances of immigrant parents from Ireland, whereas Wellesley (his father spelled the family name "Wesley") was of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Both men became generals and fought important battles (New Orleans for Jackson and Waterloo for Wellington). Both became the political leader of their country (Jackson as President, Wellington as Prime Minister). And both sat to a number of portraits.

Below are images of Wellington.

This is a daguerreotype taken in 1844, if the information I found on the Web is correct. Wellington would have been about age 75.

This portrait is by John Jackson, a painter who was well known in his day, but is obscure enough that I hadn't heard of him before. The painting was probably made not many years before Jackson's death in1831.

These portraits were painted by George Hayter, yet another painter new to me. Hayter also painted Queen Victoria and other notables. The upper painting was made in 1839. I have no date for the lower one, but from Wellington's appearance it might have been done near the time of the Jackson work.

Here is one of the better-known Wellington portraits. It is by Francisco Goya, painted in 1812 as Wellington was nearing his final defeat of French forces in Spain.

The final three portraits are by Sir Thomas Lawrence, the leading English portraitist of the early 19th century. The one at the top is the best-known, and usually used when a depiction of Wellington is needed. It was painted around 1815-16, not long after Waterloo. The middle painting was commissioned in 1820 and probably completed within a year or two of that date. It looks suspiciously like it was to some degree a copy of the earlier painting (for instance, note the similarity of the nose shadows). I have no date for the final portrait, though from Wellington's appearance it was made after 1820 and before Lawrence's death in 1830. It strikes me as inferior to the first two.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Adolph Treidler: Poster Style Illustration

Adolph Treidler (1886-1981) wrote a charming little memoir for Automobile Quarterly's Third Quarter 1976 issue. If you do the subtraction, that would have made him about 90 years old at the time. By that point, he had been retired from illustration for around 25 years. And some of his best known work was done as long ago as 1910 for Pierce-Arrow, one of the leading makers of luxury cars in America.

This site has a tiny biography along with examples showing a variety of Treidler's work. But there was no really useful biographical sketch that I could find on the Internet.

According to his AQ memoir, Treidler was born in West Cliff, Colorado. The family moved to various mining towns in that state until leaving for San Francisco about 1898. He worked for an advertising agency while in his teens, experiencing the 1906 earthquake and fire shortly before departing for Chicago. There he stayed for about a year and a half, working as an artist for the Chicago Tribune newspaper. Then he moved on to New York where one of his paintings that happened to include a Pierce-Arrow car caught the eye of a man who soon became an art director at the Calkins & Holden advertising agency, which held the Pierce-Arrow account. From that point, his career took off like a rocket.

Besides Pierce-Arrow ad art (which ended around 1930, when the company was rapidly declining), he did poster and other advertising art for the French Line, Bermuda tourism, the government war effort in both world wars, and Chesterfield cigarettes.


Pierce-Arrow ad harking back to an earlier Treidler ad

Pierce Arrow ad art, Literary Digest - 5 January 1929

Chesterfield cigarette advertising

Poster for Bermuda tourism

World War 2 poster - 1942

Poster for Furness line

Treidler was surprisingly versatile when it came to style. The posters dealing with Bermuda would seem to have been done by another artist than the one who did the World War 2 poster. And it might have been a third artist who did the Chesterfield ad art and a fourth who worked for Pierce-Arrow. But of course this was all Treidler. I wouldn't quite place him in the top echelon of illustrators because he didn't do story illustration so far as I can tell. But as an advertising artist he was indeed good.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Really Small American Cars, 1935-1955

During the early years of the American automobile industry, the size, mechanical configuration, type of power and general shape of cars was something being sorted out. That era was largely over by 1915 or thereabouts. And by 1930, most American cars fell into size ranges that were generally proportional to price classes. This became the norm until about 1960, when brands began sprouting "standard size," "compact," and "intermediate" models.

But even in that era of stable stratification there were exceptions in the form of cars built smaller than entry-level Fords, Chevrolets and Plymouths.

The 1938 American Bantam shown above was one of a little more than 4,000 built during the years leading up to World War 2. Other versions were produced in the early 1930s under the aegis of the American Austin Company.

The Crosley car was part of Powell Crosley's manufacturing and broadcasting empire. Cars were built from the late 1930s into the early 1950s with a wartime hiatus. The top image in this group shows a 1939 model. The middle image is of a 1947 sedan, about 14,000 of which were sold thanks to the postwar seller's market. The lower photo is of the Hotshot sports car from 1950-52. A roadster version with doors was manufactured 1949-52 and sold slightly better. Total postwar Crosley production was a little more than 75,000.

And then there was the King Midget, a tiny car built from 1946 until the late 1960s. Estimated production is 5,000. I have never been able to understand why anybody would buy one, but a few people did.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Donato Paints Joan (of Arc)

I confess that I'm not as up to speed as I should be when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy art. But I'm working the problem, as they say.

Speaking of problems, a problem I have with regard to Fantasy art is that the stuff looks pretty much the same. That is, the subject matter seems to dictate the result to a degree that's puzzling when you realize that the subject matter is essentially imaginary rather than real. Consider Western art. Subjects here usually are Indians, cowboys and such from the nineteenth century, so depictions have to be reality-based and viewers can accept that.

Apparently something like that kind of acceptance happens when Fantasy fans view, say, covers of Fantasy fiction books. Even though they aren't real, viewers seem to have the same expectation of what a dragon looks like as they would for a trooper of the 7th Cavalry.

But what is, is. Therefore I'm pleased when I find a SciFi-Fantasy (SFF) artist who paints other subjects and does so with commercial success. One such artist is the half-blind Donato Giancolo, who professionally goes by his first name. Donato blogs at the Muddy Colors group blog (well worth your attention if your interests include SFF illustration). His Muddy Colors biographical sketch is here and his own website here.

Above is a painting of Eowyn and Nazgul, a Tolkien subject. I show it here as an example on Donato's Fantasy art.

Speaking of Tolkien, this is Donato's 2012 posthumous portrait of him. I am not a Tolkien fan, so here is Donato's explanation of the symbolism found in the painting.

This 2007 painting is titled "The Museum." I don't know its background, so I'm not sure if was for a book cover or is standalone art.

A recent painting that does not fall into the SFF category is of Joan of Arc.

Above is an in-progress view of it from two days into the final painting. Donato discusses this work here. For artists interested in how-it-was-done videos, one is available; see his blog link above for details.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Stevan Dohanos: Mainstream Mid-Century Illustrator

The leading general-interest magazine in the United States for roughly 1920-1960 was the Saturday Evening Post. The Post published both fiction and non-fiction pieces along with cartoons and other features. Like The New Yorker, the Post was noted for its covers. When the latest edition arrived in the mail, a subject of family conversation might well have been its cover illustration. By the 1940s, Norman Rockwell ruled the Post cover roost, and the appearance of one of his cover illustrations usually created the greatest interest.

It was during the 1940s and 50s that the Post's policy regarding cover art shifted from a vignette style (subject matter surrounded by white space or a single background color) to fully detailed paintings. This was in contrast to the contemporaneous "big face" style of women's magazine story illustration by Coby Whitmore and others, where backgrounds were usually sketchily indicated.

To be a cover artist for the Post was the pinnacle for an illustrator, the top of the totem pole. So to enter this elite group during the decades surrounding 1950, one had to paint fully detailed scenes. Rockwell transitioned to this mode, and newcomers accepted it from the start because it was a major road to commercial success.

Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) was one of those newer artists, and he had great success, painting well over 100 Post covers. His Wikipedia entry is here, a site containing examples of his work is here, and a little more biographical information is here and here.

The consensus of opinion is that Dohanos was a skilled realist who was fascinated by everyday items such as telegraph poles and fire hydrants. One observer suggested that, unlike Rockwell, he was perhaps more interested in the setting than the people and actions that he was depicting. Ernest W. Watson in his 1946 book "Forty Illustrators and How They Work" quotes Dohanos stressing how exhaustively he researched his illustrations.


Dohanos in an advertisement for the Famous Artists School

One of his posters during World War 2

Saturday Evening Post cover, 14 February 1948

Saturday Evening Post cover, 25 November 1950

Saturday Evening Post story illustration, 24 May 1958

Art museum scene - possible cover art

Dohanos left school at age 16 and received little formal art training, making him yet another example of a self-trained artist who did well. Apparently he engaged in fine art as well as commercial work, but nothing of note in that field turned up during a Google image search.

I find Dohanos' illustrations to be technically very well done, but they otherwise strike me as being conventional. So I'm offering faint praise. I find nothing wrong with his work, yet can't get excited about it either. For me, he deserves respect, but doesn't quite merit admiration; he was one of the good ones, but not one of the great ones. However, I am pleased that he found success during his lifetime.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Bland Art of Giorgio Morandi

It's just me. There is plenty of art out there that I don't appreciate simply because something in my background and personality created a blind spot where it comes to subtle things. For instance, slow movements in symphonies bore me. So does 99 percent of the music Claude Debussy wrote. And slow-paced novels; I'll set them aside if nothing much is happening after the first 50 or 60 pages, regardless of what claims are made regarding their excellence.

As for painting, an example is the work of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). In theory, I ought to like him because he resisted some modernist desiderata. But ... well, take a look:

I'm sorry, but I just can't grasp what is so good about Morandi's paintings in spite of the fact that he has been the subject of increasing praise in recent years. Worse, if someone tried to explain why it is good, I still wouldn't understand.

When it comes to still lifes (not my favorite genre), I much prefer something like this one by David Leffel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Greg Manchess Scores Again

Greg Manchess paints everything from murals to sci-fi and fantasy book cover illustrations. And he has developed into a master of the bold-stroke school of oil painting. I have dozens of images of his work stashed away on my iMac for both inspiration and regret that I could never be as good.

He blogs on Dan Dos Santos' Muddy Colors group blog, which is well worth following if you are interested in contemporary illustration. Not long ago Manchess posted about a demonstration piece he made for a class he was giving. I found the work astonishing.

This is the image he posted. It shows Elsa Lanchester in her "Bride of Frankenstein" movie role. Note Manchess' bold use of blue-green as the main facial color and the contrasting orange-brown on the hair and part of the background (this is not far from normal skin color when toned with white). But the feature that really grabbed my attention is the small areas of warm color below Lanchester's right eye. Without that, the composition would fall apart.

Color is one thing. But what about value (dark-light)? I ran the image through iPhoto to create a black-and-white version. Sure enough, it works well too, which is another factor in creating a satisfying painting. Plus, having colors express values isn't always easy to do, yet Manchess dashed off this painting in less than two hours, including time to fix an area that got smudged by (of all things!) a cat.

As a final test, here is the photo Manchess probably used for reference. His color-based values scheme holds up well when compared to this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Francisco Pons Arnau's Women

There's not much information available on the Internet about Spanish painter Francisco Pons Arnau (1886-1953). Charley Parker on his Lines and Colors blog corroborates this. A Spanish-language site devoted to him is here, but featured images of his works are blown up from their source sizes resulting in blurring. And it too offers almost nothing in the way of biography.

Pons painted landscapes and formal portraits, but his favored subject matter was beautiful women. Here are some examples.


Clotilde tomendo te

Confidencias - 1925



Mujer sentada

Retrato de mujer

Friday, January 11, 2013

Automobile Facial Expressions

Because the front ends of most automobiles have two headlamps and an opening to send air to the radiator, they can be said to resemble a human face -- the headlamps as eyes, the grille opening as the mouth.

Ordinarily, the notion of a car having a face is simply a mental construct. But in some cases, front ends seem to be faces with expressions. At times, this might have been the intention of the stylist, in other instances it could have been accidental.

Let's take a look at some examples.


1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan
Although I missed it, a number of observers have pointed out the "sad" look on 1949 Lincolns. Indeed, the outside of the grille was squared off for the 1950 model year apparently because potential buyers were put off the the '49s expression.

1950 Buick Special
I've never encountered a consistent set of reactions to the 1950 Buick's grille (that too was quickly changed for the following model year). Mostly observers found it outrageous. As for analogies to human expressions, the notions of "buck teeth" or "drooling" might apply.

1956 Oldsmobile 98
Oldsmobile sported a grille theme that evolved from 1946 through 1958. The endpoint versions are considerably different, but if one looks at Oldsmobiles year-by-year between those dates, the progression is noticeable. For the 1956 model year the cars had a fish-faced look because grille opening resembled mouths of certain fish.

2010 Acura TSX
The facial expression of this Acura is ambivalent. Seen on the street from certain angles, it seems rather harsh and sinister. But in the view in the photo above it looks like there is an odd, angular sort of smile.

2010 Mazda 3
On the other hand, the Mazda 3's face is clearly smiling.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sir James Gunn

Sir James Gunn (1893-1964, he eventually dropped his first name, Herbert, in favor of his middle name) successfully practiced representational painting in an era when it fell out of fashion. Perhaps this was because he made his living as a portraitist with the Royal Family among his prime clients. Information about him is scarce on the Web, though this site has a biographical note along with a slide show of many of his works.

Gunn was born in Glasgow, son of a tailor who apparently owned a successful business, given the support James received. He studied at the Edinburgh College of Art and the Académie Julian in Paris. During the Great War he served with the Artists Rifles and later as an officer with the 10th Battalion, Scottish Rifles. He was gassed, which resulted in lung trouble for the rest of his life.

He married Gwendoline Hillman, widow of Captain G.S. Thorne, in 1919. They had three daughters, but divorced in 1927. He married Pauline Miller in 1929, that marriage lasting until her death after a long illness in 1950. They had a son and daughter. Pauline was the subject of numerous paintings. Gunn lived in the London area from 1925, but spent some time in Paris 1935-36. He painted many portraits of members of the British establishment including Prime Ministers Chamberlain and Macmillan, plus a group portrait of George VI's family and others of the Royal Family. He painted British officers, including Montgomery in France following the D-Day invasion.

Gunn was elected to full membership in the Royal Academy in 1961 and knighted in 1963.


Gwendoline Hillman - 1925
Gwendoline was his first wife. Their marriage might have been heading for the rocks when this was painted.

Pauline, Wife of the Artist - c.1930
Painted not long after their marriage.

Pauline Waiting - 1939

Pauline in the Yellow Dress - 1944
Two more Pauline portraits.

Gracie Fields - c.1940
Fields suffered from cancer around the time this was painted.

July by the Sea

Roman Forum - 1929
Two outdoor scenes, the first probably from the early 1920s. Gunn also painted some sensational nudes not quite modest enough for this site.

Conversation Piece at the Royal Lodge, Windsor - 1950
The Royal Family supposedly at ease (though the posing is stiff).

Queen Elizabeth - state portrait - 1953-56

My take on Gunn is that he was highly competent, but lacking the additional trace of spark or flash needed to make him and his works memorable and his reputation stronger.