Thursday, May 28, 2015

William Logsdail: From Cityscapes to Portraits

William Logsdail (1859-1944) was born in the hill city of Lincoln in the English Midlands and received his initial art training there before going to Antwerp for further study. So it might be said that his training was probably competently done for the times, but not at the elite level. But training can only take someone part of the way; personal factors come to the fore once a career is launched. In Logsdail's case, architecture was a strong interest, so his best known works include scenes of the cities of Venice and London. He could portray people as well, so by the early 20th century switched to portraiture for a more reliable income stream. His Wikipedia entry is here.

I don't believe I've ever seen a Logsdail painting in person, so my evaluation of the London scenes below must be tentative. The impression I have is that although they seem fairly tightly done, this is slightly loosened by his use of color and atmospheric perspective. Some other works shown below are painted more loosely, though his portraits of the 1900s generally seem to have a high degree of finish.


An interesting point of view. Shown is the central tourist zone square-on. Most artists choose to paint from the opposite side of the Grand Canal and sight down it.

Venice - 1881

Eve of the Regatta - 1881
Some of the better American illustrators of 1895-1930 painted scenes much like this.

By the Lion of St. Mark, Venice - 1885
Here Logsdail sights along the canal, but this view is in the opposite direction from the usual depictions.

Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice - 1885
Another unconventional viewpoint. The Church is usually shown with the canal or its shoreline in the foreground, rather than from a subsidiary canal as done here. This viewpoint is one a photographer might select, though Logsdail was a plein-air artist in those days and didn't use reference photos so far as I know.

St. Paul's and Ludgate Hill - ca. 1884
An historical document, this is.

Bank and the Royal Exchange - 1887

The Bank of England - 1888

St. Martin's-in-the-Fields - 1888

The Greek Theatre, Taormina, Sicily - 1890s
Having visited Taormina a year ago, I can vouch that Logsdail did a good job of capturing the scene. That's Mt. Etna in the background. Today, the shoreline is built up and large tourist hotels can be found.

John William Waterhouse - ca. 1887
Portrait of the well-known Victorian artist. The style is similar to that used by the Glasgow Boys school.

The Artist's Wife - ca. 1905

George Nathaniel Curzon - 1909
Curzon had been Viceroy of India before this was painted.

Mary Victoria Leiter, Lady Curzon - 1909
A posthumous portrait of Curzon's first wife.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Charles Dana Gibson: More Than Pretty Girls

Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) was an American illustrator who was famous as the creator of the Gibson Girl, married well, had many important artists as friends, and earned enough money to buy an island in Maine.

He is the subject of a profile in Illustration Magazine issue 47, and his Wikipedia entry is here.

Leafing through the magazine, I soon realized that there was more to Gibson than just those Girls. The man was a master of capturing expressions on a large variety of faces. Plus he was a highly skilled pen-and-ink artist.

Some of this can be seen in the image above from Heritage Auctions. It's from the About Paris illustrations from about 1905. Note how he was able to fade the background subjects using careful linework and perhaps slightly watered-down ink.


Here is an example of a Gibson Girl.

Gibson was careful to correctly depict clothing.

Many Gibson Girls had half-closed eyes: not this one.

A group scene. Note the variety of faces.

Another group illustration.

And yet another. Looks like Oscar Wilde setting at the left, though he would have been dead were this illustration made after 1900 (I don't have its date).

Two examples of Gibson's work from around 1925-31.  Pen-and-ink was largely out of fashion in the illustration world by that time, but it was Gibson's strength. Besides, he owned Life Magazine in those days and could print whatever he pleased.

He also took up oil painting as more a hobby than a means of making money. This looks like it was made in the late 1930s. As I noted, his strength was pen-and-ink.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jugendstil's Jugend Magazine's Style Varied

Die Jugend or simply Jugend, meaning "Youth," was a German magazine published 1896-1940 and best known today for its name being lent to Jugendstil, as Art Nouveau was called in that country.

Links dealing with the magazine are here and here. The latter is to the German Wikipedia site, but you can click on a button for a rough translation to English. It is useful for a listing of contributors to the publication.

A brief discussion of Jugendstil is here, and the Wikepedia entry on Art Nouveau, with a section on Jugendstil, is here.

Below are some Jugend covers, the earliest from the time they embodied Jugendstil, and one from later on when Art Nouveau was passé and Weimar culture reigned. One detail that interests me is that the magazine's covers in the early years differed dramatically, depending on the style and taste of the artist doing the cover illustration. Moreover, there seems to have been no set Jugend logotype; the cover artist supplied his own typography.


30 May 1896

27 March 1897 - Heinrich Kley illustration

Nr. 28, 1897 - Franz Stuck illustration

September 1899

Nr. 19, 1903 - Eugen Spiro illustration

No. 21, 1913

Nr. 5. 1928

Monday, May 18, 2015

Picasso & Company and the Art Price Bubble

Bubbles of the market kind are irrational. That's because the intrinsic value of what is being bought and sold is lost in the game of buying something in the hope (and perhaps for some, the expectation) that it can be sold to someone else at a good profit.

Of course the buying and selling of things, ideally gaining profit, is the basis of non-purely-socialist economies that have advanced beyond the barter stage. And while it has been asserted that something's true value is what people are willing to spend to obtain it, there is also the fact that "bubbles" occur -- the most famous being the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s. In the case of tulip, stock market or art auction bubbles, the realization that a bubble has occurred implies that price and intrinsic value were out of synch.

Unlike tulips and, say, dot-com stock prices in 1999, art bubbles are harder to detect in part due to the slower pace of the market. Nevertheless, prices for paintings by a given artist usually vary over the timespan of decades.

In recent days, sensationally high prices were recorded for modernist artists at actions, especially the 11 May 2015 Christie's auction in New York as reported here and here.

Here are some paintings that comprised the bubble.


$142.3 million - Pablo Picasso - Femmes d'Alger (version 'O') - 1955
As I discussed here, Picasso was well past his creative prime by the 1950s when the painting above was made. Aside from the fact that I consider Picasso a grossly overrated artist, I find it hard to believe that this painting was purchased for it intrinsic merits -- it almost surely was a matter of speculation.

$82.9 million - Mark Rothko - No. 10
Some people view Rothko paintings with a large dose of mystical awe. Eighty-plus million dollars strikes me as being an expensive way to get a "high."

$67.4 million - Picasso - Buste de femme - 1938
Of similar vintage to a previous record-setting Picasso, his portrait of his mistress Dora Maar.

$56.2 million - Andy Warhol - Colored Mona Lisa
I admire Warhol as perhaps the art world's consummate con-artist (that was his main artistic talent). Nearly $60 million for a silk screen print?!?

$47.8 million - Francis Bacon - Portrait of Henrietta Moraes
Ugly, but the most beautiful feature for the auction house was the name of the painter.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Intriguing Old San Antonio Towers

My wife had never been to Texas. After several years of talking things over, we decided to go there last month to satisfy her curiosity. Texas is a prosperous, fast-growing business-friendly, income tax-free state. Generally a nice place to live, but from my perspective it lacks five-start tourist sites.

Probably the most famous Texas site is the Alamo, where a group of Texans were wiped out in a famous battle against a Mexican army. That's the main building in the foreground, its well-known curved facade top having been added decades after the fight.

But the building that intrigued me was the tall structure in the background. It was completed in 1924 as the Medical Arts Building, but now is the Emily Morgan Hotel, named after a woman (disputedly) associated with the events of 1836. A sketch of the building's history is here.

The street layout dictated a "flatiron" plan, but the architect took advantage of this by placing a tower where the angled sides converge.

Here is a view of the ornamentation at the upper floors.

Not far away, also in the Riverwalk district of downtown San Antonio, is the Tower Life Building. According to the link, it was completed in 1929 as the Smith-Young Tower.

A close-up of ornamentation near the top. The building is unusual in that it has eight sides. It might have been an executives' heaven if it had corner windows (though it probably has eight corner offices per floor).

I have always liked the American skyscrapers built from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s, most of which were in Gothic and Art Deco (or Moderne, in those days) style. The Tower Life Building is no exception. It's a fine example from that era.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

An Unusual Presidential Portrait

I just returned from a trip to Texas and other states along the Gulf of Mexico. My wife enjoys visiting museums associated with presidential libraries, so we stopped by the George W. Bush library in Dallas and the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin (skipped the George H.W. Bush library in College Station due to constraints).

I'm not as big a fan of such places as she is, though I found the Franklin D. Roosevelt library (when I visited in 1971) and the Ronald Reagan library interesting. One item that struck me at Lyndon B. Johnson's library was a portrait by Ft. Worth artist Wayne Ingram. It was painted in 1968, LBJ's last full year in office, but was not the "official" portrait of the man. Because it was unofficial, its style was freer like some society works done by the painter (about whom I found next to nothing on one of my typically brief Google searches).

The multiple-views approach Ingram used can be a bit contrived, but is a huge improvement over the Cubist conceit that Picasso and the rest were providing simultaneous multiple views in a single depiction. Ingram includes two ghosted portraits of LBJ that do not detract from the primary portrait. His painting style is a skilled blend of naturalism and abstraction that also borders on being contrived. Nevertheless, the painting is striking.


The portrait in its setting.

A detail view. Click on the images to enlarge.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Is It Time to Re-Redefine "Art"?

The Wall Street Journal's Arena section for 9 April had this article by Kelly Crow about the new home of New York City's Whitney Museum. I gather that some artists, presumably those of the Installation Art ilk, will be allowed to pound nails in floors along with other tasks while setting up their exhibits.

Which brought to mind that I'm not inclined to purposefully view any kind of Installation Art. Matter of fact, I do not consider Installation Art to be art at all. Nor most (all?) of what they call Concept Art. Nor Video Art. Nor Performance Art. Nor a whole bunch of Other Art.

I am not prepared to propose a definition of Art, probably a hopeless task. Well, actually, I will sort of propose something like a definition of art after laying a little groundwork.

Nowadays, it seems that just about anyone can proclaim himself an Artist. A few credentials such as a college degree or studio training are helpful, but not necessary: consider the case of postmodernist icon Jean-Michel Basquiat. Having proclaimed himself Artist, said Artist or a supporter proclaims that whatever he's making or doing is Art. And the Art Establishment often goes along with the gag, as it did with Basquiat.

Therefore, in today's world, anything can be Art, provided an Artist or Art Critic or Art Expert says so. The result of this is that the word Art has been rendered essentially meaningless.

My humble proposal is to reserve the word Art for what were called Fine Arts back in the late 19th century.

This might seem to rule out illustration, for example. Which would be too bad, because there are plenty of examples of 1890-1960 illustration that are as good as or better than much of what passed as Fine Art. On the other hand, if painting / graphic arts (in general, not just Academic works) is one of the Fine Arts, then many forms of illustration would qualify.

What my proposal rules out is much of what passes for Art today. I recognize that lines still have to be drawn, but that's the way the world is. For instance, surely someone would claim that Tracey Emin's Bed is actually sculpture, which it clearly isn't: It's a publicity stunt.

Setting aside that sort of quibble, the next task is to invent a name (or names) for all those newfangled non- Fine Arts that have emerged over the last century or so. Right now, I have no decent ideas, but I'll let you know if and when I do.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Towards the End: George Henry

George Henry (1858–1943) lived into his mid-eighties, and his career consisted of two stylistic phases with a transition point around the time he was 40. For this post, I'll consider the second phase as "towards the end" even though it lasted for decades. However, Henry (biographical link here) did his most interesting work during the first part of his career as a prominent member of of a Scottish group of painters known as the Glasgow Boys.

Henry's Glasgow Boys phase lasted into the mid-1890s when he and fellow "Boy" E.A. Hornell spent more than a year in Japan. Henry's paintings made there retained many characteristics of his Scottish works. Perhaps because of changing fashions and the need to support himself as an artist, Henry soon thereafter began painting in a more traditional fashion. So whatever modernist traits were used in Glasgow Boys art were largely abandoned and few others were incorporated to even a slight degree thereafter.

Below are examples of Henry's post- Glasgow Boys painting. Dates are included where known, but most seem to have been made between 1900 and 1930.


Through the Woods - 1891
An example of Henry's Glasgow Boys era painting to set the scene -- not one of his better ones, however.

The Tortoiseshell Mirror - 1903
His Glasgow Boys paintings were set out of doors, but now he tries an interior scene.

Lady Margaret Sackville - ca. 1910
Henry also did portrait work to make a living.

The Reading - 1913
An interesting, and not characteristic Henry painting -- though the landscape in the background has his touch (see "Sussex Landscape" below).

Lady in Black - 1919

Brambles - 1920
Here Henry recalls Japan with a kimono-clad British woman. The treatment of the foliage weakly echoes his Glasgow Boys work.

Lady in a Green Dress

Poster art for the London Midlands & Scottish Railway

Sussex landscape - 1930
Henry painted landscapes while a Glasgow Boy. The color schemes were fairly similar to this, but the subject matter was depicted in a more decorative manner.

Lady with Goldfish
I'll guess this was painted around 1910 or 1915, and like it a lot. I think Henry made the woman's face interesting, and the toned-down color scheme is pleasing. It might have been improved by reducing the sharpness of detail for her left hand (it pulls the viewer's eye too far to the right).