Thursday, February 14, 2019

Admirals Descended from Artists

Back in 2012 I posted about the interesting (to me) case of a famous artist's son who became an admiral and the son of an important admiral who became a painter. I wrote:

"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 [was] the highest position that an officer can attain."

Caspar John's Wikipedia entry is here.

Recently I became aware that the grandson of Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet (1829-1896) also became a Royal Navy Admiral. Millais was one of the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and later went on the become a successful portrait painter and, not long before his death, president of the Royal Academy.

"Bubbles," a 1886 painting of a young boy, became famous because it was controversially for Millais used for many years in advertising material by England's Pears Soap company (more information about it here).

The boy in the painting was Millais' grandson William Milbourne James (1881-1973) who later rose to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy.

Sir William had to bear the cross of the painting in the form of having the nickname "Bubbles" during his naval career. He was a prolific author during and after his time in the navy. In the early years of the Great War he was executive officer of the battlecruiser Queen Mary, serving under Sir William Reginald "Blinker" Hall who later was in charge of the famous Room 40 decoding center where James also served. Both Hall and James transferred from Queen Mary before the Battle of Jutland where the ship was destroyed when a magazine exploded: only 20 men survived of a complement of 1,286.


Caspar John by Augustus John - c. 1920

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John in 1963
When he was First Sea Lord.

"Bubbles" by John Everett Millais - 1886

Admiral Sir William Milbourne James

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Posthumous Tribute to Sergei Kirov

Sergei Kirov (1886-1934) met a curious end, as explained in this Wikipedia entry. He was a prominent Bolshevik, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist Party and at the time of his assassination head of the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party. Following his death he was treated as something of a martyr to the Communist cause. In post-Stalin USSR a major warship was named after him.

Yet, as Wikipedia indicates, for many years there have been strong suspicions that Kirov had been killed by order of Josef Stalin and the assassination was covered up in part by the posthumous honors. A few years later in his great purges, Stalin simply had people snuffed out on the pretext they were traitors. No posthumous honors. Perhaps Stalin had learned something from the Kirov experience or maybe the sheer logistics and justifications of the purges eliminated such honors.

When I was in M├ílaga, Spain in November I visited a branch of Saint Petersburg's excellent Russian Museum. It was holding a year-long (ending February 2019) exhibit titled "The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art." A fine exhibit. Plenty of examples, some of which I even knew about before I visited. Of course I took lots of snapshots.

One painting I photographed was "Sergei Kirov Reviews the Athletic Parade" completed in 1935, a year following the assassination, and clearly part of the honors heaped on him. The artist is Alexander Nikolayevich Samokhvalov (1894-1971), Wikipedia entry here, a prominent member of what is called the Leningrad School who tended to specialize in athletic subjects.

I am not impressed by Samokhvalov paintings that I know of, and the tribute to Kirov strikes me the same way. I include it as an example of one kind of Socialist Realism and for its historical as well as political overtones. I doubt that Samokhvalov at the time of his work was aware of any controversy regarding Kirov's death.

Click on the images below to enlarge.


Image of the painting found on the Internet.

Snapshot of the painting that I took. The painting is huge. Note the relationship of the floor and the plaque at the left: these indicate the foreground subjects are not much smaller than life-size.

Detail.  Several of the athletes depicted have curiously large whites of their eyes for some reason.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Stanhope Forbes, Revisited

Ever since I viewed the painting "A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach" by Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) at an exhibit in San Francisco a dozen or more years ago, I've wanted to see it again. (I posted twice regarding Forbes -- here on 14 May 2018 and here on 13 June 2011.)

The painting is based at the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, not very far from Newlyn in Cornwall, where it was painted. I was on a bus tour of England's West Country recently, and hoped to track it down while passing through Plymouth. Alas, the tour provided no time for that. Not that it mattered, because Plymouth is in the process of consolidated several museums into one structure, and all are closed during the construction.

That afternoon the tour bus dropped us off at St. Ives, a flashier arty spot on the north shore than Newlyn on the south shore of the peninsula, about ten miles away by road. I never quite got to Newlyn, but took photos in St. Ives, one of which gives us idea as to how well Forbes captured Cornwall beaches at low tide. Click on the images to enlarge.


A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach - 1884-85
The painting's Wikipedia entry is here.

My photo of the beach at St. Ives, 9 October 2018.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Painting Shiny Metal: Rembrandt and Wootton

I recently wrote here about British artist/illustrator Frank Wootton (1914-1998) who was skilled at depicting light, shade and reflections on shiny metallic surfaces. Doing this convincingly requires skill and especially experience.

Just for fun, below I present some images by Wootton along with a few by Rembrandt who also was no slouch when it came to metal.

The Wootton images are photos of details of paintings I saw in the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, just north of London. Lighting conditions were poor, and protective material affected color and allowed reflections, so keep in mind that what you're viewing is an approximation.


Man with the Golden Helmet - c.1650 (detail)
Note how Rembrandt deals with the effect of light on warm gold and cool steel.

Man in Armor - 1655
Here he deals with steel.  I'm not sure if the painting has been cleaned and colors are original or if the yellow hue is due to old varnish.

Old Man in Military Costume - 1630-31
An earlier painting, but one I find particularly impressive because he depicts brushed steel convincingly.

April Morning, France, 1918 - 1982 (detail)
This is a tiny part of a much larger Wootton painting and might be close to actual size when viewed on a desktop computer screen.  The aircraft is a Sopwith Camel with metal at the forward part of the fuselage.  Note how he shows reflections.  Also the effect of light on the gunsight in front of the cockpit windscreen.

Harts Over the Himalayas - c. 1967 (detail)
The darker zone is actually a shadow of Yr. Loyal Blogger on the protective glass or plastic.  The forward metaled area reflects the sky, the upper wing and the mountainous terrain below.