Monday, May 25, 2020

Noel Sickles' Imagined War Scenes

Noel Douglas "Bud" Sickles (1910-1982) is perhaps best known for his 1930s work on the "Scorchy Smith" comic strip. Following that, he earned his keep as an illustrator. Some background is here.

Sickles was a very good illustrator. He could depict people, something competent illustrators of his day could be expected to do. But he also was excellent depicting vehicles of various kinds -- ships, cars, aircraft and military equipment. I discussed his versatility here

The present post features some of his illustrations from the early days of World War 2 that appeared in Life, America's number one image-based magazine at the time. As best I can tell, all the scenes below are the fruits of Sickles' imagination, but the details are realistic, showing uniforms, equipment and such. Click on images to enlarge.

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I wrote about this fine Life Magazine illustration here. Sickles made numerous illustrations for Life during World War 2, many with the subject of tanks and dealing with them. For what it's worth, I would not want to attack a PzKpfw IV armed with the tommy gun and other light weaponry shown in the drawing.

An anti-tank canon shown in a hypothetical African desert encounter.  I doubt that such an action took place, given that American forces did not fight in the open Libyan desert as the British did in 1940-1942.  If my conjecture is wrong, let me know in a comment. Also, the soldiers' helmeted heads seem a little too large -- a rare failing for Sickles. Perhaps this was a rushed project for him.

Here is a German Czech-built Panzerkampfwagen 35(t) stuck in a ravine while being attacked by partisans with Molotov Cocktails.  Again, the figures don't seem right. Clearly, he paid more attention to depicting the tank accurately.

From a 1942 Life article titled "Enemy Tanks are Vulnerable."

More diagram than a realistic illustration, this shows features of the German parachute assault on the Greek Island of Crete.

Finally, Sickles' contribution for a 5 March 1942 Life article titled "Six Ways to Invade U.S." Here Japanese are attacking Southern California. As best I can recall, Sickles seldom did night scenes. Interesting impressionistic feeling here. And the details of the mechanical objects are sketchy, another Sickles rarity. Perhaps he lacked reference material on Japanese tanks.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Molti Ritratti: The "Queen Mum"

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1900-2002) is this post's portrait subject. Biographical information is here.

The "Queen Mum" as she was popularly called late in life, lived at a time when photographic portraiture became dominant over painted portraiture. However, due to her royal standing, she was portrayed using oil paints on canvas a number of times.

Some of the images are from the Royal collection and some others are from the National Portrait Gallery and are copyrighted. They are used here to illustrate how various artists chose to portray her over the years, influenced by current artistic fashions and by their own artistic backgrounds.

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Three photos. The first when she was in her twenties. I am not sure when the second (image cropped) was taken: perhaps in the late 1940s. The third seems to date during the early years of her marriage; I include it because her pose is similar to that in the following image.

By John Singer Sargent - 1923
This drawing was made the same year Elizabeth married Albert, Duke of York, who later unexpectedly became King George VI.

by Reginald Grenville Eves - 1924
This is essentially an oil sketch, though the artist signed it as a finished work. It does not flatter her, in part due to the rough brushwork on her face.

by Philip de Laszlo - HM Queen Elizabeth when Duchess of York - 1925
He was a leading portrait artist, and this is one of his best-known paintings.

by James Quinn - 1930
There seems to be something wrong here having to do with her eyebrows, upper nose, and eyes.

By John Helier Lander - official coronation portrait - 1937
Compared to the two paintings below that were made not long after, it seems that Lander might have shown Elizabeth as looking younger than she was.

By Gerald Kelly - c. 1938
I cropped this image slightly.

By Gerald Kelly - c. 1940
Kelly painted several portraits of her. This has a particularly "official" feeling -- note the crown at the left.

by Stanley Cursiter - 1965
Cursiter was skilled at portraying attractive women, but something went wrong when he depicted her arms.

by Michael Noakes - 1973
This is similar in spirit to 1960s American magazine illustration by the likes of the great Bernie Fuchs. That said, I place this on par with the fine de Laszlo portrait shown above.

by Robert Norman Hepple - 1987
Elizabeth was now in her late eighties, but this somehow doesn't seem quite like her.

Monday, May 18, 2020

New Mead Schaeffer Book


Mead Schaeffer (1898-1980) is one of my favorite illustrators. I wrote about some of his works here, here, here and here.

Now David Apatoff, America's leading illustration maven, has a book about Schaeffer due to appear in July. The cover is shown above, and information regarding it can be found here. Of course I ordered a copy and eagerly await it.

As I wrote here, Schaeffer claimed that he was happy to move from his signature period-piece illustrations so as to portray contemporary scenes. My take then and now is that his early,  pre- World War 2 illustrations were his best. I suspect Apatoff agrees, because the book's cover art is from that earlier career phase and not one of his later works.

A few examples indicating Schaeffer's stylistic evolution are shown below.

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A Count of Monte Cristo scene, 1928. Interesting mix of thinly and thickly painted areas.

A 1932 illustration for Good Housekeeping Magazine showing a German scene.

He painted a number of Post covers depicting American military personnel in a variety of wartime activities. Here his style is less painterly -- and far less distinctive, though it might have been more commercially viable given shifts in illustration fashion.

A Post cover from 1953. I do not know the extent to which this bland scene was the idea of Schaffer or that of the Saturday Evening Post's art director.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Géo Ham, French Illustrator of Cars and Airplanes

Géo Ham, pseudonym of Georges Hamel (1900-1972) was a leading French illustrator of automobiles and, to a lesser extent, airplanes. The height of his career was probably the 1930s, as his production lessened as photography supplemented illustration during the 1950s and 1960s.

His English language Wikipedia entry is skimpy, so consider linking here to his French entry.

As can be seen in the images below, Ham chose to exaggerate shapes of cars and planes when they were depicted in action. However, he was capable of more representational depiction when he so chose.

For what little it's worth, I am not a big fan of the sketchy, exaggerated French style of illustration seen from the 1930s into the 1950s and even beyond. I think that Walter Gotschke, who I wrote about here, did a better job of depicting racing cars impressionistically.

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First, three examples of Ham's poster work at the height of his career -- for the Monaco Grand Prix race.



The cars are exaggerated, but recognizable.  The same applies to the backgrounds.

This is a 1932 illustration of a Hotchkiss participating in the Monte Carlo Rally (wherein cars drove from various points in Europe to the finish line in the principality). It is more realistically depicted, though its perspective is still exaggerated. Image via Christie's.

A 1939 poster study.  This shows that Ham could be accurate when the spirit moved him.

Bugatti Type 35 racer.  Here exaggeration is minimal.

Géo Ham even made some illustrations of other subjects.  This is of a restaurant at the 1937 Paris exhibition.

Showing a 1934 race between a car and an airplane.  I'm away from my reference material, so as best I can tell, both are Ham's inventions.

He also made magazine cover illustrations.  This highly distorted car seems to be a design he invented so as not to favor any existing brand.

In addition to posters and magazine covers, Ham illustrated advertisements for several French automobile companies.

Finally, a postwar example of his work, this featuring the 1954 24-hour Le Mans race. Image via Heritage Auctions.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Thomas Wilmer Dewing's Women with Musical Instruments

Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) -- Wikipedia entry here -- painted many gauzy, dreamy images of women in a style so distinctive that it would be difficult for another artist to mimic it in order to carve out a successful career.

I rather like his work and am always pleased when I stumble across one of his paintings in a museum.

The settings Dewing chose varied.  Below are examples of women shown with musical instruments -- one of his major themes.  They are arranged in approximate chronological order.

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Lady with a Lute - 1886
This was before he settled on his gauzy style.

The Piano - 1891
This is clearly mainline Dewing.  Note the lack of a realistic background.

Music - c. 1895
Here he combines two of his themes -- a woman with a musical instrument and women in a outdoor setting.

The Spinet - c. 1902
This is more hard-edge than usual.

The Lute - 1903
Also painted more crisply.  Perhaps he was considering backing away from his signature style at this time.

Brocart de Venise - c. 1904
Now Dewing drifts back to fuzzy, nondescript backgrounds.

The Song and the Cello - c. 1910
In his outdoor scenes Dewing often had his women as small elements of the overall painting.  Here he tries it in an indoors setting.

Young Woman with Violincello - c. 1912
This is the latest (approximately) dated image of this set.

La musicienne

Lady with a Cello
These two paintings did not have dates associated with them.  However, they were likely made in the early 1900s.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

William McCance, Scottish Modernist

William McCance (1894–1970), according to his Wikipedia entry, is noteworthy for the following:

"McCance's paintings in the 1920s were unusual in that he was one of the few Scottish artists who embraced the cubist, abstract and machine-inspired arts movements that spread across Europe following the First World War."

That said, my judgment is that he was a journeyman modernist who did little more than follow Modernist stylistic practices as they changed over time. Perhaps you will disagree. My case is stated in the following images.

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Self-Portrait - 1916
He was about 22 years old and perhaps completing his art studies.

Kimono Study (wife Agnes) - 1919
Modernist background, but otherwise conventional.

Conflict - 1922
Now he is full-bore Modernist.

Woman Reading - 1922
Probably his wife.

Agnes Miller Parker (study of his wife)
She too was an artist.

Mediterranean Hill Town - 1923

Joseph Brewer - 1925

Pendulum Clock - 1926
A dip into Cubism/Futurism.

The Result
... of a sports event?  An election?

Seated Figure (Lucy) - 1929

Improvised Seated Figure - 1955

Missile Antimissile Antimissile - 1965
A late creation.  McCance was a pacifist and jailed for that during the Great War.