Monday, June 7, 2021

Polly, Always in Profile

I recently wrote about the time it took for American newspaper comic strips to feature anatomically realistic depictions of characters.  Interestingly, the early instances were of female, not male, characters.

My research was admittedly incomplete, so I missed an early example: "Polly and Her Pals" -- Wikipedia entry here.

Polly was the work of Cliff Sterrett (1883-1964), considered by some as "cartoonist's cartoonist" --- the best of the best in that trade.  His Wikipedia entry mentions Li'l Abner cartoonist Al Capp stating: "Now, Sterrett—that's the guy who was the greatest."  His style became increasingly Modernist, as I posted here.

This Lembiek post mentions something neither I nor the Wikipedia writers knew:

"Because of arthritis, Sterrett was forced to hand over most of the art duties during the 1930s.  The daily 'Polly' strip was handled by his assistant Paul Fung from 1935 until the end of its run in 1942.  Sterrett continued to supervise and occasionally draw the Sunday page until his retirement in 1958.  The final episode of 'Polly and Her Pals' was published on 15 June 1958.  Other ghost artists that worked for Sterrett were Vernon Greene, John Kowalchik, Fred Schwarze and Bob Dunn."

Ghost or assistant comic strip artists were more common than most folks realize.  An important example is the famous fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta who spent several years ghosting for Al Capp.  The best ghosts mimicked the strip creator's style almost exactly, so all the artwork in the Gallery below can be treated as Sterrett's.

As for the title of the present post, I cannot absolutely vouch that Sterrett always drew Polly's head in profile.  That said, none of the Polly panels I noticed on Google showed her any other way.  Below are some Polly snippets illustrating that point.  Click on them to enlarge.

Gallery

April 7, 1935
First, an example of a Sunday panel minus coloring that shows Sterrett's mature style.  Note that Polly does not appear in the action that features Paw, her father (though she can be seen in the title block).  As Wikipedia notes, he soon became the star of the strip.

January 18, 1914
This extract from a Sunday panel appeared when the strip was about one year old.  Polly is shown in profile, though the most of the dancing ladies have full or partially full faces.  I have no idea why Sterrett didn't do that with Polly.

October 11, 1914
An out-take from later that year with five views of Polly, all with her head in profile.

Daily strip - 1920
Same story here.

Daily strip - June 13, 1934
Twenty years after Polly's debut.  Her body posing before a mirror is not in profile, but her head is, for practical purposes.

December 17, 1939
Sterrett made sure Polly had fashionable clothing and hairdos.  But her blonde 1934 hair is now brown.  And she's in profile, even in the header above the panel extract.

September 23, 1956
A late example, Polly in profile at the left.  Note Paw and his Modernist cat, "Kitty."

Monday, May 31, 2021

Thomas Wilmer Dewing Interior Scenes

Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) painted distinctive, dreamy images of women in various settings.  I wrote about his women with musical instruments here, and women outdoors here.  His Wikipedia entry is here.

This post features scenes of women indoors, mostly without musical instruments.

Gallery

A Reading - 1897

The White Dress - 1901

Brocart de Venise - c.1904

The Fortune Teller - c.1904-05

The Gossip - 1907

Yellow Tulips - 1908

Before the Mirror - c.1909

Monday, May 24, 2021

Some Abbott Handerson Thayer Paintings

Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) was an important late-19th century American painter.  Also, something of an odd fish, as his Wikipedia entry suggests.

For a number of years he portrayed people as angels.   I wrote about that here.

Thayer seems to have been what is now called "bipolar," suffering extreme mood swings.  By the time of the Great War he had given camouflage a good deal of thought and pushed his ideas on various military organizations.

He also taught painting, though the Wikipedia entry as of the time this post was drafted (February 2021) it was not clear how much of that was done in New Hampshire where he spent much of his time, or in Boston or New York City.  Below is a quotation from Wikipedia in which he informed Thomas Wilmer Dewing about how he worked when students were present.

"Thayer reveals that his method was to work on a new painting for only three days.  If he worked longer on it, he said, he would either accomplish nothing or would ruin it.  So on the fourth day, he would instead take a break, getting as far from the work as possible, but meanwhile instruct each student to make an exact copy of that three-day painting.  Then, when he did return to his studio, he would (in his words) 'pounce on a copy and give it a three-day shove again'.  As a result, he would end up with alternate versions of the same painting, in substantially different finished states."

Below are some examples of his non-angelic works.

Gallery

The Sisters - 1884
This is one of the earliest Thayer paintings I found on the Internet.  He was about 35 years old when he made it.  An interesting pose, and the subjects are convincingly rendered.

Girl in White (Margaret Greene) - 1888
This was made about the time he was beginning his angels series that lasted until around 1904.

Virgin Enthroned - 1891
He made at least two paintings with a Virgin theme.

The Virgin - 1892-93
This is another one.

A Bride - c.1895
By the early 1890s his technique became less "finished" in many cases.

Bessie Price - 1897
One of his models, probably a teenager when this was painted.

Young Woman (Bessie Price) - 1898
Same subject a year later.  She seems considerably more mature.

Study of Alma Wollerman - c.1908 (1)
The first of at least two studies of a woman named Alma Wollerman.  For some reason Thayer seems to be having trouble depicting her eyes.  (This was too early to have been influenced by modernists such as Picasso, and I doubt Thayer was very interested in Modernism as practiced in France.)

Study of Alma Wollerman - c.1908 (2)
Another Wollerman study.  Again, the eyes are not convincing.

Gladys Thayer - c.1919
Portrait (study?) of his daughter Gladys -- quite roughly done, and again the eyes don't seem quite correct.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Dan Smith, Almost-Forgotten Illustrator of Merit

Daniel Frederik Schmidt (1865-1934), who changed his name to Dan Smith for professional reasons, was born in Greenland to Danish parents who later moved to the USA.  Much of his illustration work appeared in newspapers.  That, and his common name, might account for his lack of notoriety in illustration history.   Too bad, because he did very nice work.

Biographical information can be found here and here.

One problem with newspaper illustration -- especially when papers were printed using letterpress on newsprint -- is the poor quality of reproduction.  That could easily degrade the appearance of an artist's work.  Some of Smith's illustrations were printed using color, and newspaper color was pretty crude 80 or 130 years ago.  Images below include a few comparisons of color and non-color for the same artwork: click on them and others to enlarge.

Gallery

Spainish Queen's visit
That's not the queen in his color illustration.

First Air Flight in Fairyland - 1926
One of a series.

Helen in Search of a Charming Prince - Atlanta Constitution - 26 March 1933
Examples of artwork before color might have been added.

How We Caught the Beautiful Rainbow Boa - 1921

Romance and Near Tragedy in Ancient Babylon - Atlanta Constitution - 9 April 1933

Jael - Philadelphia Record - 4 March 1928
Colorized illustration.

Jael, black and white
Sans-color

Desert Love - 27 July 1930
As it appeared in print.

Desert Love detail - black and white
Much better here.

Sequicentennial poster - 1926
Example of non-newspaper illustration.


Lady and Tiger
Another example.  Smith seems to have enjoyed illustrating lovely, partly-clad women.

Monday, May 10, 2021

John W. Waterhouse's Greatest Hits

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917) was a major British successor to the Pre-Raphaelite movement.   His Wikipedia entry is here, and I recently wrote about his oil sketches and studies here.

Although he often used Pre-Raphaelite subject matter, his painting style was generally not as compulsively detailed as many of their works.  That is, although they have plenty of details, the effect he created seems more free, more natural.

Today's post present a few of his paintings that strike me as being among his best or most famous.

Gallery

The Lady of Shalott - 1888
The times I visited London's Tate Britain museum, this large painting was on display.

"I am half sick of shadows," said The Lady of Shalott  - 1915

Destiny - 1900
Waterhouse seems to have borrowed some elements of this work for use in the previous painting.

Ophelia - 1910
Painting human skin against a green, outdoors background can be tricky, but Waterhouse succeeded here.

Pandora - 1896
Interesting contrast between the sketchy background/costume and the main subject matter.

Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses - 1891
Ulysses can be seen in the mirror.

Circe Invidiosa - 1892
A very striking image.  Waterhouse had the right stuff.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Early Realistic Comic Strip Drawing

This post deals with the slow introduction of realistically-depicted characters in American comic strips.

Details are in the image captions below.  Please note that I didn't undertake a hardcore scholarly study of the subject, though I did rely on a few books in my reference library to refine my memory.  Therefore, take the examples below as indicative, though not necessarily "firsts" in terms of appearance.

Gallery

Happy Hooligan by Frederick Burr Opper - 6 November 1902
This important strip dates from 1900 and the character depictions are in line with the norms of the time.  More information is here.

Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay - 24 June 1906
On the other hand, Little Nemo from 1905 was exceptional in terms of depiction, as can be seen in this example.  Nevertheless, it was years later before naturalistic cartoon characters became common.

Betty by Charles A. Voight - c. 1920
Voight created Betty in 1919, making the strip an early example of representational cartooning.  In the panel above, Betty is drawn in near-illustration style, whereas Lester DePester is cartoony.

Betty - 21 June 1942
Towards the end of Betty's run the drawing style became more free, more sophisticated.

Bringing up Father by George McManus - 25 September 1938 (or possibly 1932)
Begun in 1913, Bringing up Father is another example where a woman (Jigg's daughter Nora) is realistic while the other characters are drawn in cartoon style.  Interesting that in those days it was women -- not men -- who were shown more naturalistically.  Though this is from the 1930s, McManus' style differed little from the 1920s.

Connie by Frank Godwin - 14 June 1931
Wikipedia's entry says that Connie originated in 1927 -- or perhaps 1929.  The not-shown upper part of this Sunday strip has Connie only in profile, but this segment has a variety of views of her.  Unlike the early Betty and Bringing up Father, other characters are drawn more realistically than cartoony.  Godwin was a skilled illustrator, so I'm surprised that the other characters feature anatomical flaws.

Connie - 1936
During the mid-1930s Connie became a science fiction strip for a while.  Note the improvement in Godwin's drawing.

Tarzan by Hal Foster - 1929
The Tarzan comic strip dated from 1929, and above is the ninth panel.  Foster's style evolved rapidly, but it's clear that from the first, depictions were illustrations and not cartoons.

Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond - from first page, 7 January 1934
From its launch in 1934 Flash Gordon was an illustration-style Sunday comic.

What I find mildly interesting is that the shift to realism (now long gone from American comic strips) happened around the year 1930.  Some folks might relate that to the late 1929 onset of the Great Depression.  But it might have been something else.  But the appearance of such strips as Alex Raymond's  "Flash Gordon", Noel Sickles' version of Scorchy Smith, and Milton Caniff's "Terry and The Pirates" -- all started in 1934 -- might better be linked to the comparative seriousness and need for escapism of those times.