Thursday, January 23, 2020

In the Beginning: Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was a highly talented painter whose reputation, like others of his ilk, suffered with the advent of Modernism and its rise to Establishment status. Fortunately, the pendulum has reversed to the point where his works are increasingly respected.

I've written about him here, here and elsewhere on this blog. His Wikipedia entry is here.

The present post deals with examples of his early work, paintings made before he settled into his mature style and subject matter.


Mary Magdalene (Head study) - 1854
Tadema was about 18 years old when he painted this oil-on-paper study. Enlarge to view his brushwork a little better.

Portrait of a man with a ring beard (also known as A man looking up) - 1856
He was about 20 here. A Dutchman, his formal art training was in Antwerp, in the Flemish part of Belgium.

The Blind Beggar - 1856
From about the same time as the previous image. Unlike the study of the man's head, this work is a tightly painted genre image pretty much in line with art fashions of the time.

Faust and Marguerite - 1857
This has a very Flemish feeling to it, not at all what we would expect of Tadema.

Clotilde at the Tomb of Her Grandchildren - 1858
Here too Tadema is both acquiring experience and staying within the artistic norms of those times.

A Bargain (also known as Brabant Women) - 1860
Note the brickwork in the background -- reminds me in a tiny way of Vermeer's portrayal of Delft.

Gunthram Bose and his daughters, AD 572 (also known as The Ambuscade) - 1862
Now for a quick, though transitory, stylistic departure. Again, not the Tadema we know.

Entrance to a Roman Theatre - 1866
Now he is about 30 and following his interest in depicting antiquity as accurately as possible. However, this painting is still somewhat dark and Flemish compared to his mature works.

An Exedra - 1869
Tadema was known for, among other things, his skill at painting marble. This is an early example when he was still learning how to do it convincingly. However, this is not an oil painting, so the medium might be a factor here.

Silver Favorites - 1903
I include this later painting to show his mature style. The image is bright and the marble really looks like marble.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Rowland B. Wilson's "Trade Secrets"

Here is the link to the book whose cover is shown above. It was assembled by Suzanne Lemieux Wilson, widow of cartoonist and concept artist Rowland B. Wilson who I wrote about here.

It seems that Wilson, over a period of time, would take aspects of the craft of graphic art and commit them to paper in a somewhat cartoon-like manner. Eventually, he covered almost all the basic information needed by someone needing to know how to deal with composition, color, form, characterization, and other items in one's professional artist kit. This was the material his widow assembled into the book cited here.

Given the amount of effort he put into this activity, I wonder what his intention was (the book has no introduction explaining how it came to be). I'm not sure that he needed it just for himself, because he was simply displaying what he already knew. Knowledgeable readers are urged to comment on this point.

I have mentioned in my e-book about art and elsewhere that as an art student I never received more than a slight whiff of useful instruction. Either the art faculty at the University of Washington was reacting negatively to the training they had had, or else they were following the trendy idea that any kind of training would destroy their students' innate creativity. Therefore, had this book been been available then, and had I a copy of it, I would have learned much of what I actually needed to know but never learned at the time.

I'm probably wrong, but I wonder if Wilson had encountered at Disney and elsewhere some young fellow employees who had plenty of ability, yet lacked some professional polish because their art training, like mine, had been spotty. Wilson could have helped shape them up quickly, and had this material to do so if that indeed was the situation.

Bottom line: the book offers an entertaining, comprehensive catalog of graphic arts (painting, illustration, cartooning, poster work, etc., etc.) essential basics.

Bottom bottom line: I think a better, more accurate, title would have been "Graphic Art Essentials."

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Giacomo Balla, Former Futurist

Not long ago I wrote about Giacomo Balla (1871–1958), the Italian Futurist painter.

I noted that: "Hard-core Futurism and other 1900-1914 modernist movements had lost much of their fizz by 1920, and Balla's style drifted back towards conventional representation by the 1930s."

Since then, thanks to a publication related to this exhibit, I discovered that Balla formally broke his ties with Futurism in the mid-1930s. Some digging around the Internet revealed that he had been painting representational images in the early 1920s along with his Futurist output. It seems that he justified his 1930s work as being inspired by cinema, fashion photography, and other ways of depicting the modern age, analogous to what Futurism initially had done. More likely, he simply might have seen Futurism as something of a dead-end, finding representation more interesting, and came up with an excuse.

Below are examples of his post-1920 representational work.


Chiacchierì - 1934
This image, "Chatting," was in my post cited above. The subject is Balla's daughter Luce. Many of his representational paintings were of Luce and her sister Elica.

Veli rosa (Luce) - 1922
Luce would have been about 18 years old at the time, if the date is correct.

Ritratto femminile - c. 1922
Sketchy portrait of an unidentified woman.

Autocaffe - 1929
Self-portrait similar to the one he had submitted to the Uffizi gallery in Florence.

Fanciulla iridescente
Fanciulla was the subject of several Balla paintings, but I don't know if she was a hired model or held some other status.

La Figlia del sole - 1933
"Daughter of the Sun" -- in this case, Balla's daughter Luce.

Colorluce - 1933
Luce again.

Andiamo che è tardi - 1934
"Let's go, it's late" is a rough translation. That might be Luce at the left.

Le quatttro stazioni in rosso (Autunno) - 1940
"The Four Seasons in Red (Autumn)." One of a series of four paintings.

Ritratto di Elica Balla - 1947
Balla's younger daughter at about age 33. Both became artists.

Photo of Balla and his family, 1936. This was near the time he broke with Futurism, and both Futurist and representational paintings can be seen.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Hugh Breckenridge, Competent in Several Styles

Hugh H. Breckenridge (1870-1937) was a long-time instructor at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts who had studied in Paris under the supreme realist William Bouguereau. A little background can be linked here.

I need to confess that I had never heard of Breckenridge until I stumbled across one of his paintings on the internet. Turns out that he was both versatile and did good work in a variety of genres: no one-trick pony he.

Below are examples of most of the genres he worked in. I think he was especially good using bold compositions and bold colors.


The White Vase
I don't have a date for this, but will assume for now that it's not a late painting.

Moon Shadows (Nocturne) - 1899
Reminds me of California Impressionist Charles Rollo Peters' work.

A Thread of Scarlet - c. 1905
Now for some conventional portraits ...

Georgine Shillard-Smith - c. 1909
Here is a "highly finished" painting.

Blue and Gold - c. 1916
A few years later, this portrait is still representational, but the color scheme has a whisper of Fauvism.

The Lake - 1916
Philadelphia was quite art-conscious in the early 1900s, and being an instructor at the city's prime art school, Breckenridge must have made a point to be aware of the state of European Modernism in its various forms.

Sky Drama - c. 1917
Really a pure abstraction, but the cloisonné outlining and bold colors suggest some Frank Brangwyn influence. A nice painting.

Return of the Fishing Boat - c. 1924
On the other hand, this composition seems pretty messy.

View of Gloucester Harbor
A much nicer seaside view with colors that remind me of other artists' paintings of Venice Lagoon scenes.

Beneath the Sea - 1928
Surrealist art was just getting going about the time he painted this, but its effect strikes me as prefiguring 1930s Surrealism.

The Tree of Life - 1929
More bold colors with hints of Cubism and representationalism.

Autumn - c. 1931
Yet another strong, colorful painting.

Unfortunately, I have no date for this. The weak colors are not helpful.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Henri Mangin, Fauvist of Sorts

Henri Charles Manguin (1874-1949) studied under Gustave Moreau and was a friend of Henri Matisse. This Wikipedia entry associates him with both Impressionism and Fauvism. His French Wikipedia entry offers more detail.

The images below generally represent his work aside from still lifes. It seems that he didn't actually paint very many strongly Fauvist examples. Prominently featured subjects are his wife Jeanne and Saint-Tropez.


Intérieur - 1900
Probably his bride Jeanne at the writing desk.

La Sieste (Le repos, Jeanne, Le rocking-chair) - 1905
In the South of France.

Jeanne sur le balcon de la villa Demière - 1905
Painted about the same time as the previous work, also with an Impressionist feeling.

Femme à la grappe, villa Demière - 1905-06
Probably Jeanne again, but the feeling is a whiff of Cézanne with a touch of Fauvist coloring.

Le Rocher (La Naïade, Cavalière) - 1906
Jeanne amid mild Impressionism and Fauvism.

Couseuse-rouge - Jeanne - 1907 (detail)
Background brushwork again suggests Cézanne.

Les oliviers à Cavalière - 1906
Finally, some hard-core Fauvism, though painted about the same time as previous images.

Jeanne in Yellow in the Garden at Nuilly
No date for this, so it might be from the very early 1900s.

Le golf
South of France again.

View from the Terrace - 1926-27
The warship in the distance suggests Toulon.

Saint-Tropez, le 14 Juillet,1905
Manguin first visited Saint-Tropez as early as 1904.

Paysage, Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez - 1949
Painted the year he died, if the date seen on the Internet is correct. However, the style of the bathing suits seems more 1920s than 1940s -- though I might be mistaken.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Up Close: Boldini's Crossing the Street

The Clark museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts has a number of first-class paintings dating from the late 19th century, and I have featured some of them in this blog.

One painting I saw there that wasn't first-class, but nevertheless very good and an interesting example of the artist's work is "Crossing the Street" (1873-75) by Giovanni Boldini. Its Clark page is here.

Boldini is most famous for his later flashy style of portrait painting, so this work is notable as a good example of what he was doing on his way to it.


Image of the painting found on the Internet.

My iPhone establishment shot. This is a small painting: compare to its plaque.

Detail iPhone picture: click to enlarge. Note the leering man in the carriage at the left.