Monday, July 22, 2019

A Tempest Called Ralph Barton

Ralph Waldo Emerson Barton (1891-1931) had a tortured mind and a short, tempestuous life that ended in suicide. Yet he was a talented, highly successful cartoonist for such publications as Puck, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

A general biography is here. For more on his failed romantic life, David Apatoff provides a summary here. For much more detail regarding Barton, you might was to read what The New Yorker published in 1989 here.

Also, Apatoff discussed Barton's art here.

Barton developed a simplified, modernist cartooning style during the 1910-20 decade and refined it during the 1920s. He usually relied on thin pen lines, areas of black plus washes to depict his usually exaggerated scenes. Some examples are below, but do take a look at the examples in the Apatoff links.


A Montparnasse scene in Puck, 30 October 1915.

Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp costume beheading mannequins with German "pikelhaube" helmets used in the early years of the Great War.

Barton (left) and Chaplin (right) were buddies for many years.

Barton's take on Ernest Hemingway for Vanity Fair.

"Heywood Broun finds America suffering from a dearth of Folly" -- a literary caricature.

Flapper entering a party.

Tullio Carminati and Muriel Kirkland - "Strictly Dishonorable" - 1929

Famous theatre couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Photo of Lunt and Fontanne from a few years earlier.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Charles Saxon: Bomber Pilot, New Yorker Cartoonist

Charles David Saxon (1920-1988), born Charles David Isaacson in Brooklyn, was a 1940 graduate of Columbia University (he entered in his mid-teens) who later for many years was a major cartoon contributor to The New Yorker magazine.

During World War 2 he piloted B-24 bombers on raids over Germany and northwestern Europe. He can be seen in the photo above standing just to the right of the English boy.

Saxon's Wikipedia entry is here, and information regarding his military service is here.

His family background appears to have been upper-middle class, and those people and upper-class folks were his usual cartoon subjects.

Below are samples of his sketchy, slightly spare, but effective and appropriate (for his subject matter) style. Unfortunately for Saxon and us, a change in New Yorker editorship essentially ended his career there. However, he also derived income illustrating advertising material.

There is a common element in each of the cartoons below. Do you notice it?


What appears in each cartoon is at least one painting. In some cases, paintings are the subject. In others, they are part of the setting. I think Saxon deliberately chose the type of setting painting as one of his environmental means to define the people acting out the cartoon's punchline.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Alma-Tadema Paints Something Non-Classical

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) is best known for his paintings of Classical scenes. I wrote  in 2011 about the rise of prices for his work, discussed his miniaturist aspect here and recently wrote about this small painting seen at San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum.

During that same museum visit I spied and photographed another small painting by him, but this was not one of his Classical scenes. Nor was it an early painting made before he settled into that genre. Rather, its title is "In My Studio" and was painted in 1893 when his career was thriving.

What I think is important about this work is his use of color, explained in a caption below. Click on the images of my photos to enlarge, especially if your computer has a large screen.


Establishment iPhone snapshot.

Detail. Tadema was skilled at depicting materials, especially Classical marble. This painting displays skillful work dealing with the draped cloth over a chest or table. But what intrigues me even more is the color work on the woman's dress.  No hard-edge pattern here. Instead, subtle mixtures of toned-down, somewhat grayed reds and blues painted in a seemingly casual yet actually disciplined manner. That Alma-Tadema fellow was really good.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Chiaroscuro and More: Joseph Wright of Derby

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), Wikipedia entry here, is probably best known for his dramatic Chiaroscuro paintings in the manner of Caravaggio.

But he painted most of his works in less dramatic settings. Typical of many artists of his time, he made many portraits in order to support his family, though he was not notably successful compared to the likes of his contemporaries Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and their ilk. Nevertheless, some of his portraits are in the collections of major museums.

What interests me is that his most famous works tend to depict people more convincingly than can be seen in portraits painted around the same time. I should also note that his portraiture became more impressive as his career rolled on. Generally speaking, Wright's later portraits tend to compare well with the subjects shown in his earlier Chiaroscuro illustrative works. Go figure.

His interest in dramatic settings also tended to take the form of nocturnal scenes -- strong moonlight and swirling clouds. Plus, he painted several imaginary scenes of the volcano Vesuvius erupting.


An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump - 1768
This might well be Wright's most famous work. Obviously, he couldn't have had people posing in that setting while he was painting. Perhaps someplace is a discussion of his method for depicting light and shade on faces from a single light source. For now, I speculate that he observed people (possibly one at a time) under those conditions and then recorded what he observed for later use.

Margaret Oxenden - c. 1758
One of his earlier portraits.  He did a decent job on the clothing, but the lady's face and neck seem a bit off. Her right arm doesn't look quite correct either, though her costume makes it hard to judge.

Miss Jane Monck (?) - c. 1760
Another early portrait. Several of these are posed about the same way and the subjects' faces seem a trifle too narrow. Again, the neck seems too long.

Miss Catherine Swindell - 1769-72
Wright painted this a decade later and the likeness seems more correct.

Mrs Francis Boot - 1790-93
One of the last portraits, also reasonably believable.

Cave in Evening - 1774

Cavern Near Naples - 1774
Wright often painted several versions of the same or similar scene.

Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples - c. 1776-80
According to Wikipedia, Vesuvius did not erupt during Wright's stay in Naples, so this image is fanciful.

Bridge Through a Cavern, Moonlight - 1791
A dramatic nocturnal scene.

An Iron Forge - 1772
One of Wright's Chiaroscuro paintings.

A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun - c. 1765
One of his most famous paintings. This and the painting at the top were made during the decade between when the first two portraits shown above were painted.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Another Alma-Tadema Painting Up Close

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was long neglected, but now some of his paintings are auctioned for tens of millions of dollars. I wrote about this in 2011 and discussed his miniaturist aspect here.

He painted both large and small works, but the small ones can fascinate due to the skill used to render small faces and tiny details so convincingly.

I recently came across one such painting in San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum. It is "A Coign of Vantage" (1895). The title might be translated as "A Vantage Nook" -- the word "Coign" referring to a corner. It's 64 cm (25.2 inches) high and 44.5 cm (17.5 inches) wide. This is small, but hardly tiny. Even so, the subjects depicted take up little space: a head in profile is about 5 cm (2 inches) across.

Below are an establishment photo and detail photo featuring the ladies' faces. Click on the images to enlarge considerably (if your screen is large).


Thursday, July 4, 2019

Robert Cottingham's Signs

A loyal reader (thanks, Bill) tipped me off to Robert Cottingham (born 1935) who is usually classed as a Photorealist.

His Wikipedia entry here is brief, and longer takes on him can be linked here and here.

Cottingham worked in advertising before taking up art full-time. Perhaps this commercial inclination led him to create many works in the form of prints of various types that might offer greater overall sales potential than paintings. (As I often state, if one's an artist, it's best not to be a starving one.)

I find it interesting that Cottingham has worked in a large variety of media, both in painting and printmaking. Even more interesting is that, when reduced to the small size of Internet images, it can be difficult to judge how they were made: they nearly all have a similar feeling.

One possible downside to his choice of subject matter is that a hundred and more years from now those subjects might well be puzzling to viewers due to their likely unfamiliarity.

But for us, they can be fun to see.


Empire (oil on canvas) - 2012

Empire (serigraph)
Two images, different media.

Star Suite, Nite (print)

Art (sikscreen) - 2009

Fox (print) - 1973

Santa Fe (woodcut on paper)

11th Street (acrylic on canvas) - 1982

Joseph's Liquors (oil on canvas) - 1981

Bar Cabaret (watercolor) - 2014

Wichita (gouache on paper) - 1985

Lynn's Portable (woodcut) - 2004
Cottingham also does images of typewriters and old cameras.

Monday, July 1, 2019

John Marshall Gamble's California with Many Flowers

John Marshall Gamble (1863-1957) was what we call a California Impressionist, one of a group of artists who painted landscapes in various parts of that state, mostly over the years 1900-1930.

Gamble seems to have had a successful career, but was not one of the core group of California Impressionists. I justify that claim because after the 1906 San Francisco fire he was based mostly in Santa Barbara, slightly off the California Impressionist beaten track. Biographical information can be found here and here.

It seems that Gamble nearly always included wildflowers in his paintings, a feature that became something of a trademark. His paintings sold well, buyers coming from across the USA until the late 1930s when his eyesight began to fail.

Regarding his inclusion of flowers, the first link above states:

"When questioned by an interviewer about his passion for floral painting, he replied: 'I never painted them as flowers at all. I didn't even think of them as flowers while I was painting. They were just color patches to me, I simply liked the way they designed themselves across the field'. Many stolid Easterners considered his paintings pure fabrications, however when they made the trip to California's countryside in springtime the doubters were always proven wrong."

True, he didn't do close-up portraits of flowers. And it's also so that they add interest to the paintings in terms of composition and color schemes. But I also think he included those swathes of flowers because they helped make his paintings more marketable. Nothing wrong with that -- I'd rather an artist be prosperous than starving.

Also, as can be seen below, Gamble relied on several well-tested compositions for his California scenes.


A Spring Morning, Poppies and Bush Lupine - c. 1915
This is the only dated (sort of) painting I downloaded.

Coastal scene
I don't have this painting's actual title, if it ever had one.

Poppies And Yellow Lupine, Point Lobos
Note the similarity of the hillsides in these scenes of different part of the state.

Wild Heliotrope near Laguna Beach

Wild Heliotrope near San Juan Capistrano
Again, two similar looking works.

Wild Lilac and Poppies

Wild Mustard and Radish
Hillsides sloping down to the right, but with different kinds of flowers.

Lupine, Del Monte Dunes
This has blockier brushwork.  I'm not sure if it: (1) is a study, (2) is small, or (3) was painted when his eyesight started to go.

The Dunes
Same general location, similar brushwork.

Twilight, Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara
This painting is quite different from the rest, and I'm not sure why.  I have friends who live in Hope Range (nowadays a very upscale housing area) and have walked near where this painting was made.  The view is toward the west.  That low-lying coast takes in perhaps part of Goleta where the airport and University of California Santa Barbara are, and definitely shows the coastline farther west of there, but not the high inland hills.