Thursday, August 16, 2018

Who Was Illustrator August Bleser, Jr.?

August Bleser, Jr. (1898-1966) was an illustrator active during the 1920s and 30s and probably beyond, for whom I can find no biographical information on the Internet. Well, I dug five pages into Google and was seeing a lot of extraneous items, so the odds of hitting research paydirt were getting pretty slim. About all I could find were his birth and death years.

On the other hand, Google turned up quite a few examples of his work. Information as to where his illustrations were published was skimpy, but it seems to me that he appeared in magazines a notch down from the Saturday Evening Post -- the holy grail for illustrators in his time. That's because many of his works on the Web are in color, something third and lower tier publications could seldom afford aside from cover art.

I rate Blaser as being entirely competent in the context of 1920-1940 magazine illustration. But as I've mentioned at times, there was plenty of competition, including illustrators who were slightly better and had more recognizable (and therefore salable) styles.

Here are examples of his work.


The Casino - 1927
Vignette style was popular then.

Commercial art studio scene - 1930

In the Office - 1932

Meeting at the Train
This looks like it was cropped from the original at the top, but perhaps not. The bottom is okay because his signature is visible.

Night Bridge

Surprise Attack - 1932

A Reflective Moment - 1936
Graveside scene.

Candlelight dinner scene
In the background is New York City's George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson River. It's not clear if the restaurant in on the Manhattan side or the New Jersey side, though I'm inclined to guess the latter. Regardless, I doubt there was such a place when Blaser made this illustration around 1940: there are no restaurants in that setting nowadays, if Google maps offers any clue. But I confess it has been decades since I got to New York a lot, so I might be mistaken.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Graham Sutherland Churchill Portrait Survivor

Several years ago I did a Molti Riratti post on Winston Churchill.

One of the paintings was the one in the image above, a 1954 portrait by Graham Vivian Sutherland (1903-1980), his Wikipedia entry here. This portrait was noteworthy because Churchill and his wife hated it, and as explained here, Clementine had it destroyed after Winston's death. She did the right thing.

Even though the painting is gone, traces of it remain in the form of sketches and studies Sutherland made. Some of these can be found by Googling. There is one study that can be viewed in person if you happen to be in London.

Here is my photo of it taken at the National Portrait Gallery in April. Click to enlarge, and you might be able to read the plaque dealing with it. Better yet, you can find a larger image by linking here to the Portrait Gallery's page dealing with the painting. The caption material can be found by scrolling down.

Although Sutherland seems to have been highly regarded in Britain in his day, his work is not to my taste. Images of many of his painting can be found on the Internet, but I include a few below so that you can get a sense of what he was doing during his career.


Entrance to a Lane - 1939
During the 1930s and 1940s he favored Surrealistic and semi-abstract styles.

Crucifixion - 1946
He made a number of Christian-themes paintings and created works for the Coventry Cathedral replacement.

Somerset Maugham - 1949
A portrait painted a few years before the Churchill project.  Also anti-flattering.

Self-portrait - 1977
Made when in his mid-70s.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The rue Mallet-Stevens Then and Now

A while ago I wrote about the French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and included some period images of the rue Mallet-Stevens in Paris' 16e arrondissement, a private street containing Moderne residential buildings designed by him.

I've been both aware and curious about it for many years, so when I visited Paris in April, I made a point to track it down and take a few photos to use for this blog. It's a bit off the beaten track, about a 5-10 minute walk through a nondescript apartment neighborhood from the nearest subway stop. It's also 90 years old, but in pretty good shape, as the photos indicate. When I took the photos I didn't have reference material handy, so they don't quite match the viewpoints of photos taken when the development was new.

A much more detailed treatment of the rue is here. Besides period images, it has recent photos of the exteriors as well as some interior views.


View of the street - c. 1927
That's a Voisin automobile -- very modern in those days.

Street view - April 2018
I happened to take this photo from a similar spot.

Rue Mallet Stevens veille de l'inauguration
Before the formal opening. The building on the left is Mallet-Steven's.

Hôtel Mallet-Stevens - April 2018

Villa de Mme. Reifenberg - c. 1927

Villa of Mme. Reifenberg - April 2018

Atelier frères Joël et Jon Martel, Sculpteurs - c. 1927
Workshop and residence of brothers who were sculptors.

Atelier Martel - April 2018

Hôtel Dreyfus - c. 1927

Hôtel Dreyfus - April 2018

Monday, August 6, 2018

Neuschwanstein Murals by August Spieß

This post is frustrating to write. That's because I want to make a point, but have nearly zero in the way of illustrations to support it.

This has to do with the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. The famous one "mad" King Ludwig II caused to be built that's now a major tourist attraction. I visited it perhaps 20 years ago and finally got around to seeing it again in May, this time paying more attention to its murals.

The place is filled with murals, most dealing with German legends that Richard Wagner (who Ludwig patronized) incorporated in his operas. A sense of this is conveyed here on the part of the Neuschwanstein Web site that presents a "tour" of the castle.

My problem? It's that I noticed that one artist who seemed especially good at conveying facial expressions -- something akin to stage actors who act even with their eyes to convey something to the audience. But the castle tour rules strongly state that no photography is permitted, so I couldn't capture images of examples. Worse, the number of images of Neuschanstein murals on the Internet is small, so only one decent example turned up. All of this meaning that it's essentially impossible to convey to you what I found on my tour of the place.

The artist who stagecraft I noticed is August Spieß (1841-1923), a Munich-based painter about whom little can be found other than this. Worse, there are almost no images of his work on the Web other than parts of some of his Neuschwanstein murals or possibly related work.

So the point of this post is to alert readers planning to visit Neuschwanstein to keep their eyes peeled for murals by Spieß in various rooms (they aren't all in Ludwig's bedroom).


Ludwig's bedroom where the murals deal with Tristan and Isolde.

This is the only example I could find regarding stagecraft: note the woman at the left. The images below are also  dealing with Tristan and Isolde, but they lack that stagecraft. For some reason, Spieß portrayed Isolde as being rather bland, undramatic.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Helene Schjerfbeck: From Skilled Realism To ...

Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is widely regarded as one of Finland's most significant artists. I'd put her raw talent up there with that of Albert Edelfelt and Akseli Gallen-Kallela. She was a very good representational painter with a deft brushwork touch, but began to be seduced by Modernism about the time she turned 40. Thereafter, she painted some interesting works along with a number of second-rate derivative ones.

Her background is a little too complicated for this blog post to present, so I encourage you to link to her Wikipedia entry, these comments dealing with a Frankfurt Kunsthalle exhibit, and this rather lengthy and detailed set of observations and biographical items by a Belgian art critic.

The key point to bear in mind is that even though she lived to age 83, Schjerfbeck had poor health for most of her life. A childhood hip injury is mentioned, so perhaps she remained partly crippled. Also mentioned is chronic lack of energy that could have had a different cause.

Below is a chronologically arranged selection of images of her work found here and there on the Internet.


On the Jetty - 1879
This is the earliest painting of hers that I could find, made when she was about 17.

Wounded Warrior in the Snow - 1880

Dancing Shoes - 1882
One of her best-known paintings. It sold for £3,044,500 at a 2008 Sotheby's auction.

Portrait of a Child - 1883
Note the brushwork.

Funeral in Brittany - 1884
Schjerfbeck had some art training in Paris and, like a number of other painters, spent some time in Brittany.

Death of Wilhelm von Schwerin - 1886
Perhaps because this kind of thing was expected in those days, she painted a scene from history.

The Seamstress - 1903
During the 1890s Schjerfbeck taught at a Finnish art school and apparently painted little, if what can be found on the Internet is any clue. But here, in her early 40s, we find representation starting to edge away into Modernism.

Costume Picture II (also known as Girl with Orange, The Baker's Daughter) - 1909
By this point, her paintings are becoming more thinly painted and the subjects simplified. I wonder how much of this was modernist influence versus whether this was somewhat due to her limited energy level.

Self-Portrait - 1915
About age 53.

Girl from Eydtkuhnen - 1927
Cubist influence. She did many paintings of women featuring simplified faces similar to what you see here.

Angel Fragment (after El Greco) - 1928
A slight return to her representational roots: nicely done Modernism-lite.

Brown Eyes - 1935-37
Schjerfbeck was aware of art trends outside Finland, but avoided the fashionable Social Realism style during the 1920s and 30s.

Friends - 1942
Age 80, painting very thinly.

Self-Portrait with Red Spot - 1944
One of her last works.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Poster: Stadtbahnstation Karlsplatz, Vienna

Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918) was one of the first architects to move away from Classicism towards Modernism. His mature style was something of a geometrical version of the Art Nouveau style or Jugendstil, as it was known in German speaking countries. A brief biography is here.

One of his noteworthy creations was the 1899 Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station in Vienna -- the Stadtbahn being the municipal railway system.

Ten years or so ago when I was visiting Vienna, I noticed a poster dealing with the Karlsplatz station building in a display window. I continued walking for a short distance, but then turned back to the shop because I felt I had to have that poster (and I almost never buy posters).

I know nothing about the poster's origin. It incorporates elements of architectural presentations, but might possibly be a presentation in itself created by Wagner's firm.

Here it is: click on the images to enlarge.


A slightly cropped photo I took of my poster.

I find these women charmingly depicted. Whoever drew them knew what he was doing artistically.  When I was taking first-year architectural design, most renderings on display showed people as blobs with legs.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Late 1920s Early '30s Cigarette Advertisement Illustration

Cigarette makers haven't been allowed to advertise in publications or broadcast media in the United States for a long time now. Before that, cigarettes were heavily advertised and a number of well-known illustrators helped put food on their tables by working on those ads.

The glory years for this lasted from the mid-1920s into the early 1930s. After that, though some cigarette advertising was illustrated, photography had largely taken over in an effort to have readers relate better to celebrity or glamorous smokers featured in those ads.

Although some variation in taste was possible via blending tobaccos from different sources (Egypt, Turkey, the American South), cigarettes are to a considerable extent a commodity. Therefore, most advertising themes in those days featured distinguished, older, rich-appearing people and, more often, attractive, youthful smokers in sophisticated settings. Earlier ads often used illustrations of exotic scenes from tobacco growing countries, while later ads sometimes used photos or illustrations of supposed physicians stressing that cigarettes had health benefits. Still, lifestyle themes predominated until the end.

Here are some cigarette ads from that era.


These first two examples are unsigned, but clearly illustrated by J.C. Leyendecker.

Art signed by Adolph Treidler.

Army-Navy football game theme, signed by McClelland Barclay.

By John La Gatta.

This is unsigned. The lady is nicely done ... not so much the man, who seems a bit strange but supposedly sophisticated.

Now for some early 1930s ads. This is by ace fashion illustrator Eric (Carl Erickson).

Art by Howard Chandler Christy, another case of a nicely done woman and a strange man.

By Bradshaw Crandell who specialized in depicting pretty faces.

A wedding theme painted by Neysa McMein.

Another illustration by John La Gatta. Note the theme. The slogan was repeated in a series of ads.