Friday, August 31, 2012

French Fighter Competition: Early 1930s

I've probably said it before and will probably say it again: Following the aircraft industry was a lot more interesting before 1960 than since. That's because airplanes became much more complicated, which meant that development times and costs increased considerably. In recent times, airliners and combat aircraft take years to bring to production, but they also stay in production and service much longer than in the old days. For example, Boeing's single-aisle 737 series prototype first flew 45 years ago, and variants will be in production for years to come. So far as the aviation buff is concerned, the amount of interesting new stuff had been reduced to a trickle over the years.

Wars and threats of wars served as spurs for technical progress in aviation. Most striking is a comparison of aircraft entering service at the end of 1918 with those flying mid-1914, just before the Great War started.

A consequence of the war was greatly lessened demand for new military aircraft. Technical progress became relative slow so there was less motivation to rush what new designs there were into production. The main French fighter of the early-mid 1920s was the Nieuport-Delage 29, a design under development in the closing months of the war. The late 20s and early 30s saw production of the Nieuport-Delage 62 series that boasted a top speed only 20 miles per hour (30km/h) faster than the NiD-29.

By the late 1920s the threat of a major new war was still small, but the need to modernize was growing stronger thanks to recent technical innovations. The French initiated a specification in 1930 that was modified in 1931 and 1932, forming the basis for a new generation of C1 category aircraft. (C1 is short for Chasse -- fighter (actually, "pursuit," as the U.S. Army Air Corps also called it) -- single-place.)

It's almost hard to believe from today's perspective, but ten different manufacturers submitted entries. That's because aircraft were pretty simple in those days; the builder basically had to come up with an airframe compatible with "government furnished equipment" such as the motor, weapons, radio, and so forth. Even so, airframes were beginning to require more technology than previously, this largely due to the replacement of wood or metal-tube frameworks covered by canvas with (nearly) all-metal construction.

Here are the planes involved in the concours:


ANF-Mureaux 170
Although it performed well, this fighter was rejected because the position of the wing interfered with the pilot's forward field of vision.

Bernard 260
The Bernard was unusual in that it had advanced features including slats and trailing-edge flaps on the wings. But it failed to win a production contract.

Gourdou-Leseurre 482
This aircraft suffered from above-average aerodynamic drag, so it fell short of the speed rquirement and was eliminated from contention.

Morane-Saulnier 325
The Morane experienced severe buffeting that was never completely cured.

Wibault-Penhoët 313
Although it offered promising performance, a long development cycle caused the Wibault to lose out.

Blériot-Spad 510
The only biplane in the competition, the Blériot-Spad received a contract for 60 examples. It was the last biplane fighter accepted by the French air arm.

Loire 46
The Loir 46 was an advanced version of models 43 and 45 that, in stages, were in the concours. The 43 and 45 had a wing positioned similar to that of the ANF-Mureaux, but the 46 was an extensive redesign that featured an aile du mouette, or gull-wing. It too saw production. Some 60 were ordered by L'Armée de l'Air while a handful of developmental aircraft were sold to the Republican forces during the Spanish civil war. (These numbers have been disputed, but there is no question that production was less than 100 aircraft.)

Dewoitine 500
This was the winner of the concours and production of variants was in the low-to-mid hundreds.

As noted, the competition dragged on for several years. And then getting the Loire 46 into production took longer than it might have, thanks to the nationalization and consolidation of French airplane builders in 1936; its first-line service life was about two years. By late 1938 this generation of fighters began to be replaced by the Morane-Saulier 406, a monoplane featuring retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit, standard features of World War 2 fighter planes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Emily Carr's Centered Compositions

Emily Carr (1871-1945) is one of Canada's most famous artists. And if you visit Victoria, British Columbia, her home town, and wander the old part of the city near the touristy harbor, it's hard to escape references to her. Wikipedia can still be hit-and-miss when it comes to being comprehensive, but its entry on Carr contains a good deal of useful detail about her and her career as a painter and writer.

The largest trove of Carr's painting seems to be in Vancouver, a city I find unappealing apart from its spectacular setting. So the Carr paintings I tend to encounter are in Victoria, whose art museum devotes a room to her work.

Carr received artistic training, plus she was friends with leading artists such as Lawren Harris (who I wrote about here) and Mark Tobey. Which is why it puzzles me that she often resorted to placing subjects of paintings at or near the center of the horizontal axis of her paintings. I suppose this can be explained through an analogy to a portrait painter placing his subject in a similar way. Still, the result is a little too static for my comfort.

Let's take a look at some examples.


Painting of a tree; don't have title or date for this

"Red Cedar" - 1933

"Heart of the Forest"

"Crying Totem" - 1938

"Indian Church" - 1929

Monday, August 27, 2012

Molti Ritratti: Edith Minturn Phelps-Stokes

Edith Minturn Stokes (1867–1937) and her husband Isaac Newton (I.N.) Phelps Stokes are the subject of a famous painting by John Singer Sargent, now residing in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I couldn't find much biographical information about Edith. Wikipedia has this entry on Isaac, but more about Edith can be found here.

However, the images below do indicate that Edith was a very attractive woman.


The Minturn sisters
Edith is at the right of the photograph.

By Carl and Fredrika Weidner - c.1895
The original is a miniature. Edith is at the left.

By Daniel Chester French - Statue of the Republic
Edith posed for French's giant statue for the 1893 Chicago fair. A smaller version was made in 1918, and that is the one shown above. More information about the statues is here.

By Fernand Paillet - 1892
This must have been painted about the time French was working on the statue.

By Cecilia Beaux - 1898
Beaux was an ace portrait painter who had the thankless task of painting Edith a year after Sargent created his masterpiece version of. Beaux was very good, but comparing the two versions of Edith, it's hard to dispute that Sargent was even better. Well, flashier, anyway.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Feature-Distorting Makeup Fashions

If you don't have a model handy, the next option is using a photographic reference. And if you want to paint a picture of a pretty woman, why not use a photo of a movie star.

I'll tell you why not.

One reason is that publicity photos are usually retouched, and that retouching can distort light-shade relationships, hiding the true facial structure to some degree. This was particularly evident before 1950, when most publicity shots were in black and white which made extensive retouching easier to perform. (It's interesting that Joan Crawford had a heavily freckled complexion, yet nearly all publicity photos hide it.)

Another reason has to do with fashions in make-up. From the mid-1920s to around the mid-1940s, lipstick and eyebrow makeup practices were tailored to distorting natural facial features. Such distortions make it somewhat difficult to understand exactly what the underlying face was like.

Combining these two problems results in photos that are not worth using for reference unless one's goal is painting a period-piece scene. The photos below illustrate my point.


Clara Bow - late 1920s
Evelyn Brent - late 1920s
Not all women did this, but some important movie stars did: Note the "bee sting" lipstick pattern where the edges of the mouth are not painted while areas above and below the lips at the center of the mouth are. The Cupid's bow feature of the upper lip is slightly exaggerated by the lipstick application shown in these photos.

Constance Bennett - 1933
Jean Harlow - mid-1930s
During the early to mid 1930s the Cupid's bow continued to be exaggerated, as can be seen in the photo of Constance Bennett. At least coverage now extends to the corners of the mouth. The Jean Harlow photo shows another fad of that era: natural eyebrows plucked and replaced by a penciled-in line. I have no idea why people thought that stunt improved beauty.

Ann Sothern - late 1930s
Hedy Lamarr - early 1940s
Veronica Lake - early 1940s
Natural eyebrows returned by the late 1930s and even received eyebrow pencil enhancement. Lips were enhanced by lipstick extending very slightly beyond the edges of the lips themselves.

I find that there are still a fair number of 1925-45 photos acceptable for reference. After 1945, matters improve somewhat. But an artist's best bet is to rely on informal photographs where retouching is absent and makeup is more likely to be lightly applied.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Mural as Artistic Immortality

Murals still get painted, but seldom do I learn of a new one that is a Truly Big Deal.

A century ago, that wasn't the case. Murals were a major player in the history of Western art, and a few remain world-famous. (I'm thinking the "The Last Supper" by da Vinci and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel work, even though the latter was painted on a ceiling rather than a wall.) In fact, murals were so prestigious that at least two important artists twisted their careers to become mural painters in an attempt to "play Shakespeare." One did so as a sideline to a varied career and another is better known for his murals than for his easel paintings. For this post, I'll deal with them along with two other Americans involved in that trade.

Let's see what they produced.


From the Holy Grail series by Edwin Austin Abbey
Abbey had a varied career ranging from illustration to fine arts painting to a good deal of mural work. The image above is of one of his murals (or really, really large paintings) in Boston's Public Library.

"City Activities with Dance Hall" by Thomas Hart Benton - 1930-31
Although some writers lump Benton into an "American Regionalist" category, a good deal of his work does not feature Midwestern scenes. The example above is from a set of murals he painted for a new building housing New York City's New School for Social Research (as it was known at the time).

Mural study for Los Angeles Public Library Building
Mural for Los Angeles Public Library Building by Dean Cornwell
Cornwell was one of the most successful illustrators of the 1920s. Apparently this did not satisfy him, so he decided to take up mural painting in an effort to (I suppose) become more artistically respectable. He went to England to learn some of the muralist's trade under Frank Brangwyn. The Los Angeles library project seen above was his greatest effort, though his expenses and the time it took for completion did not make it profitable; he continued to rely on commercial art to subsidize his mural painting. Despite that, he took on other mural projects, as the link indicates.

Rotunda murals, Boston Public Library
Boston Public Library rotunda"Heaven" in Boston Public Library, by John Singer Sargent
Sargent was an extremely successful portrait painter who felt that such work was somehow not worthy enough. So he managed to get in on mural projects for the new (1895) Boston Public Library building on Copley Square. Two decades later, he was still working on those murals.

Seen from today's perspective, mural painting seems a more risky route to artistic immortality than easel painting. That's because paintings on canvas, board or a similar support are portable. They can be stored comparatively easily and snatched from harm's way. The fate of a mural is usually tied to that of the building that houses it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Henry Tonks: Physician-Painter-Teacher

Henry Tonks (1862-1937) studied and practiced medicine before switching to art when in his early thirties. This is sketched in his Wikipedia entry, but better biographical information can be found here.

Thanks to his anatomical expertise, London's Slade School of Art hired him to teach drawing. According to the link above, Tonks was a formidable teacher who, consciously or otherwise, intimidated many of his students. On the other hand, he was at Slade when it turned out many of its most famous graduates. Those who were instructed by Tonks included Augustus John, Gwen John, Percy Wyndham Lewis, C.R.W. Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, John Currie, Dora Carrington, Maxwell Gordon Lightfoot, Dorothy Brett and Paul Nash. Even though many of these became modernists of one stripe or another, Tonks himself had no use for Cubism or any of the other movements.

As can be seen in the selection below, Tonks seemed to prefer social scenes featuring young women. However he became a war artist in the Great War and did medical-related art in the form of a series of studies of soldiers who sustained severe facial wounds.


The Hat Shop - 1892

The Matinee Rehearsal - c.1900

The Torn Gown

Study of a woman

The Birdcage - 1907

An Advanced Dressing Station - 1918

Spring Days - 1928

As for Tonks' paintings, my take from images found on the Internet is that he was certainly competent, yet lacked whatever kind of spark it takes to make his work truly distinctive and compelling.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Deco by Dupas

The painting shown above is Les Perruches, c.1925, by Jean Dupas (1882-1964) who, along with Tamara de Lempicka and perhaps a few others, epitomizes Art Deco art. A short Wikipedia entry is here and a more extensive biography is here.

It seems that Dupas was very well-trained, but chose to earn his living more in commercial art than in fine arts. As for the latter, he was a muralist as much as he was an easel painter.

Dupas' commercial style is distinctive in that he regularly drew women with long necks and often with narrow, aquiline noses. And although it was hardly Deco fashion, he sometimes gave his women elaborate hairstyles and hats evoking fashion of 200 years earlier.

Given that I'm greatly interested in the 1920s and 30s, I am fond of Dupas' work.


Poster - 1924

Poster - 1925

Bordeaux poster - 1937
Dupas was born in Bordeaux, so might have put more heart than usual into this poster.

L'Hiver - 1928

Woman seated in front of portrait

Deco scene - 1929

History of Navigation mural from the Normandie - 1934
A link with information about the mural is here.

Jeune fille aux fleurs
This seems to be a later work -- say, from 1940 or later, given the hair style of the subject.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Molti Ritratti: John F Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy (1917-63), as we all know, did not serve even one full term in office. So if portraits of him were to be painted while President, there was less opportunity than usual.

On the other hand, Kennedy was the subject of thousands of photographs, and it is through these that we shape our visual image of the man. Those photographs also served as the basis for posthumous portrait paintings created by both professionals and amateurs. Below are examples of Kennedy portraits done by professionals. Some were painted while he was alive, others later. And some paintings done before his 22 November 1963 death might have been entirely photograph-based.


By Norman Rockwell - 1960
The Saturday Evening Post magazine would sometimes feature covers with paintings of presidential candidates in the weeks leading up to an election. The painting shown above was published in its 29 October 1960 issue. I don't know if Rockwell saw Kennedy in person while working up the image. He was able to spend an hour and a half with Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 in conjunction with a Post cover appearing before the voting that year.

By Cecil Calvert Beall - 1962
This looks like it might have been done from life, but I have no solid proof.

By Elaine de Kooning - 1962
This was probably done from life because it is known that Kennedy sat for her.

By William Franklin Draper - 1962
Also probably done from life.

Sketch by Bernie Fuchs
Fuchs was an illustrator and not yet a fine-arts painter when he visited the White House to make sketches of the President. David Apatoff posted useful information about it here.

By Daniel Greene - pastel, 1963
I have no information as to whether this was done before or after JFK's 1963 death. And if it was done before, I don't know if Greene did it from life.

By Bernie Fuchs
I don't have a date for this, but it was probably painted on the basis of photographs and the sketches mentioned above.

By Jamie Wyeth - 1967
Clearly posthumous.

By Aaron Shikler - 1970
This is the official White House portrait of Kennedy, painted years after he died.

I apologize for the information gaps noted in the captions above. If readers can supply facts regarding whether or not Kennedy actually sat for the unverified (in my remarks) portraits created in his lifetime, please let us know via a comment.