Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Norman Rockwell and Chiaroscuro

I should have noted the source at the time, and didn't. But I did read someplace that Norman Rockwell (1894-1978, Wikipedia entry here) lighted his subjects from the direction of the viewer, this minimizing use of shadows. I hadn't thought of that before.

And that's true. Though not entirely.

Many of Rockwell's cover illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post were indeed front-lighted, and I'm not sure why. Perhaps he explained somewhere, but I don't recall having seen an explanation. (Let us know in Comments if there is one.)

Perhaps it had to do with the tastes of the editor and art director, though this is unlikely because Rockwell used this lighting scheme before and following major changes in senior editorial positions at the Post in the years around 1940.

Another possibility is that Rockwell thought he could complete his work faster if he didn't have to spend time working out shadow patterns and their coloring. Or maybe he figured that even a little chiaroscuro (light-shade treatment) would detract from the story he was trying to tell in his illustration.

That said, he was willing and able to use lighting from other angles. Below are examples of both cases.


Saturday Evening Post cover illustration - 19 November, 1938

Saturday Evening Post cover illustration - 26 July, 1941

Saturday Evening Post cover illustration - 25 December, 1950
These three illustrations show Rockwell's use of front lighting; all happen to be for Saturday Evening Post covers. The bottom illustration includes images of Rockwell himself (with a pipe in his mouth) along with friends and neighbors.

Alcott's Jo - Woman's Home Companion - December, 1937
This is probably a story illustration. Note that Rockwell chose to have a window with bright, though from overcast, exterior light behind his subject. At the same time, he had to fudge real-world lighting by painting Jo's face as though light was shining directly upon it even though it should have been shaded from the comparatively strong light coming through the window. Perhaps there is also an interior light source, say from an oil lamp, though that is not clear from details in the image.

The Lineman - illustration for AT&T advertisement - 1947
Plenty of shading here.

Saturday Evening Post cover illustration - 29 April, 1950
This illustration has been cited (alas, once again I forget where) as an instance where Rockwell introduced a complicated lighting scheme. And it was for a Post cover, of all things.

Monday, October 29, 2012

In the Beginning: Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) is best known for "action" paintings such as his "Woman" series. Below is the first of that line, done around 1950-52.

But this was not his only style. Unlike some others in the postwar New York School, de Kooning had received a fairly rigorous traditional basic art training, as his Wikipedia entry indicates. At the end of his active career, as his mind was deteriorating, he was painting curved dabs of paint on light-colored canvases. Unlike most other New York modernist painters active 1945-1960, de Kooning did not go totally abstract; his work always a connection (however slight) to the observed world, as is exemplified by "Woman I" above. As shown below, he experimented with abstraction a bit during the 1930s and began producing abstract paintings by the 1980s when he began its descent into dementia.

Between his student training in Rotterdam and the beginning of his fame in the early 1950s, de Kooning was busy experimenting with varieties of modernist stylistic traits, such as I discuss in Art Adrift, seeking to find his artistic "voice." Here are some examples:


Still Life - 1921

WPA mural study - 1936

In his studio - 1937

Two Standing Men - 1938

Seated Woman - c.1940

Elaine Fried - 1940 or 1941

Standing Man - 1942

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bessie MacNicol: Yet Another Brief Career

Bessie MacNicol (1869-1904) is considered by many as the best painter of the Glasgow Girls group. (For my brief introduction to the Girls, click here.) Unfortunately, there is little biographical information on the Internet, this being representative.

Fortunately, I have a copy of this 1993 book which contains a little more detail, including some of the following, even though information of any kind about MacNicol's life is sparse.

MacNicol studied at the Glasgow School of Art 1887-92 under Fra Newbery. She then went to Paris and attended the Académie Colarossi, but found the instruction there unsatisfactory. She returned to Glasgow where she painted when not at the art colony in Kirkcudbright where she associated with E.A. Hornel and painted his portrait (see below). She married Andrew Frew, a gynecologist, in 1899. Ironically, she died while expecting her first child. The writer of the profile notes, however, that her health was never robust. Frew committed suicide in 1908.


Self-Portrait - c.1894
She suffered from hay fever during summer, and it has been suggested that it explains the watery-eyed look of this depiction.

A French Girl - 1895

E.A. Hornel - 1896
This is done in a style close to what Hornel might have used had he been doing a self-portrait. He clearly influenced MacNicol, though she never reached his extreme of submerging key subjects into pervasive background clutter.

The Fur Coat
No date for this. It might have been done while in Paris and before Kirkcudbright.

Under the Apple Tree - 1896-98
Some sources date this at 1899.

A Girl of the Sixties - 1899
Perhaps her best-known painting. It and others can be seen in the Kelvingrove museum in Glasgow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Albert Brenet, Marine Artist ... and More

The scene above shows three French cuirassés (battleships) standing off a coast someplace in the Mediterranean in the 1890s. To the left is the Amiral Duperré, in the center is the Redoutable and to the right is the Formidable.

The artist was Albert Victor Eugène Brenet (1903-1904 or 1905 ... sources vary as to the year of death). His French Wikipedia entry is here. I summarize it as follows:

He was born near Le Havre and as a child drew pictures of ships in port. He studied for a while at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then sailed for seven months to the Antilles on the Bonchamp, one of the very last French commercial sailing vessels, this inspiring him to specialize in marine art. He also painted army and air scenes and was appointed as an official artist for each of the three French military branches. He also did a good deal of commercial illustration, including posters for shipping companies.

Here are more examples of his work.


Danton class cuirassé
This might be the Condocet, which at one point in its career had a stripe painted around its second smoke stack to distinguish it from its five other classmates.

Apotheose des fetes du couronnement du roi Georges VI en 1937
The coronation naval review included British battleships, of course; two are indicated in the background. Brenet features the newly-commissioned Dunquerque in the foreground. That's the royal yacht in the middle ground trooping the line.

Le Bouvet aux Dardanelles
This 1896-vintage battleship was part of the French contribution of the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign of 1915. Brenet shows it firing, but it was struck by Turkish shells and then hit a mine and sank with only 56 crewmen surviving of 721 total.

Air Algerie poster
It features an early (round-window) Lockheed Constellation.

Cover for L'Illustration magazine 14 November 1936

Sketch done in Japan, c.1952
Brenet was a deft sketcher of people as well as ships, aircraft and other conveyances. He also painted some cityscapes.

Normandie at the terminal, Le Havre

Brenet seems better classed as an illustrator rather than fine-arts painter. Regardless, he had a fine touch that yielded him a successful career. If I were in a picky mood, I'd suggest that his style isn't especially distinctive, but that would be quibbling. I like his work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Frank Godwin, Illustrator and Cartoonist

Even in so-called Golden Ages, the life of a free-lance commercial artist could be a hand-to-mouth progression from assignment to assignment. Sort of like being in show business, one might think. I suspect show biz folks are usually happy when they find themselves in a long-term gig, be it on a television series or a perpetual stint on the Las Vegas strip. And those illustrators conscious that success could easily be blown away by a change in fashion were probably on the lookout for steady work under contract.

Illustrators active in the 1960s when the market for mass-circulation magazine art was going through its collapse often seemed to jump to doing book cover illustrations, portraiture or genre painting on subjects with perennial appeal.

The illustration market in the 1930s was not swooning in the 1960s sense, but times were still tight given that the Great Depression was in full force. Star illustrators such as Norman Rockwell were still doing fine, but middle-rank folks' prospects were less bright. Dropping down to painting covers for pulp-fiction magazines could bring in money, but could easily be a longer-term career-killer in terms of one's reputation in the trade. (This wasn't so much a problem for young illustrators who had yet to establish a reputation; some were able to use pulps as a stepping-stone to illustrating in the "slicks.")

The comic book as we have known it had yet to emerge, but there might be opportunities in the form of newspaper comic strips. Comic strip artists in the first third of the 20th century seem to have generally entered that field via doing other kinds of artwork for newspapers. An exception was Frank Godwin (1889-1959) who, even before the Depression hit, decided to create a comic strip ("Connie") as a hedge against an already declining market for book illustration, one of his main activities. Well, that's my guess as to his motivation. In any case, aside from a period around the time of World War 2, Godwin was doing comic strips up until very close to the time of his death. Illustration work continued, especially during the hiatus in comics work just noted.

Biographical information about Godwin can be found here and here, both sites also containing examples of his work.

In terms of career paths, Godwin was a kind of mirror image of Noel Sickles, who I wrote about here, and Alex Raymond, famed for creating the Flash Gordon strip. Sickles abandoned comic strips after only a few years to become a full-time illustrator whereas Raymond did some illustration work while continuing with comics.

Here are a few examples of Godwin's work: Click on images to enlarge.


Book cover illustration: Treasure Island

"Abbott Robert of St. Mary's Collecting Rent from His Tenants" - 1932
Above are two examples of Godwin's color illustrations. He also was skilled at pen-and-ink as well as brush-and-black-ink illustrations, techniques popular before 1930.

Sunday panel for "Connie" - c.1929
Connie started as a domestic strip, but evolved into an adventure comic and eventually went on to science-fiction in the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon mode. From the characters' hairdos, I'm guessing that the panel above was from around the end of the 1920s.

Texaco advertisement - 1941
Godwin did a series of ads for Texaco in which his name was prominently featured.

"Rusty Riley" daily panel - 1956
Rusty was his longest-running strip, appearing both daily and Sunday. The daily panels were printed black-and-white, so Godwin was able to incorporate his skilled pen work for shading, tedious though that might have been at deadline time. The Sunday panels were printed in color, so such shading wasn't really necessary and Godwin did less of it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Memorial Sculpture: By Artist or Committee?

I seldom mention sculpture here because I tend to restrict subjects to those that I've dabbled in. The last serious piece of sculpture I made was done when I was 14 years old; I hope that explains my lack of strong interest.

That aside, there are matters sculptural that need to be raised now and then. For instance, the problem of public sculptures memorializing people or events. The main problem here, in recent times, lies in the conflict between the modernist-biased Art Establishment desiring sculptures to follow modernist aesthetic principles and the desires of the general public which, on average, has tastes that favor tradition representation. A lesser complication has to do with politics, as we shall see below.

Given that monumental sculptures are expensive to create, their cost is typically borne by public funds, a rich donor, or a public subscription of voluntary donations. The process sometimes includes competitive submissions of proposals and in most cases probably involves appointment of a committee to select the sculptor and the design. The last factor is why I'm inclined to give the committee more credit than the sculptor for the final result, especially work works completed over the last 50 or so years.

Here is food for thought.


George Washington on University of Washington Campus
Sculpted by Lorado Taft, 1909. More information about this respectful statue is here.

Standing Lincoln (Lincoln: The Man), Chicago
By Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1887. Illinois was Lincoln's home state, so Saint-Gaudens, one of America's foremost sculptors at the time, was an obvious choice. The Wikipedia entry on it is here.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Details on the entire memorial are here. The sculptor was George Segal and the memorial was dedicated in 1997.

Winston Churchill in Parliament Square, London
The sculptor of this 1973 statue was Ivor Roberts-Jones whose inclination was to mild modernism; more information about the statue is here.

Father Damien on the state capitol grounds, Honolulu
This 1969 statue was the result of a competition won by fashionable modernist sculptress Marisol Escobar.

The selection of examples above is tiny, so I won't make generalizations even though it's tempting to do so.

The Washington and Lincoln statues are from an era when such monuments were intended to be respectful and sculptors and committees largely did the best of their abilities to convey that respect.

The Father Damien statue selection apparently was the result of a conscious desire by the committee to be different, to go modernist. I find the cartoonish statue disrespectful of the courageous, selfless man it was intended to honor.

True respect also seems lacking in the Churchill statue. He comes off as a sluggish old cripple (note the cane and how it is shown being handled, especially when viewed from the rear) rather than how he was at the peak of his career during the terrible summer and fall of 1940 when the war came close to being lost. I think members of the committee were not strong fans of Winston.

Jump ahead to the mid-1990s and the Roosevelt statue. The sculptor was a modernist and modernism was riding as high as ever. Yet the statue is as conservatively naturalist as those of Washington and Lincoln. Why? I don't know for sure, but I guess that the committee really, truly wanted to honor and respect FDR and made sure that nothing like the Churchill or Father Damien statues would be found at the memorial.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brangwyn's Railroad Posters

Sir Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) is perhaps best remembered for his murals. He also did easel paintings and posters, many of the latter in support of Britain's effort in the Great War.

But that was not all. For a while in the 1920s he created a few posters for what became the London and North Eastern Railway, a major line that ran trains from London into Scotland along a route near the eastern coast of the island. (The London, Midland and Scottish followed a more westerly path north, while the Great Western and Southern railroads served other locations.)

At the time Brangwyn created the designs shown below, a trend toward simplified images was getting underway. Perhaps because Brangwyn was probably incapable of delivering a simplified image, his career in railroad poster making was comparatively brief.



Firth of Forth Bridge


Over the Nidd near Harrogate

Monday, October 15, 2012

Multi Ritratti: Hazel Martyn Lavery

Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) was orphaned, yet through determination and ability rose to become one of Britain's foremost portrait artists.

Despite his busy career, Lavery found time to paint numerous portraits of his favorite subject, Hazel (1886-1935), his second wife. Biographical information on the Laverys can be found via the links above.

I'm likely to devote an entire post to Lavery some day, so won't say much more here other than that even though he is best known as a portrait painter, I think his best work dealt with landscapes. His portraits convey their subjects, but his brushwork seems fussier than I think it should be.

Let us now feast our eyes on the lovely Hazel.


Photo by E.O. Hoppé - 1916

Hazel Martyn
Apparently painted before their 1909 marriage, though I can't independently confirm the date.

Mrs. Lavery Sketching - 1910
She also was an artist.

Hazel in Rose and Gold - 1918

Red Rose - 1923

Lady Lavery - 1922

Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ní Houlihan - 1928

Irish 20 pound banknote
The painting above served as the basis for an image engraved for Irish currency of various denominations.

Lady Lavery - 1934
Painted not long before her death.