Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Multi Ritratti: Antonin Proust

Antonin Proust (1835-1905) was a French politician, unrelated to Marcel Proust the writer. As the link above indicates, his career had its ups and downs, ending in his suicide.

Apparently not many portraits of Proust were made, but those that were, were created by the cream of the late 19th century artistic crop. I was made aware of Proust portraits by an article by Oliver Trostmann in this catalog for a recent exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

To set the scene, here is a 1877 photograph of Proust by a photographer known as Franck.

These are (top) a 1877 study by Édouard Manet and (below) a painting from the same year.

Manet painted this more finished portrait of Proust in 1880.

In 1885 the sculptor Auguste Rodin made this etching of Proust.

Anders Zorn painted this portrait of Proust in 1888.

Who did the best job? Not Manet, I'm afraid. And Rodin's etching is more a technical study than a portrait showing character. So in my opinion, Zorn wins, even though his painting was one of the first portraits he made using oil paints. (In his early career, Zorn usually worked in water-based media.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hal Phyfe's Pastel and Camera Portraits

Hal Phyfe (1892-1968), according to this report: "Great Grandson of Duncan Phyfe, the iconic furniture designer of the early republic, Herold Rodney Eaton "Hal" Phyfe was born in Nice, France, to a New York society family. Trained as a sculptor in France and a painter in Italy, Hal Phyfe began pursuing photography an an enlistee in World War I..."

That link contains the most detailed biographical information I could find in a quick Web search. According to it, Phyfe did pastel portraits of Hollywood and Broadway stars after the war, then shifted to photography starting about 1926. Pastels were the fashionable portrait medium for movie fan magazine covers during the 1920s and early 30s, perhaps because smooth blending was possible so that faces of female stars generally looked more flattering than if done in oil paint. Plus, pastel portraits could be made relatively quickly and cheaply.

It seems that Phyfe was something of an eccentric who nevertheless was acceptable socially. And his approach to portrait photography of women was practical: scroll down the link for his hints to sitters.

As best I can judge, his pastel portraits were about par for the fan magazine cover course, lacking the pizazz of masters of that small art such as Rolf Armstrong. And his photos also strike me as being competent, but not in the Cecil Beaton or Edward Steichen league.

So that we have below are decently made period pieces, which make them interesting to me and perhaps you.


Bebe Daniels - 1923

Gloria Swanson - 1923

Gilda Gray - 1926

Colleen Moore - 1927

Billie Burke
Phyfe was one of Florenz Ziegfeld's photographers by 1930, but he made this pastel of Ziegfeld's wife Billie Burke for what seems to be a Follies promotional piece or program cover.

Photo in perfume ad - c.1926

Clara Bow - 1932

Marian Nixon

Una Merkel

Friday, July 26, 2013

United States Cruisers 1900-1950

From the early 1900s into the 1950s, combat vessel types were largely understandable to the part of general public that paid at least a little attention to naval matters. As technology changed, new classes appeared, but types prominent during that period included torpedo boats, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, battlecruisers, battleships and aircraft carriers. Nowadays, matters are less clear, but that is a subject for another post on (probably) another blog.

The most controversial class was the battlecruiser, initially a fast, heavily armed but less well armored kind of battleship. British battlecruiser losses during the Battle of Jutland in 1916 cast doubt on the battlecruiser concept. And by the late 1930s, a new generation of battleships appeared that were fast as well as strongly armed and armored, thus eliminating the justification for the battlecruiser class.

Cruisers were not controversial, but problematical. And what was problematical was how to conceptualize suitable designs to fit a variety of potential roles within the constraint of naval construction budgets and constraints imposed during the inter-war period when naval limitation treaties were in effect. For example, cruisers were useful for "showing the flag" and maintaining a degree of peace and order in dangerous parts of the world; this was a major role for Royal Navy cruisers stationed far from the United Kingdom. Cruisers could be useful as commerce raiders, something that appealed to the German navy. Cruisers could be useful for sweeping commerce raiders from the sea. Cruisers were useful as long-range scouts for a battleship fleet. Cruisers were useful for screening battleship fleets and carrier task forces from attacks by enemy cruisers and torpedo-armed destroyers. They were useful for providing anti-aircraft protection for fleets and task forces.

The trouble was, one kind of cruiser did not equally satisfy all those tasks. Those naval treaties eventually codified two kinds of cruisers, light and heavy, the difference being in their armament. Light cruisers were limited to 6-inch (about 15 cm) guns that usually were fast-firing, smothering their target with shellfire. Heavy cruisers could have 8-inch (about 20 cm) guns that would be effective against similarly armed opponents, but had a comparatively slow rate of fire that made them less effective for close-range, rapidly moving combat. How many of each kind of cruiser should a navy build?

The American navy was at a disadvantage compared to other navies due to treaty weight restrictions. This was because US cruisers had to be able to operate at Pacific Ocean distances and potential opponents' cruisers could be shorter-range. Given the treaty limit of 10,000 tons displacement, American cruisers had to sacrifice some combination of armor, speed (related to power plant weight) or armament in order to make room (and weight) for attaining those long cruising ranges.

Until World War 2 when the aircraft carrier emerged as the most important kind of warship, battleships were the decisive element of naval power. Cruisers were always secondary, given their support roles noted above.

Yet to the general public, it could be hard to tell cruisers apart from battleships when casually viewing them. That was in part because they tended to look similar to each other and different from destroyers, aircraft carriers and such. Another factor is that cruisers tend to be long -- as long or longer than battleships, even. Although they were long, they were narrower than battleships because they had to have a high fineness ratio (length divided by width) to attain high speeds. And so they weighed considerably less than battleships of similar length, having less armor and smaller, lighter guns as well as the less width.

Cruiser Alaska (top) and Battleship Missouri (below)

The photo above, taken in 1944, offers a comparison between America's largest class of battleship and its largest class of cruiser. The Alaska's overall length, 808 feet (246 m), is more than 9/10ths of the Missouri's 887 feet. And that 808 feet was greater than the length of the two other World War 2 classes of American battleships, the North Carolinas (729 feet) and the South Dakotas (680 feet) or of the last pre-treaty battleships such as the Arizona and California whose length was 600 feet.

Below are photos of American cruisers of the period 1900-1950. The ship number prefix CA means the ship is a heavy cruiser and a CL prefix designates a light cruiser. The Alaska is a CB, a special designation for cruisers with near-battleship characteristics (but does not mean "battlecruiser").


USS San Diego (CA 6)
The San Diego was originally named USS California but had to be re-named when the battleship California was ordered. Length was 505 feet (154 m). This was only 22 less than the length of the revolutionary battleship HMS Dreadnought that was laid down in 1905, three years after work began on the San Diego/California.

USS Omaha (CL 4)
Cruisers of this type appeared in the 1920s and did not look much like contemporary battleships. Note the spacing of the four smokestacks and that the main guns are well towards the bow and stern. Awkward looking, I'd say. Length was 556 feet.

USS Houston (CA 30)
The Houston was sunk early in World War 2 as part of a multinational force under Dutch command attempting to defend the East Indies from the Japanese assault. A nice looking ship of 600 feet total length (same as first-line battleships when it was commissioned in 1930).

USS Philadelphia (CL 41)
The Philadelphia was a Brooklyn class light cruiser commissioned in 1937. Its overall length was 608 feet, about the same as that of the heavy cruiser Houston. Armament was 15 6-inch guns. Three three-gun turrets are seen towards the bow. Note the the third turret is at the same level as the first, or forward turret. That meant that its guns could not be fired except in broadside.

USS Cleveland (CL 55)
The Cleveland was about the same length as the Philadelphia, but it had only 12 6-inch guns as main armament, the broadside-only turret having been eliminated.

USS Baltimore (CA 68)
The heavy cruiser Baltimore was 673 feet long and looks superficially similar to the battleships North Carolina and Washington.

USS Des Moines (CA 134)
The Des Moines was laid down in May 1945 but not commissioned until 1948. Its length was 716 feet, putting it in the general length range of the the North Carolina and South Dakota battleship classes.

USS Alaska (CB 1)
A more representational view of the Alaska.  Something was going on with the forward turret when this was taken.  It held three 12-inch guns, but only two are visible and one is raised higher than the other.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ettore Tito: The Last Really Good Painter from Venice?

A few hundred years ago, as this list suggests, Venice (and the hinterland it ruled) was host to a number of significant artists. These include Giovanni Bellini, Canaletto, Giambattista Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Titian and Paolo Veronese.

But Venice declined and its independence was finally snuffed out by Napoleon. So when we think of Venice, it is the city itself, which has been losing population for a long time and is now down to around 60,000. With such a small population base and its cadre of potential art patrons largely eliminated, it shouldn't be surprising that not many well-known Venice artists have turned up during the past couple of hundred years. One of the few exceptions to this dreary trend seems to have been Ettore Tito (1859-1941) who, as his Wikipedia entry indicates, spent most of his life in Venice.

I have to admit that I wasn't aware of Tito until recently, though I might have passed by some of his paintings while visiting art museums in Florence and Rome (the one time I went to Venice's Galleria dell'Accademia, it was closing early for a staff meeting!?!). This means I can't vouch that Tito's paintings are impressive when viewed in person. But they do look pretty good when seen on a computer screen, so let's take a look.


La fa la modela - 1884

Raggi di sole - 1892

Bolla di sapone - 1894

Chioggia - 1898

San Marco - 1899

Dopo la piaggia a Chioggia - 1905

La signora Pellegrini - 1910

Descent from the cross - 1911

Le Ondine - 1919

La contessa Malacrida - 1926

I maestri veneziani - 1937
This pays homage to the great painters from Venice.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Up Close: E.M. Jackson (2)

This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

The present post deals with Elbert McGran (E.M.) Jackson (1896-1962) who painted covers for leading American magazines such as Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. Another post about Jackson in this series is here. Biographical information regarding Jackson is sparse, and this is the most detailed I could locate through a brief Google search.

Featured here is an illustration titled "The Customs Inspector" for a March, 1930 cover of Collier's.

The source of the detail image is explained below:

* * * * *

The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with one showing detail. Click on the latter to enlarge.

* * * * *

A reference photo I took

I noted in the previous post that Jackson's illustrations have a crisp look when reduced to publication size and printed, yet are fairly freely painted. That holds for the illustration featured here; I include it in this series because I like the way he did the faces. One difference from the previously shown Jackson is that the background paint here is not cracking.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Neat Hanomag

I don't have any data to prove this (alas, and me a numbers guy!) but my impression is that very few low-price and mid-price European cars were imported to the United States in the 1930s. Those that were, were probably mostly occasional instances of personal cars purchased overseas and shipped home. And there might have been a few British cars that trickled over the border from Canada. That's why I have no recollection of seeing pre-World War 2 cars of that type driving around Seattle's streets when I was young. I would imagine that others didn't notice many or any either.

One result of this is that even American car buffs might be ignorant of lesser Europeans brands that faded before the post-war import boom. Which is unfortunate, because a number of those unknown (to Americans) brands had interesting styling.

One such make was Germany's Hanomag, briefly described here. To me, the most interestingly styled Hanomag was its 1.3 Litre car introduced in 1939. There are few images of that car on the Internet, but I did manage to find a useful trove here, three of which are shown below.


The Hanomag 1.3 Litre was a low-priced car intended to compete at the high side of Volkswagen (at the time, called KdF-Wagen after Hitler's Strength Through Joy movement) that had not yet entered regular production.

The (likely) publicity photo at the bottom shows the scale of the car -- quite small. Yet the stylists were able to craft a trim fastback with nicely integrated 30s style teardrop profile fenders. Note that there is no exterior running board, a touch just being introduced in the USA at the time. A more archaic feature is the split rear window ("backlight" in stylist-speak).  But that feature is justifiable because the splitter is an extension of the central wind split extending from the center bar of the grille over the hood, between the windshield panes and over the top.  For some reason, I'm a sucker for wind splits, so this gimmick is okay by me. Oh, and it adds visual interest without quite becoming clutter.

In summary, a neat design for a small car. And maybe some day I'll finally have the pleasure of seeing a Hanomag 1.3 in person.

A cross-post from Car Style Critic.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Peter Mcintyre: New Zealand War Artist and More

I suppose I'm just a spoilsport or even a contrarian (tee hee), but so far as I'm concerned, there is little or no need for the war or combat artist. Hasn't been such a need since the the 35mm Leica camera appeared in 1925. For the 80 or so years before that, photography existed, but cameras were generally too cumbersome to be taken into combat. So artists were hired to record military scenes more or less when they occurred and some of them along with other artists chronicled wars after the fact.

World War 2 war artists often used a sketchy, watercolor based style that had been fashionable in advertising illustration during the late 1930s. Nothing really wrong with that. Except many of those artists didn't depict military equipment convincingly, so the combination of free style and sloppy drawing makes such depictions useless to me and perhaps others who care about accuracy.

One war artist who did a decent job was New Zealander Peter Mcintyre (1910-1995). Biographical information on Mcintyre can be found here, though the writer unnecessarily lets his modernist bias show.

Mcintyre strikes me as having been a solid artist who incorporated modernist simplifications in some of his works, but did not usually take them very far. From a technical standpoint, in a number of instances his oil and watercolor paintings have a similar appearance, at least when seen on a computer screen. In his war work Mcintyre does best depicting people, falling down a little sometimes when dealing with airplanes and tanks.


Photo of Peter Mcintyre - 1958
Nice, strong self-portrait. Better yet, it seems quite accurate when compared to the photo that was probably taken later.

The Alert at Dawn, 27th Machine Gun Battalion in Greece, April 1941
La Mitrailleuse by Christopher R.W. Nevinson - 1915
Another comparison just for the hell of it. Below is Nevinson's iconic take on French machine gunners. Mcintyre might have been aware of the Nevinson painting, but his version is pretty static and undramatic. Perhaps that's the way it really was when he passed by the team.

Forward Dressing Station Near Meleme (Crete)
Mcintyre was a war artist for the New Zealand army which saw most of its action in Greece, North Africa and Italy during World War 2.

Major General Sir Bernard Freyberg, VC, 28 March 1943
New Zealand commander.

Wounded, Tobruk

Long Range Desert Group

Breakout from Minqar Qa'im

Bombing of Cassino Monastery and Town, May 1944
The source for this image states that it was done in oil paints.

A New Zealand scene done in watercolor.

Grey Day, Hong Kong