Friday, February 28, 2014

John Singer Sargent: Same Subject, Different Media

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) probably needs no introduction to Art Contrarian readers. A painting of his that I would really like to see in person is the subject of the present post.

Fumée d'Ambre Gris - 1880
It is part of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute collection, whose description of it is here. Unfortunately for me, I seldom get to Massachusetts, so my chance of viewing the painting in person seems pretty slim. Yet I once spent more than four years in not-so-far-away Albany, New York -- but that was when I was still brainwashed by modernist propaganda and thought the Clark not worth visiting, if I had been aware of it at all.

Perhaps even more embarrassing, in recent times I was unaware that Sargent created some studies for it, including a watercolor now held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. I've visited the Gardner, but (once again!!) failed to notice it (that is, if it had actually been on display at the time).

Here it is:

Incensing the Veil - c. 1880

A rambling discourse on Sergent's painting and the substance ambergris is here, and some supporting images are here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Logan Maxwell Hagege's Retro Deco Southwest

Do you have a soft spot for those 1920s vintage railroad posters from the likes of the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads? I certainly do.

That also seems to be the case for Los Angeles based artist Logan Maxwell Hagege, who has made a great many paintings in the spirit of those posters. His web site is here, and a short biographical sketch here.

Hagege's images are carefully designed, often making use of profile views of his subjects (it can be easier to turn a profile into design elements than trying the same from, say, a three-quarter view). And since he returns often to the same subjects, viewing a large number of his paintings at once can cause a fall-off of interest. However (not having seen one of his paintings in person), I think having only one hanging in a suitable wall, might be quite nice for some of us retro fans.


Striped Blanket

Above the Mountains

Light on the Round Clouds

The Storm Clears

Evening Song

Mesa Near Hopi Land

Images of Hagege at work

Monday, February 24, 2014

Édouard Detaille: War Artist of the Third Republic

Even though France was humiliated in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian War, paintings featuring military subjects were popular in France during the early decades of the Third Republic. Perhaps the most prolific artist of that genre was Jean-Baptiste Édouard Detaille (1848-1912), who had a reputation for thorough research on details of uniforms, weapons and battles of both the Napoleonic era and 1870 and its aftermath. His Wikipedia entry is here.

Perhaps because he churned out so many drawings and paintings, a few being huge dioramas, I find them not usually satisfying as works of art. I mostly prefer the work of his contemporary, Alphonse de Neuville, who I wrote about here.


Photo of Detaille at work
Here he is, dabbing away on a huge canvas. Many human figures, horses and other items to depict, and he probably didn't have the time to paint them with thought and care. Yet this sort of painting was what he was known for, so he kept making them.

Le rêve - 1888
This immense painting was on display at the Musée d'Orsay when I visited last September. It shows bivouacing contemporary (or 1870) French soldiers dreaming of the gloire of their Napoleonic forebears. Despite its size, it doesn't seem to have been as rushed as some of his other works, which is perhaps why the Orsay displayed it.

Charge de Mosbronn - 1870 war

The Charge at Friedland - 1894

La salu aux blessés - 1877
Saluting the wounded.

Mounted First Empire Dragoons

I don't know if this was an elaborate sketch or a finished work. Regardless, as best I can tell from this digital image, it's nicely done. Apparently when he wasn't painting vast action scenes, Detaille was able to focus and show us what he was capable of.

Un officier des cuirassiers, fin 19eme
Another portrait of sorts, but a crowd of soldiers and horses manage to intrude as background.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Roy Doty, Charming Cartoonist

As of the time I'm drafting this post, Roy Doty (1922 - ) is still alive and presumably making cartoons and illustrations, something he has been doing at a top professional level since the late 1940s. Information about him can be found here, here, here and here.

The classic Doty style involves clean, thin lines punctuated by solid areas of black and/or other colors. Sometimes compositions are simple, yet others can be complicated crowd scenes.

I find it interesting that illustrators who cartoon seem to have career staying-power, especially if they have a distinctive style popular with viewers. This is compared to illustrators in general, who can become victims of their signature style when it goes out of fashion or else are forced to change styles to keep commissions coming.

Here is a Doty sampling.

Promotional ad for Life Magazine - 1953

Autobiography - click to enlarge

Wordless Workshop - a comics series

In House Beautiful - 1949

Apparently from an Art Directors Club of New York annual

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Frank Wootton's Poster Art

Frank Wootton (1911-1998) is best known for his aircraft and automobile paintings and illustrations, but he also painted landscapes and illustrated travel posters, among other projects. The main biographical information I found on the Web was this obituary from the Independent that incorrectly has his birth year as 1914.

Wootton's poster work was done in a nice, clear style that nevertheless included plenty of detail to add visual interest.  His posters for air travel tend to have compositions where the main subject matter is curiously peripheral. Well, maybe not so curious after all, because a tiny image of an airliner can be found in those big, otherwise blank skies.


Wootton did a few posters for Britain's nationalized railway system after World War 2.

This is his painting for a poster titled "By Rail to Wales."

Below are some posters illustrated for BOAC, Britain's main international airline of the 1950s.

The poster immediately above is a personal favorite because I've always liked the way Wootton handled highlights on his automobile illustrations. The scene itself seems to be imaginary, an evocation of New York-ness from a foreign perspective. The cars are also imaginary, but suggestive of General Motors styling from around 1950. Wootton chose to portray American cars as being lower than they actually were in those days.

Monday, February 17, 2014

"The Cornish Wonder": John Opie

Joshua Reynolds dominated the English portrait painting scene in the 18th century, with Thomas Gainsborough as his most serious rival. That's my 21st century impression, anyhow.

But in those pre-photography days there was plenty of demand for portraits, and Reynolds and Gainsborough could not satisfy it by themselves. There were many other artists at work in that field, some competent, others not so much. One of the fairly competent ones was John Opie (1761-1807) who died young and was buried next to Reynolds in Westminster Abbey, a sign of the esteem he was held in his day.

I sheepishly admit that I was ignorant of Opie until I noticed a portrait by him that was used as the cover illustration for a book published by Barnes & Noble. So I did a little research, turning up biographical information here and here. I also discovered plenty of images of his works on the Internet, a few of which are presented below.

He tended to place his subjects against dark backgrounds, giving his portraits a dramatic quality that probably helped distract from the fact that his drawing was sometimes slightly flawed. That said, Opie was better than most of his competitors.


Self-Portrait - 1785

Self-Portrait - 1805

The Murder of Rizzio - 1787

A Country Girl

Mary Wollstonecraft - c.1797

Elizabeth Searle as Miranda

Portrait of a Young Man

Amelia Opie - 1798

Friday, February 14, 2014

Simon Elwes: "Downton Abbey" Portrait and Others

Downton Abbey has been the hot television show for several seasons now, an addiction for many people, including my wife. I have never watched it, and lack motivation to do so.

But I keep my eyes peeled, as a blogger should.

For example, I've been noticing this book (described here in the Daily Mail). Actually, what I really notice is the portrait on the cover. A little Googling revealed that the painter was Lt. Col. Simon Edmund Vincent Paul Elwes (1902-1975). A usefully long Wikipedia entry about him is here.

Elwes is yet another of those born-in-the-twentieth-century British painters I was ignorant of. From the Wikipedia entry, he was well regarded in many of the right circles. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke that nearly killed him and resulted in permanent inability to use his right hand. But he fought back, eventually learning to paint left-handed. This needs to be kept in mind when assessing his work.


Catherine, Lady Carnarvon - 1920s
This is the source painting for the book cover image. As usual, images from the Internet (and in print) are inconsistent as to color; I'm guessing that the book cover colors are true. The painting as a whole doesn't impress me (the background that, combined with the dress, yields a huge, nearly uniform, boring mass). What I like very much is the treatment of the face.

Elizabeth Smiley - c. 1930

Katherine Hariot Kinloch - 1939

Valerie Albu - 1950
Painted using his left hand following the 1945 stroke.

John Munro Kerr - 1954

The Field Marshal, Earl Wavell - 1959

Setting aside the post-1945 paintings, I have to say that Elwes' portraits do not impress me. They tend to be too artificial looking with some not very well drawn details. Except for the one on the book cover: love the face.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rico Tomaso: Edge-of-the-Radar Illustrator

Rico Tomaso (1898-1985) was active when mass-circulation "glossy" (referring to printing stock) magazines were riding high and illustration was still king. Maybe that has to do with why he is nearly unknown today. There were plenty of illustrators at work then including many of the best ever, and while Tomaso was very good, he wasn't quite top-tier. Or perhaps his luck wasn't quite as good as some more famous illustrators who weren't as talented (I could name names, but leave that as an exercise for you readers for now).

A side-effect is that there is little biographical information available on the Internet regarding Tomaso. His Wikipedia entry relies heavily on a tiny entry in one of Walt Reed's books on illustrators. It mentions that Tomaso was a teacher as well as an active illustrator, and that he also did fine art painting.

Therefore, all I can do for now is present for your evaluation some images of his that I could find on the Internet.


An Introduction

Flamenco dancer

Man wearing pith helmet

Men's hat industry advertisement - 1952

Indian Wedding
This was one of a series depicting weddings in different parts of the world.

Star Light, Star Bright
Successful illustrators often had to change their style to keep up with fashions in the field. This 1940s vintage illustration reminds me of Harry Anderson's work at that time.  I like the colors and brushwork.

Center of Attention - 1934
Very nice early-1930s upper-crust atmosphere here. Yes, there was a Depression going on, but Hollywood, Broadway and the slick magazines didn't lose their audience when they ignored it.