Friday, January 30, 2015

Arthur Bowen Davies: Inconsistent Modernist

This post about Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928) is rather brief because I couldn't find many useful examples of his work on the Internet.

It seems that Davies, obscure today, was well-known and made a good living as an artist. Plus, it seems he had an interesting life, having one legal wife along with another, secret, de facto one, both with his children. This and his artistic career are well-covered here, here and here.

From what I've seen, I'd rate Davies as a Symbolist -- his painting owned by New York's Met featuring unicorns, and many other works dealing with dancers. Especially during the 20th century's 'teen years, he plunged into modernist styles, though not deeply or completely. Apparently this cut down his sales, so he shifted back to more clearly representational paintings in the 1920s.

For what my opinion might be worth, I saw no Davies painting that struck my fancy.


Unicorns (Legend - Sea Calm) - 1906

Air, Light, and Wave - ca. 1914-17

Figures in a Landscape

The Dancers
This is in the Phillips Collection for some reason.

The Dawning - 1915

I think this is a Davies, but the Web information on it is sketchy.

Italian Hill Town - Ca. 1925
Here he is back to representational painting.

Heliodora - 1926

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Edward Cucuel's Lounging Women in White

Edward Cucuel (1875-1954) was born and died in California. But his parents were German, and he spent much of his career there following training in Paris and flitting back and forth to the States. He left Germany for good when World War 2 started. These and other details of his life can be found here and here.

The second source mentions that Cucuel, who mostly portrayed attractive young women, used family members and friends rather than professional models. To judge from his body of work (just Google on his name and then go to Images), his friends must have been dear and the family members very obliging. That's because he did painting after painting showing a pretty woman in white dress, lounging around so that plenty of leg above her white hose was showing and, by the way, part of the top had fallen away to expose a small breast. I show only one of the latter below, the rest indicating other subjects he painted.


Picking Flowers
Some of his ladies were fully dressed and not wearing white.

M├Ądchen in einem Interieur
Although the title I found for this is in German, it was probably painted around 1950 when Cucuel lived in Pasadena.

Picnic on the Starnberger See
This painting seems a bit more hard-edge than some of the others, but that might be due simply to size.

Die Badenixen

Wood Nymph
Flatter than most his his paintings. If the tree trunk were less modeled, that would be an improvement to what already is an interesting work.

Young woman on dock
The perspective of the sailboat is highly distorted -- for no good reason, in my opinion.

Young woman reading in garden

Young woman sleeping, parasol
Were I female and dressed like that, I'm not sure I'd want to flop on the grass.

Young woman sleeping on a sofa
One of many of this general theme.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New Robert McGinnis Book

This is the cover of a recently published book about illustrator Robert McGinnis (1926- ) and his works.

And this is another book dealing with McGinnis by the same author that was published in 2001. I happen to happen a copy of each, so they will be dealt with in this post. A brief Wikipedia entry on McGinnis is here, and his Web site is here.

McGinnis is what is called an "all-rounder" in that he can depict almost anything well -- landscapes, cars, sailing ships. Also, by the way, lanky, sensuous, intelligent and fascinating women -- usually lacking in clothing. He painted hundreds of the latter because the major part of his career was doing cover art for paperback books, and a "good" cover from the standpoint of a publisher was a cover that could attract potential readers and entice them to buy the book. Since many paperback books deal with murder mysteries, romance, and such, McGinnis' subjects were usually women. He was very, very good at it.

McGinnis' women almost always are tall, long-legged and well endowed where it counts. They also have distinct personalities. None of the usual cookie-cutter generic pretty girl solutions for McGinnis: his women often had unconventional faces (for instance, Shere Hite was a frequent model early in his career). As the recent book mentions, in many respects McGinnis was doing portraits.

He generally used gouache or tempera on smooth-surface supports for the book illustrations and worked comparatively small -- about twice the size of the printed version, which is not large where paperback books are concerned.

The recent book has a large format, allowing readers to get a reasonably good feeling for McGinnis' painting style. It also had a Q&A with McGinnis that is brief, but interesting. He reveals what illustrator most influenced him when he was getting started doing book covers and tells who his favorite painter is.

One defect of the new book is that reference photos are nearly absent. Another is that nothing is said regarding his technique or approach when making book cover illustrations, though some study sketches are included. Moreover, McGinnis is a skilled colorist, and his thoughts on that would be very useful to learn. Admittedly, these matters are mostly of interest to fellow artists, and perhaps the book was intended for for non-artist McGinnis fans.

The earlier book has a few more reference photos, but they are tiny. And many illustrations and book cover images are small. Again, nothing much on how McGinnis worked. Still, the earlier book is interesting and useful for the likes of artistic McGinnis fans such as me.


Never Kill a Client - cover art - 1963
Strange, interesting background here.  Did he draw it in pen and ink and then paint a wash over it?

Murder Me for Nickels - cover art (cropped at the bottom) - 1960
Again, plenty of interesting textural effects.

Girl on the Tower - Saturday Evening Post - 24 September 1960
At this point, even the Post was allowing a casual, partly unfinished style for story illustrations.

Slab Happy - cover art - 1973
A subject without a conventionally pretty face.  The new book includes a reference photo showing that McGinnis did indeed portray his model's face -- but enhanced her elsewhere.

Some Like It Cool - cover art - 1962
Did I just mention that McGinnis was a skilled colorist?

John Wayne in "The Searchers"
He didn't always paint pretty girls, even when doing movie industry work.

Guideposts magazine illustration
This hints at his landscape style.

The Return - cover art
A rather unusual McGinnis here.  Aside from the treatment of the church and hills in the background, it looks like he was suffering from Bernie Fuchs envy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Brian Cook: Illustrator and Parliament Member

The poster-like illustration above is probably book cover or poster art by Brian Caldwell Cook Batsford (1910-1991), something apparently innovative in its day and now considered collectible.

A brief Wikipedia entry on Cook is here, and a better, much more detailed biographical sketch is here.

It seems that Cook was a bored student in school whose only interest was painting. His grades were so mediocre that university was out of the question for him. Fortunately, an uncle was a publisher, so Cook went to work at Batsford's, a firm he eventually led. He added Batsford to his name after leaving the RAF after World War 2 when he returned to the firm. Cook created many wraparound book covers for Batsford as well as posters for others.

On the side, he was a Tory parliamentarian and eventually was knighted.


The front cover of a book I'm currently reading that deals with the London of 1932. Missing is the bloc containing the writer's name (Paul Cohen-Portheim).  The orange stripe at the right is not on my copy.

Here are examples of wrap-around book covers illustrated by Cook.

Cook didn't always do landscapes and cityscapes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Golden Years: John La Gatta

One of the most successful American illustrators of the 1930s was John La Gatta (1894-1977). His last name is also rendered as LaGatta, the way it usually seemed to appear in his distinctive signature block. But I see where his son has it as La Gatta, so I will use that version here even though I'll likely slip back to LaGatta in other posts dealing with him.

La Gatta was born in Naples, Italy, and came to America when he was a young boy. His art training was at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. By the early 1920s he had begun to establish a reputation as an illustrator of beautiful women, and from the mid-20s through most of the 1930s his career was at its peak. His earnings allowed him to live on the posh North Shore of Long Island and own a yacht. More about his life and career can be found here, here and here.

Unlike many 1920s vintage illustrators, and perhaps because in some sense he was a fashion artist, he relied heavily on drawing with charcoal or other drawing tools, adding color when required using water-based or thinned oil paint washes. Examples of this classic La Gatta style are shown below. Of course, he also used other styles and media when called for, and I might deal with that in another post.


Fashion drawing - early 1920s

Life cover - 27 October 1927

Fancy dress couple - 1929

Life cover - 11 January 1929

"Great Gatsby" scene

Laros Lingerie advertising art

Ladies' Home Journal cover - March 1933

Ladies' Home Journal cover - October 1932

Young lady drinking tea - late 1930s?

Saturday Evening Post cover - 5 July 1930

"Milk and Honey" illustration - March 1933

La Gatta's iconic illustration

Monday, January 19, 2015

JJ Shannon's Portrait Art

James Jebusa Shannon (1862-1923) was born in New York State, the child of Irish immigrants. The family moved to Canada a few years later, and when Shannon's artistic abilities became obvious he was sent to London for training at South Kensington.  Thereafter, he worked mostly in England, became a member of the Royal Academy and was knighted at some point along the way. Biographical and other information can be found here, here and here.

There were many very good portrait painters in England during Shannon's time, John Singer Sargent being the best known. Perhaps for that reason Shannon does not easily come to mind. I think that is unfortunate because he made attractive likenesses using a nice painterly touch. Take a look:


Ruby Miller

Estelle - 1886

Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland - c.1890

Lady Violet, Duchess of Rutland

Violet Lindsay, Duchess of Rutland - 1918
Three portraits of the Duchess of Rutland, painted at various times.

Mary, Princess Royal - 1914
Mary was the only daughter of King George V.

Marjory Manners, later Marchioness of Anglesey

The Sevres Vase

Mary Gascoigne-Cecil when Marchioness of Hartington - c.1917-18

Blessed Are They (unfinished)