Monday, March 30, 2015

Howard Chandler Christy Painted the Gamut

Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) won fame illustrating scenes from the Spanish-American War, solidified his status by creating the "Christy Girl" in his illustrations, did posters to help the U.S. effort in the Great War, painted saucy nudes to decorate bars, made portraits of famous people and spent more than two years creating a huge painting for the U.S. Capitol Building. He was a fortunate artist to have experienced great professional success in his lifetime; posthumous fame strikes me as being sad.

A brief Wikipedia entry about Christy is here, a longer illustrated link is here and a Society of Illustrators tribute to him is here.

Part of his training was under William Merritt Chase, a grounding that must have enhanced his versatility, the facility that gained him success in the variety of undertakings noted above.


Rough Riders illustration
This seems to be a scan from a book published soon after the war in Cuba ended.

The Puritan Girl - book illustration - 1911

Navy Recruiting poster - ca. 1917

Liberty Loan poster - 1917

Angel of Mercy - 1922
A wartime scene, but I'm not sure whether it was for a story or another purpose. Christy was highly skilled using water media.

Late Night Conversation - 1923
A story illustration that looks like it was done using pen and brush.

Grace Coolidge portrait - 1924
She was the wife of the U.S. President, Calvin Coolidge.

Self-portrait with model - ca. 1935
Did I mention that he liked to paint saucy nudes?

Publicity photo of Christy and model
The model standing at the left of the easel is draped a little, but the image on the canvas is draped not at all.

The Signing of the Constitution of the United States - 1940
This huge painting is in the United States' Capitol Building.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Edward Penfield and His Poster Style

Edward Penfield (1866-1925) is considered America's first great poster artist. His Wikipedia entry is here, a chronology of his life and career is here and a Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame appreciation is here.

His posters and magazine covers might seem pretty tame today, but they were striking when they first rolled off the presses. His basic style was cloisonniste, using dark outlines with areas filled in using flat colors. However, Penfield's outlines tended to be on the thin side, so the impression generated was more like a conventional illustration than something with a more designed look that thick outlines might have yielded.


Harper's poster - August 1897
That's a semi-enclosed beach chair next to the girl, with beach houses and a boardwalk in the background. Harper's was and is a magazine, and Penfield was one of its art directors for about ten years during the 1890s and designed and illustrated many of its publicity posters.

Collier's cover - 28(?) April 1902
Just in time for the start of baseball season.

Pierce-Arrow advertising - ca. 1907
Pierce-Arrow was an American luxury automobile maker whose fortunes steadily declined after the Great War of 1914-18.  Here, it was in its heyday.

Penn and Cornell athletes - ca. 1907
Similar posters were done for some other Ivy schools. In all cases, we view huge bodies and comparatively tiny heads.

Collier's cover - 10 October 1914
This seems to be in reaction to the start of the Great War in August of 1914, even though the USA was not yet at war.

Collier's cover art, ca. 1918
The caption on the Web where I found this indicated that it was for Collier's, but I can't yet verify that.  Again, the heads are a bit too small.

Washington's Birthday Holiday poster

Saturday Evening Post cover - 4 March 1905
This is interesting because here Penfield did not use his usual flat, poster style of illustration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wyndham Lewis' Excellent Modernist Portraits

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) divided his career between art and writing, winning esteem and controversy in both fields, but not a lot of money. By his late 50s he was undergoing serious bladder operations. Not long after, a growing pituitary tumor degraded his optic nerves to the point that in 1951 he announced that he had gone blind. Myself having had a vision scare recently, I have an inkling of the horror he must have experienced. (It turns out that a tentative diagnosis of macular degeneration was false, and my problem was almost entirely fixed by surgery.)

As for his art, Lewis was a vocal modernist in traditional England, promoting Vorticism, a form of Cubism around the time of the outbreak of the Great War. This was in part through his own works and also via his publication "Blast." More biographical information can be found here.

For this post, I'm setting aside his Vorticist work to focus on his portraiture. This was highlighted in a 2008 exhibit at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Early in his career Lewis considered himself a modernist, one of those self-anointeds who were to remake just about everything, including art. But by the late 1930s he conceded that things weren't working out as intended. And as early as 1919, Lewis' portrait drawings were an interesting blend of modernist simplification and accurate portrayal. His subjects' appearances and personalities show strongly in part because simplification was only lightly applied and tended to be dominated by his sure control of line. This ability resulted in drawings that usually outshone his painted portraits.


Ezra Pound - 1919
Lewis and the poet were good friends when this drawing was made.

James Joyce - 1921
Lewis did several portrait drawings of Joyce.

Edith Sitwell - 1921
His drawings of Sitwell eventually led to a painted portrait that I included in this post (scroll down).

Girl Seated (Gladys Anne Hoskins) - 1922
Lewis married Hoskins in 1930. She was called "Froanna" by then, but mostly remained in the background while Lewis was alive.

Augustus John - 1932
Portrait of a fellow portrait artist.

Dorothy Alexander (Lady Harmsworth) - 1932

Dame Edith Evans - 1932

Rebecca West - 1932
Lewis and West were miles apart politically, but got along personally.

Girl Reading (Froanna) - 1936

Froanna - 1937

T.S. Eliot - 1938
This, and his portrait of Sitwell, are perhaps Lewis' best-known portrait paintings.

Miss Close - 1939
I'm not sure who the sitter is, but include this because it was painted only a few years before he realized that he was starting to go blind.  Lewis continued to paint while he was able, but quality began to fall away.

Monday, March 23, 2015

F.R. Gruger: Black & White Master

Frederic Rodrigo (F.R.) Gruger (1871-1953) was a prolific and highly respected illustrator whose career was at its zenith during the 1920s and early 1930s. In those days, most story illustrations (as opposed to magazine covers) appeared in black and white or sometimes duotone. So Gruger generally used monochrome media such as soft pencils, pen and ink, and washes. At times he did illustrate in color, as we'll see below, but he is mostly remembered for his monochrome work.

Gruger was inducted into the Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame in 1981. A biographical citation is here. David Apatoff posted a series of articles about Gruger here, here, here, here, here and here and, as usual, makes excellent observations. Another worthwhile Web page dealing with Gruger is here.


Illustration for the book "Manslaughter" by Alice Duer Miller - 1921
This seems to have been done entirely in pencil.

It seems to be dealing with ghosts from different eras and places.

Gruger also used watercolor or lampblack washes.

Note how sketchily done most objects are here.  The viewer will therefore probably focus on the two faces and maybe the girl's knee.

Perhaps a speakeasy nightclub scene. Compare to Henry Raleigh's party scenes. Different styles, but equally compelling. Makes me wish I was there.

Illustration for "He'll Come Home" - Saturday Evening Post - 16 March 1929
More lightly done than many of his illustrations.


Illustration for "Show Boat" by Edna Ferber - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926

Color illustration for "Show Boat" - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926
Yes, Gruger also could do color. This is a scan from Benjamin B. Pearlman's biography of Gruger, "The Golden Age of American Illustration: F.R. Gruger and His Circle" North Light Publishers, 1978. The image in the book was itself scanned from a copy of the magazine because the original art could not be found. Therefore, the quality is not good and the color might have shifted due to aging of the magazine page.

"Show Boat" - Kelly Collection
The Kelly site dates this as 1903 (as of the time I captured the image), but 1925 should be a better estimate. The publication image is below. But might this actually be the presumably lost original? Although the colors differ (they seem thinner here, for one thing), examination of the line work, shading, and other details show that it is the same as the final version. Could colors have been altered during printing preparation?

Color illustration for "Show Boat" - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926
I like this illustration a lot due to the delineation quality -- the variation in line weights and such. The remarks for the first scan, above, also apply here. Moreover, both images have been slightly cropped.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Molti Ritratti: Nancy Cunard

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) was a rich heiress of the kind who led a messy, self-destructive life that ended in poverty, alcoholism and a degree of insanity. I speculate that, because she reached maturity when Modernism (and its rejection of the past and quest for a fabulous, new, to-be-determined-by-the-Modernist-elect, future) was becoming fashionable, this made things even worse than they might have otherwise been.

I'll spare you more details of her foolishness, but this link provides the basics.

Cunard's portraits were mostly photographic, but a few were painted. Here are examples of both:


By Man Ray (un-cropped version)
This seems to be a contact print.  Man Ray tended to cut the bottom at or just below her left elbow.

By Cecil Beaton
A fashion magazine image.

By Cecil Beaton - ca. 1930
This is one example from several taken at one shoot.  Probably not used for publication, as others were better.

By Ambrose McEvoy - ca. 1925
Doesn't really look like her.  Plus, I don't see her trademark bangles.

By Alvaro Guerva
A Russian look, but that was in fashion during the early 1920s.

By John Banting
Edging towards Surrealism, but a few bangles still show up.

By Oskar Kokoshka - 1924
A mess of a painting.

By Wyndham Lewis - 1922
Several sources mention that Lewis and Cunard were having an affair that year. This bangle-free drawing exhibits his skill in judicious modernist simplification that nevertheless retains the character of the portrait subject.