Monday, August 31, 2015

1930s Speed Lines

As the fields of industrial design and automobile styling were ramping up in the 1930s, streamlining became something of a fad. Later observers giggled at streamlining of non-mobile objects such as pencil sharpeners that never required aerodynamic efficiency for basic operation. Perhaps this was in reaction to some proselytizing by new industrial designers who claimed in effect that form that followed function would be beautiful and, by the way, sell well.

A more modest concurrent public relations and client sales approach was to "clean up" fussy, engineering-inspired design of the past. Here again, the results would be stronger sales in an era of depressed economy.

Theory and ideology aside, most designers recognized by mid-decade that to some extent they were in the fashion business because clients were soon asking them to "freshen" or even redesign products that had been touted as being purely function-driven.

As for streamlining, aircraft increasingly were becoming strongly streamlined, especially those made of metal. By around the 1934 model year, automobiles began to be designed with reference to serious concerns for aerodynamic efficiency (as they are to a far greater degree now). A famous case in point was the 1934 Chrysler Airflow.

But for various reasons, not all cars were given more than superficial streamlining in those days. Often streamline-like decor was added to provide a sense of streamlining. Furthermore, industrial designers and architects also included hints of streamlining in buildings and products.

In this post, I present examples of "speed lines" -- parallel ornamentation shapes suggesting airflow passing along or over the basic shape of the object. A fad, but in retrospect, a fun and basically harmless one.


1934 Chevrolet - Barrett-Jackson auction photo
Modest speed lines can be seen along the side of the hood and rear wheel skirt.

1934 Nash
Speed lines here are more elaborate, being found on front and rear fender valances and atop the hood.

Chrysler Airflow facelift proposal - ca. 1934-35
By Norman Bel Geddes. This unused proposal featured grooves along most of the car.

Taxi design - 1938
By Raymond Loewy. Multiple, stacked bumpers also serve as speed lines.

Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 locomotive by Loewy - 1939
An addition to some actual streamlining at the front of the boiler section, Loewy added speed lines wrapping around the front and sides. That's Loewy in the photo.

Sears Coldspot refrigerator by Loewy - 1935
An early Loewy design with vertical speed lines.

Air-King Products radio - 1930-33
Designed by John Gordon Rideout and Harold van Doren. Plenty of parallel lines along with some skyscraper-inspired massing of the body. Photo from Brooklyn Museum.

Kodak Baby Brownie camera - 1935
By Walter Dorwin Teague. More than most early industrial designers, Teague liked parallel speed line décor.

Sparton 517-B radio by Teague - 1936

Texaco Type C filling station by Teague - ca. 1936
Streamlining is evoked here in the curved shapes associated with the overhang. Speed lines wrap around the building.

1942 Chrysler
Now it's the early 1940s, but Chrysler stylists gave their 1942 model one final, heavy, pre-war dose of speed lines.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Molti Ritratti: Lady Mary, Baroness Curzon of Kedleston

Mary Victoria Leiter (1870-1906), later Vicereine of India (1898-1905) and holding the title Baroness Curzon of Kedleston, was from Chicago, born about the time of my paternal grandmother, also in Chicago. Unlike my grandmother, she came from a wealthy, well-connected mercantile family. This information and more can be found here.

Unfortunately, she died young, and sat for few portraits.


Photo (cropped) - 1903

Mary Victoria Leiter by Alexandre Cabanel - 1887
Painted when she was in her teens and not long before the artist's death in 1889.

Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1902
In the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Lenbach (1836-1904) was a prominent painter based in Munich and noted for the many portraits he painted of Otto von Bismarck. He painted at least three portraits of Mary Curzon, two of which, including this one, might be considered studies.

Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1901
This Lenbach portrait is in the collection of the Washington, D.C. National Portrait Gallery. This can be considered a finished portrait.

Mary, Baroness Curzon by Franz von Lenbach - 1901
I get to view this portrait (study?) by Lenbach fairly often because it can be found in Seattle's Frye Art Museum.

Posthumous portrait by William Logsdail - 1909

Monday, August 24, 2015

James W. Williamson's Charming Ford Model A Ads

The Ford Model A advertisement shown above was illustrated by James W. Williamson (1899-1978), a self-taught artist with a degree from Yale.

Ford had been building its famed Model T for many years, but by the mid-1920s its market share was being eroded by more modern competing cars. Eventually, even the stubborn Henry Ford had to concede that the T had to be replaced, as this Wikipedia entry indicates.

The new Ford required a new marketing approach, so in 1927 the famous N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency from Philadelphia was hired to create advertising for the forthcoming Model A. In those days, most car ads did not use photography, so an artist needed to be selected. Henry's son Edsel was impressed by Williamson's work and had him hired as the advertising artist.

Williamson had a successful career stretching from the 1920s to the 1950s, though it was at its peak during the 20s and 30s. I could find little regarding him on the Internet aside from this biographical note. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1984, but their Web site contains no biography of him.

One thing that interests me regarding Ford Model A advertisements is that, although it was a low-priced car, the artwork usually showed Model A's in upper-class settings (note the floatplane in the image above). Moreover, many of the ads were placed in women's-interest magazines.

As for Williamson, he used a clean style and included charming, sometimes humorous details in his illustrations. And 85 years later, they provide a window into the life of a different, and possibly better, time.


* * * * * Cross-posted at Car Style Critic * * * * *

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Early Examples of the Corner Window

The above photo was taken of a Seattle neighborhood in 1947. Look closely at the house on the left. At the far left side of it you will notice a corner window. Corner windows were fashionable features on houses of this style built in Washington State around 1940-1947. The 1947-vintage house I live in has a corner window. They were popular elsewhere at that time; I vaguely recall seeing a cartoon of a man sawing at a house to create a corner window and having the corner of the building collapse as a result.

I didn't do research to determine where the first corner window appeared. So far as those 1940s tract houses are concerned, I would say that their windows were inspired by some modernist houses built twenty or so years earlier. Some examples are shown below.


Villa Henny by 't Hoff - 1915-19
The Villa Henny in the Huis ter Heide area of Utrecht, Netherlands (1915-19) was designed by Robert van 't Hoff (1887-1979). It is the earliest example of a house with a corner window that I could find on the Internet. The corner window is on the small wing attached to the right-hand face of the building.

Schindler House - 1922
Home of architect Rudolph Schindler (1887-1953), Schindler House is or was located in West Hollywood, California.

Schröder House by Rietveld - 1924
Of similar vintage is Schröder House, also in Utrecht, Netherlands. The architect was the well-known modernist Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964). Corner windows can be seen at the right.

Del Rio - Gibbons House by Gibbons - 1930
I couldn't locate an appropriate contemporary exterior photo, but here is an interior view showing a corner window. The Del Rio - Gibbons House in Santa Monica, California was designed by Cedric Gibbons (1893-1960). He was the art director for the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio and was soon to marry film star Dolores Del Rio, for whom he had the house built. They are seen in the photo.

High Cross House by Lescaze - 1932
High Cross House, Dartington, Devon, England had William Lescaze (1896-1969) as one of its architects. A corner window can be glimpsed at the left.

Villa Schminke by Scharoum - 1933
The Villa Schminke in Löbau, Saxony was designed by Hans Scharoun (1893-1972). The corner window is hard to spot in the photo because it is shaded. It's directly above the left-hand support post.

Mandel House by Stone - 1933-35
The final example (there could have been many more form the 1930s) is the Bedford Hills, New York Richard H. Mandel House by Edward Durell Stone (1902-1978) who had a varied, controversial career. Corner windows are at the first floor left and top floor right.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Painted Maps, Then and Recently

My college art history course conveyed the Modernist Establishment party line that the practice of painting was teleological, that its ordained end was the Platonic ideal manifested by the New York School of Abstract Expressionist art. That's the message I got by the end of the school year. And it was confirmed by the many examples of that style displayed on the pages of Time magazine in the late 1950s.

Despite the publicity in Time and other publications, and the presence of abstract art enthusiasts and collectors such as Nelson Rockefeller (heavily involved with New York's Museum of Modern Art, 1932-79), some young painters failed to relish the prospect of painting abstraction after abstraction for the rest of their careers. So, even in the mid-1950s, some decided to do something different.

This change in direction was chronicled in the amusing, and still useful, account The Painted Word, a 1975 book by Tom Wolfe. Some dissident painters discarded the use of pure abstraction, but continued adhering to the supposed demand of fidelity to the flat picture plane.

One such painter was Jasper Johns (b. 1930) who chose to paint objects that were already flat. His most famous painting is that of the American flag. He followed this with paintings of numbers and alphabetical letters. Then he made a painting based on a map of the United States.

A better-known artist also liked to paint maps, though as background content rather than the main subject. That was Jan Vermeer (1632-1675).

Examples of works by Johns and Vermeer are below.


Johns: Flag - 1954-55
This was the flag design current when the painting was made and there were only 48 states in the union.

Johns: Colored Alphabet - 1959

Johns: Numbers - 1958-59

Johns: Map - 1961
Names of states are incorporated, and the use of different colors for different states followed the practice of American terrestrial globes in those days as well as simple maps for schoolchildren. Johns chose to not use green (aside for Florida) and unlike published maps, used similar color groupings for clusters of states (the northwestern USA and the Middle Atlantic states, for example). He also included Canadian provinces and perhaps Mexican states using this scheme to fill out the canvas. Also note that the Gulf of Mexico is painted using both red and blue, whereas the Atlantic Ocean has those colors along with yellow and orange.

Vermeer: Soldier and Laughing Girl - ca. 1658
This Vermeer painting includes a highly detailed wall map of Holland (oriented so that north is to the right and west is at the top).

Vermeer: Woman in Blue Reading - ca. 1662-63
Another painting using the same map as backdrop.

Vermeer: Young Woman with Water Pitcher - ca. 1664-65
A different map of Holland here; north is at the top.

I wonder which artist's paintings will hold up better over time.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Up Close: R.G. Smith's Aviation Art

I visited the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida near the end of April. It's a must-see attraction for airplane buffs. Besides aircraft, the museum displays aviation-related artwork, including that of R.G. (Robert Grant) Smith (1914-2001).

Smith was an engineer at the Douglas Aircraft Company, working in general arrangement design under Ed Heinemann. I mentioned Smith here. More regarding Smith can be found here and here. I regard R.G. Smith as one of the all-time best aviation artists.

Below are photos I took in several areas of the museum that featured Smith's artwork. Click on the images for substantial enlargements.  (Well, that's what I get on my iMac.)


R.G. Smith painting shown as hung. As is usually the case with this sort of photo, lighting conditions are not ideal; here the main light source shines from above the painting. The scene is a Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber attacking the Japanese aircraft carrier Shoho during the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, 1942.

  A detail of the painting shown above. Many Smith paintings featured Douglas-built naval aircraft, no doubt because he worked in that branch of Douglas.

Below are details from other paintings that allow you to see Smith's painting style up close.

A North Vietnamese MiG-17 damaged by a F-4 Phantom.

Northrop BT-1 dive bombers and the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) pictured at some time in the late 1930s.

Douglas SBD dive bomber shown in markings adopted after summer, 1943.

Another overall view of a painting.  This pictures Douglas SBDs attacking Japanese aircraft carriers at about 10:30 a.m. on 3 June, 1942 during the Battle of Midway.  In the foreground is the Kaga, above it is the Akagi, and the damaged carrier in the distance is the Soryu.

Close-up of the front part of the Kaga. It might not be in perfect focus (a chancy thing to achieve when using a digital camera's auto-focus feature). Still, you can get a feeling for Smith's skill in color selection and brushwork.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Richard D. Taylor, Big-Eye Cartoonist

It seems that most successful cartoonists settle into a distinctive style and stick with it. Consider it a trademark, form of branding.

Richard Denison Taylor (1902-1970), a Canadian who moved to New York City in 1935 and built a career at The New Yorker and, later, other publications such as Playboy, drew his subjects as having large, oval eyes. Moreover, those ovals were oriented so that they were taller than they were wide. And the pupils of those eyes were usually very large and light-colored (dark brown eyes wouldn't work well under Taylor's conditions).

There isn't much biographical information about Taylor on the Internet, this source being perhaps the best. Examples of his Toronto work are here.