Thursday, June 30, 2016

Sprites by Iannelli and (probably) Wright

I seldom post here regarding sculpture. That's because I've never really sculpted, and therefore am reluctant to discuss something I'm not familiar with on a technical basis. But I am willing to comment about sculptures that I like or hate from the perspective of a casual observer.

Such is the case now with "sprites." The sprites I'm presenting below are some of the sprites designed as decorations for Chicago's Midway Gardens (1914-1929), a dining, drinking and amusement place on the city's south side near the University of Chicago campus. It was never really successful, at first due to being undercapitalized and later because of Prohibition (of alcoholic drinks in the USA 1920-33). Chicago's climate might have been another factor. There were several sprite designs, and some were preserved before Midway Gardens was demolished.

The architect for Midway Gardens was Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), who claimed responsibility for the sprite sculptures. But the working sculptor of those sprites was Alfonso Iannelli (1888-1965) whose later career included industrial design. So who actually designed those sprites, Wright or Iannelli? Nowadays, Iannelli is usually given the credit. But Wright paid a great amount of attention to the ornamentation of his buildings and surely had strong ideas as to what those decorative sprites should like. He must have set the theme and must have approved of the final designs even if the unlikely case that he never made a sketch of their form and decorative details was true. That is, he probably was fairly deeply involved with the sprites and does deserve as much or more credit than Iannelli.

Whatever actually happened in the architectural and sculpting studios took place more than 100 years ago, so we will never know the true story with certainty.

Stylistically, the Midway Gardens sprites are of the geometric branch of Art Nouveau, as opposed to what might be called "organic" Art Nouveau that featured tendrils and other plant-related decoration. It was the geometric Art Nouveau that transitioned into geometric Art Deco (which also had a curved branch ... consider those deer and borzoi dog decorations).

Earlier this year I was in the Phoenix, Arizona area, where sprites (or reproductions) are found. Below are some photos I took.


Here are two sprites on the front lawn of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel (1929), a building where Wright served as a consultant to the architect of record.

A sprite found elsewhere on the grounds of the Biltmore.

Its pose is rigid, the face has a serious expression.

The sprites on the front lawn have tilted heads and they are smiling. Their decorations are different from those on the other sprite.

I spotted this sprite on the grounds of Taliesin West, Wright's winter stomping ground. It has the serious, rigid pose and for some reason is painted, the colors being American Southwest desert-related.

Monday, June 27, 2016

David Jagger, Skilled Portrait Artist

David Jagger (1891-1958) was very good at depicting people.

Although his images were highly realistic, they very seldom crossed the line into hard-edge style. His subjects were often posed in interesting ways (aside from in many commissioned, official-appearing portraits). In general, I find his works interesting, pleasing and impressive thanks to his skill in making them.

On the other hand, Jagger's paintings are so reality-oriented that they often give no hint of a personal style. To put it another way, his personal style was so attuned to representation that, in most instances, it can be hard for a viewer to think "Aha! That's a Jagger." Exceptions are some dramatic paintings of women that might be said to have a "Jagger look."

Apparently not much is known about his life. For what it's worth, here is his Wikipedia entry. And for your amusement, you might try this link wherein an art scholar (I presume) tries without much success to fit Jagger's work into a 21st century ideological procrustean bed.

Below are examples of his work. For more examples of his commissioned portraits, link here.


Jagger painting actress Vivien Leigh - Sept, 1941 (copyright NPG)
This shows how well Jagger could nail his subjects' appearance.

Lord Baden-Powell - 1929
According to Wikipedia, this is Jagger's most famous painting. That said, I don't consider it his best or most interesting.

HRH Queen Mary - 1930
He was able to land commissions from important people.

Charles Jagger - the artist's brother - 1917
The date by the signature looks a lot like 1914, but the clothing is more suggestive of the 1917 British army. This shows that Jagger could paint freely if he chose to do so.

Portrait of Mrs. Kate Irene Pears

Kathleen - the artist's wife
A nice, dramatic pose and many soft edges help us to focus on her face.

Sewing - the artists's wife
No date on this one either, but Kathleen looks a few years older than she did in the previous portrait. Much thin painting here. Perhaps Jagger was experimenting. Some of the paintings below might also be of Kathleen (note the eyebrows).

Lady with a Fan
I don't notice a fan, but that's the title the Internet gives me. Regardless, this is a very interestingly composed painting that looks like it dates from the mid-1930s.

Woman with a Silk Scarf - 1926
The Internet has it that it's a scarf, though to me it almost seems she's wearing what looks like a shawl, due its size. This painting is more thinly painted than most of the others shown here, revealing that Jagger could and did alter his style at times.

Woman with teacup
A dramatic expression on a face with odd features -- note the eyes and area around the mouth. The hand and cup/saucer are hard-edge, unlike the rest of the painting. Makes me wonder if these details were unfinished in spite of the artist's signature indicating completion.

Lady in Green
Yet another of those dramatic, interesting poses. Notice that Jagger places a dark background object behind the subject's head to create a central dark zone from top to bottom, contrasting with the light gray background areas.

Portrait of a Lady
Here Jagger delves deeper into hard-edge territory. The background reminds me of George Washington Lambert's 1905-10 works. The subject's face is one of the more softly-painted parts of the image.

Portrait of a woman - 1945
A sketch or study done later than the others shown here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Carel Willink's Imaginary Realism

Carel Willink (1900-1983) experimented with various Modernist "isms," finally settling into a version of "Magic Realism" that he called "Imaginary Realism." Essentially, everything in his paintings was done in a realistic manner, but placed in unusual circumstances, as the images below indicate. I find them strange, yet oddly appealing.

Willink's short Wikipedia entry is here and a useful chronology on a website devoted to him is here.

Besides his Imaginary Realist paintings, Willink made a good living as a portrait artist, his portraits usually featuring the hard-edge style of his other works.


Farmhouse with tree - 1918
Painted before he assumed his signature style.

Stadsgesicht (Cityscape) - 1934

The Dirigible - 1933

Self-Portrait with Wilma van der Meulen - 1934
Wilma was his first wife. She died in 1960.

Landschap met omvergeworpen beeld - 1942

Mathilde tussen de monsters - 1966
Mathilde de Doelder was another wife -- his second according to the second link above. Some sources state that he had four wives; if so, Mathilde would be the third. A while after they divorced, she was found dead, naked in bed, a gunshot wound to the left temple and a gun held in her right hand. These last two details lead some to speculate that she was murdered.

Reclining Venus - 1975
The subject is Sylvia Quiƫl, Willink's last wife, some 44 years younger than he. She has devoted the time since his 1983 death to her art and his memory.

Willink painting Sylvia

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Slightly Surreal, Illustration-Like Intellectual Art of Mark Tansey

Late February, we visited The Broad, a new museum in downtown Los Angeles (background here). The collection of Eli and Edythe Broad is housed there, a collection focused on postmodern art of the period 1960-1990, if the impression it gave me is halfway correct.

I am not a fan of the kind of art. Nevertheless, I did come across a few artists and their works that interested me. One of these was Mark Tansey (b. 1949) who I was essentially unaware of. Some background regarding him can be found here, here and here.

Some examples of his work are below. All the paintings date from 1979-90, a period when he did what I consider his most interesting work.


The Innocent Eye Test - 1981

The Occupation - 1984
1980s New York City occupied by 1914-vintage troop from Imperial Germany.

Triumph of the New York School - 1984
Allegory showing Great War clothed French artists surrendering to World War 2 garbed New York modernists.

Triumph ... key to depictions
I found this helpful graphic on the web.

Action Painting II - 1984

Forward Retreat - 1986

Forward Retreat: flipped detail
I took this photo at The Broad.  From right to left are (1) a 1917 Great War French soldier, (2) a 1914 German Great War Soldier, (3) a 1917 Great War British or American soldier, and (4) a polo player.

Constructing the Grand Canyon - 1990

A Short History of Modernist Painting - 1979-80
Another painting I saw at The Broad.  Below are some detail photos I took.

History ... detail

History ... another detail

History ... yet another detail

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dying Magazines and the Fall of Traditional Illustration

Leif Peng had an interesting 26 October 2011 post on his Today's Inspiration blog regarding the decline and death of some general-interest magazines that had supported what I'll call traditional illustration.

Such magazines were called "slicks" because they were printed on smooth paper instead of cheaper newsprint or rough-textured "pulp" paper. Many of these magazines had circulations in the millions of copies when the U.S. population ranged from around 63 million in 1890 to about 180 million in 1960 (the number now is more than 320 million).

The archetypical general-interest magazine was the Saturday Evening Post, whose content was a mix of short stories and non-fiction articles, the former being decorated by images from famous illustrators. Covers also used illustration, the two most prolific cover illustrators being J.C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell.

The advent of radio in the 1920s had no noticeable effect on circulation of "slicks," and the most prominent ones also weathered the Great Depression of the 1930s. What brought them down was television, following the end of the 1948-1952 TV station license moratorium resulting in a surge of new television stations rapidly spreading across the United States.

Below is a listing of prominent magazines with their prime publication lifespans.

Saturday Evening Post -- 1897-1963 (as a weekly publication)

Collier's -- 1888-1957 (the Post's main competitor)

The American Magazine -- 1906-1956

Liberty -- 1924-1950

McCall's -- 1973-2002

Ladies' Home Journal -- 1883-2014 (as a weekly or bi-weekly)

Life -- 1936-1972 (Time, Inc. version)

Look -- 1937-1971 (like Life, was photo oriented)

I included Look Magazine because it is another good example of a mass-circulation publication that failed to survive very far beyond the 1960s. McCall's was a magazine for women that included short stories illustrated by many of the top names in the field, including Bernie Fuchs. The American and Liberty were lesser general-interest magazines. The Time Incorporated version of Life (they bought the title from an existing magazine) was primary photograph-oriented. But when dealing with subjects where good photos were unavailable, leading illustrators were brought in to provide images.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mikhail Nesterov: Remained in Russia and Copied Leo Putz

Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862-1942) was a Russian painter in Czarist days with strong religious beliefs who remained after the Revolution. Yet was able to live out his days while not conforming to the Soviet artistic system. Apparently he managed to survive via portrait painting.

His Wikipedia entry is here, and more information from Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery is here.


Vision of the Young Bartholomew - 1890
It seems this painting helped launch Nesterov's career.

Taking the Veil - 1897-98
Another of his many paintings with a religious theme.

Entombment of Alexander Nevsky - 1900
An historical theme here.

Portrait of Alexei Maksimovich Gorky - c.1901

Portrait of Lev Tolstoy - 1907

Portrait of Yekaterina Petrovna Nesterova - his second wife - 1905

Olga Nesterova in Riding Habit - his oldest daughter - 1906

Femme nue
Sold in 2007 at Christies Paris auction for about $14,000 (link here). Dimensions are 45,6 x 47,5 cm. (17 7/8 x 18¾ in.). The link to Christies does not mention that this is a copy of a painting by Tyrolian artist Leo Putz.

Sommertraeume - by Leo Putz - 1907
The dimensions of "Summer Dreams" are 119.5 x 110 cm -- much larger than Nesterov's copy. I can conform this, because I viewed the Putz painting several years ago when it was in Seattle. I wrote about Putz here.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Joe De Mers: Mainstream 1950s Illustrator

Joe De Mers (1910-1984) was a leading illustrator of fiction in major American magazines -- he signed his last name in two parts, but it is often combined as "DeMers" in many references.

I didn't notice any useful biography on a brief Google search, but I can report this: He was born in San Diego, trained in Los Angeles' Chouinard and then at the Brooklyn Museum. Worked in Hollywood, but his main career was with the famed Cooper Studio in New York. He retired to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

His style was similar to that of Coby Whitmore and several others active in the 1950s. Such illustrations typically offered only enough background and stage-setting details to provide context. Featured were the subject person or persons, often as only heads and shoulders. Media was usually gouache or casein, these allowing for rapid work and lack of the messiness that oil paints might cause when works are transported.


De Mers did some pin-up work while building his career. This was in an Esquire calendar for March 1948.

The whole thing as seen before reproduction.

From "The Invisible Bride" - Ladies' Home Journal, May 1954.

Note the spare staging.

De Mers adds some distortion to the tables in the foreground.

I'm thinking this last image is from the late 1950s or early 60s, given the Bernie Fuchs - inspired style change.