Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thomas Hart Benton's "America Today" Mural at the Met

When I was in New York City last year, my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was rather hurried, so I didn't have time to track down Thomas Hart Benton's "America Today" mural, installed at the Met in 2014. This month, I had more time and found it.

The Met's website discusses America Today here, and here is a link to their publication dealing with the mural: very useful. I discussed Benton's early career here.

The mural was commissioned for the board room of The New School for Social Research's 1931 building designed by Joseph Urban. It was later purchased by Equitable, an insurance company in New York and displayed in linear fashion along a hallway. Then it was donated to the Met which restored it (with some difficulty: read the publication noted above) and displayed in a setting corresponding to the space of the New School boardroom where it initially appeared.

Below are a few photos I took, giving you an impression of how the mural is displayed at the Met. Not all panels are shown -- you can find plenty of images on the Internet. My purpose here is to remind you that the mural is there to be enjoyed when vising New York and the Met.


When entering the gallery where America Today is housed, the panel Instruments of Power confronts you.

Panning to the right, we find Changing West.

Continuing to the right past Changing West are Midwest, Deep South, and City Activities with Subway.

Here is the door to enter the display.  At the left is City Activities with Subway.  Above the door is Outreaching Hands, and to the right is City Activities with Dance Hall.  To my mind, the City Activities panels are the most interesting of the lot.

Continuing the pan to the right, we have City Activities with Dance Hall, City Building, and Steel.  Farther to the right and not shown is Coal.

City Building, and Steel.

At detail from City Activities with Dance Hall. The woman with the red hat is Elizabeth England, Jackson Pollack's future sister-in-law. The woman at the lower left is Benton's wife Rita. Benton includes himself at the far right.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Some Hard Female Faces

Part of what keeps this blog chugging along (we're now at more that 1,000 posts) is that I seem to have a modest knack for finding associations, for making comparisons. One of those occasions happened a few weeks ago while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I viewed two paintings that I was already familiar with with, noticed a similarity, then recalled a photograph that struck me in the same way.

The painters were Thomas Anshutz, who I wrote about here, Thomas Hart Benton, whose early career I covered here, and the was photographer Walker Evans, Wikipedia entry here.

The nature of the subject matter is young women with "hard" expressions on their faces. They are surprisingly similar.


A Rose (detail) - 1907 - Thomas Anshutz
The subject is Rebecca H. Whelen, daughter of a Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts board member. Anshutz taught there for many years. This is an unusual pose for that time and place: a more tranquil expression would have been expected.

City Activities with Dance Hall (detail) - 1930 - Thomas Hart Benton
From a panel of Benton's America Today mural, now prominently displayed at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The subject is Elizabeth England, future wife of Charles Pollock, older brother of the more famous painter Jackson Pollock. The Pollock brothers studied under Benton, hence the connection.

Girl in Fulton Street (cropped) - 1929 - Walker Evans
From one of Evans' New York street scene photos of the late 1920s.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

John Quincy Adams, Austrian Portrait Artist

The title of this post might cause a sharp reaction for many American readers. That's because John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was the sixth president of the Untied States, and not at all an Österreicher, let alone a portrait painter.

Of course we are dealing here with another John Quincy Adams. This one was a descendent of the President and lived 1874-1933. He became an Austrian because he was born in Vienna (and died there), the son of a Boston-born opera singer. He did spend time in the USA at various points in his life, but considered himself Austrian. His career is sketched here, but it's in German and you might have to have your computer translate.

There aren't many images of Adams' work on the Internet. A large share of them are in black and white -- presumably photos of paintings that were lost due to World War 2 or are otherwise untraceable. The images I selected for presentation are all in color.

One image I would love to have included is a fine portrait of Sara Sherman Wiborg, later the wife of businessman and artist Gerald Murphy, both famed for their 1920s French Riviera lifestyle (Wikipedia entry here). But so far as I know, it hasn't yet turned up on the Web.


Dame mit Schwartzem Kleid und Hut (Alice Hauser) - 1901
In English, "Woman with Black Clothes and Hat."

Portrait einer jungen Dame - 1908

Kaiser Franz Joseph I. in der Dienstuniform eines österreichischen Feldmarschalls - 1914
That's "Emperor Franz Joseph I in the service uniform of an Austrian field marshal."

Kitty Baronin Rothschild - 1916

Countess Michael Karoly - 1918

Girl with Flower Branch

Luise Eisner, later Princess Odescalchi - 1926

Monday, September 18, 2017

J. Allen St. John: Monochrome Illustrations

I previously wrote about J. Allen St. John (1875-1957) here, mostly dealing with his color illustrations for books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). Background information on St. John can be found here and here.

St. John is considered by many to be highly influential to later generations of illustrators dealing in Science Fiction and, especially, Fantasy art. That is probably more to do with establishing certain conventions than his abilities as an illustrator. In the post cited above I mentioned "reproductions of his paintings often strike me as having too-fussy brushwork." I think this tendency carries over to his monochrome illustrations, especially those rendered in pen-and-ink.

To demonstrate my point about St. John's dithering penwork, compare those illustrations to that of master pen-artists Franklin Booth (1874-1948) and Joseph Clement Coll (1881-1921). Some of the difference might be chalked up to the quality of paper used for printing their works. Book illustrations on the same kind of paper as the text couldn't support fine penwork. On the other hand, some books from the early decades of the 20th century had glossy paper tip-ins that allowed for much more detail and subtlety in the artwork. In such instances St. John would abandon pen-and-ink for charcoal or wash drawings.

Interesting fact: All the men mentioned above were near-contemporaries.


From Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Here St. John does a better job on the lion than he does with Tarzan.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Some illustrations from another Tarzan book.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Here the depiction of Tarzan's body comes off fussier than that of the foliage.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
This seems to have some wash or diluted ink work. Still, the pen strokes are largely haphazard, resulting in lack of clarity for the scene depicted.

From Mastermind of Mars
Illustration for one of the John Carter of Mars novels. The background shading blends too closely to the definition of the subjects, reducing clarity.

From Swords of Mars
This illustration was intended for slick paper, but St. John's use of shadows again hurts the composition.

From Tarzan the Terrible
All the images thus far, including this one, are probably scans from old books. This one seems to be from a slick tip-in, but it's hard to be certain what medium St, John used.

From Tarzan the Terrible
My previous St. John post included a reproduction of this image from a book, whereas what we see here looks like a scan of the original artwork. So far as I am concerned this wash drawing is his most successful illustration ever. The fussiness seen in the other images is absent. Why? I have no idea.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

George Spencer Watson: Portraits and Nudes

George Spencer Watson (1869-1934) is yet another Royal Academy painter active early in the last century who was competent, made a decent living, and is now largely forgotten. He mostly made portraits, but also turned out some very nice paintings of nudes, and painted some landscapes and religious scenes. A brief Wikipedia entry on him is here.

This post mostly deals with his portraits. Stylistically, he was not influenced by Modernism until perhaps near the very end of his career. Some unfinished works are shown that might interest readers who paint and others interested in how artists go about their business.

Office viewing warning: The nudes are at the bottom of the image stack, so scroll carefully.


Lady in White (unfinished)
This probably dates from around 1900. I failed to notice any earlier works by Watson via Googling.

Hilda and Maggie - 1911
A portrait of Watson's wife in the Tate collection.

A Lady in Black - 1922
Also in the Tate collection.

Portrait of a Lady (unfinished)
I'll guess that this was painted after 1920, possibly not long before he died. If the subject's costume were more finished and the hair style more visible, dating would be easier.

The Orange Dress
This might be Mary, the artist's daughter.

The Cottage Garden - 1928
An example of Watson's landscape work.

Miss Beaton - 1934
This too is probably unfinished: note the date and the sketchy brushwork in the lower part of the painting. The subject is Barbara Beaton, a sister of Cecil Beaton, the famous photographer (though before finding a detailed caption, I was guessing that she was Nancy Beaton, her more famous sister).

Nude - 1927
I find the unconventional pose interesting.

Sunlight Nude
I like this painting a lot, partly because of the (again) slightly different-from-the-usual pose and setting. But the best part, to my way of thinking is Watson's treatment of color. This was probably painted in the mid-to-late 1920s, before high-quality color photography was available. So he had to do this without that kind of photographic reference.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Gainsborough's Sketchy Brushwork and Background Treatment

People with only a casual exposure to art history -- perhaps an introductory college class on the subject -- might think that painters used tight brushwork and hard edges up to the time of the French Impressionists. They would be largely correct. Mediaeval, Renaissance and Academic paintings are mostly rather solid-looking affairs.

And yes, they might be aware of a few exceptions such as Frans Hals. But they might not realize that, by the late 1700s, several important painters were not making totally solid paintings. That was because subjects of portraits looked crisp and carefully done (this is what viewers mostly focused on -- faces, etc.). What tends to be ignored are other parts of the same painting that were not painted with the same exactitude.

This post considers Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and his painting Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield (1777–1778) that resides in the Getty in Los Angeles.

Biographical information on Gainsborough can be found here, and the Getty's web page on the painting is here.

Let's take a look.


First, another Gainsborough portrait, The Blue Boy (1770), found across town at the Huntington in Pasadena. Note how sketchy the background is.

Here is the Getty web site's image of the Countess that I brightened somewhat to set the stage for the following photos I took in April (click on them to enlarge).

An establishment shot showing the scale of the painting: compare it to the information plaque to the right. Lighting in the galley partly washes out the upper part of the painting, but that's the way it often is when you photograph paintings in such settings.

Here is Gainsborough's treatment of Anne's costume. Plenty of visible brushwork here. Note the lack of detail for her hand and how the arm is outlined. Far from Academic painting, but then, Gainsborough never attended an academy school.

And here is some of Anne's setting.  Gainsborough began his career as a landscape painter, yet even here his treatment isn't detailed. At this late date it's hard to tell if he sketched in the background for aesthetic reasons or because additional care would have taken so much extra time that the effort wouldn't have been commensurate with the fee he charged. There also is the possibility that details such as the treatment of costume and setting was stipulated in his contract or agreement before work was started.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

In the Beginning: Georges Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891) was a founder of the color-dot technique of Pointillism and is best known for his paintings in that style. As this mentions, he had a few years of formal art training before his military service, and then went on to his brief career as a painter.

Also mentioned is that Seurat did a good deal of preparation before making his large, Pointillist paintings -- understandable, given their subject matter, composition and coloring. Part of this preparation involved smaller studies. And before that phase of his career he did paint many small works that had an impressionist feeling.


Un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte - 1884-86
This is the painting Seurat is most famous for.

Head of a Girl - 1879
Here is the earliest Seurat that I could locate. Done while attending the École des Beaux-Arts.

Sunset - c. 1881
An early post-Army painting. Wispy and not nearly as solidly conceived as most of this later works, but at this point, he was probably just experimenting with Impressionist ideas.

Banlieue - 1881-82
A mix of a few well-defined and ill-defined forms. Brushwork is nondescript.

Landscape in the Ile-de-France - 1882
Brush strokes here are more obvious.

Fishing in the Seine - 1883
Stronger brushwork for the riverbank, similar to what is found in the following images.

Man Painting a Boat - c. 1883
A good deal of hatching brushwork in the vegetation.

The Stone Breakers, Le Raincy (c. 1882)
I found this at the Norton Simon in Pasadena. It's a small study (compare its size to the information plaque). The museum's web site deals with it here.

Detail photo. Again we see short, strong brush strokes at different angles. An exception is the human figures who are rendered in a different manner. Note that on the stone pile, Seurat was careful to paint thick-over-thin, a concept he surely learned at the Beaux-Arts if not before. Click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Some Frans Hals Brushwork

This post is mostly intended for readers who paint or are interested in technique. The subject is a work by Frans Hals (c.1582-1666) -- extensive Wikipedia entry here -- titled "Saint John the Evangelist" (1625-28).

I came across it when visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in April. The Getty's Web site deals with the painting here.

It was painted long after St. John's time, so Hals either created an imaginary image or, more likely, got someone to pose and represent the Evangelist. What interest me most about the painting is how Hals treated the hands. Click on that photo to enlarge.


An image of the painting via the Getty Web site. I brightened it slightly.

Establishment view from my camera of the painting as displayed.

Closeup view of the part of the painting that interested me the most, the treatment of the hand holding the pen.