Thursday, August 30, 2018

Some London Architecture 1912 and Recent

Some European cities have chosen to keep large Modern and Postmodern buildings separated from their core areas that contain premodern architecture. Examples that come to mind are Paris (to some extent), Vienna and Prague. Other cities allow large glass-and steel structures. Berlin, for instance, has its horrible Potsdamer Platz, while Frankfurt-am-Main has hosted skyscrapers for many years now. An important reason for Frankfurt's choice besides the factor of war damage to its previous architecture is because it is the financial center of continental Europe. Lots of floor space was needed, so building up made sense.

The same applies to London, another world-class financial center that's focused in the City. The City and the Canary Wharf area downstream in the old Docklands district are where London's flashy contemporary architecture is largely concentrated. Much of the rest of the central area has preserved its old character, thank Heaven.

Aside from Sir Christopher Wren and Sir Edwin Lutyens, I find it hard to quickly come up with names of outstanding British architects. I'm sure I could do a little research and identify a few more. Nevertheless, the country lacks a reputation for outstanding architectural design when compared to other places in Europe and the USA. Some of London's new buildings were designed by architects from other countries, but the results strike me as being generally second-rate even in the Postmodern context. Makes me wonder why this characteristic persists.

To illustrate this, below are photos of two government-related building completed around 1912 along with some views along the Thames River where construction a century later appeared.


This shows the entrance area of Middlesex Guildhall, home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. It is located across the street from Westminster Abbey. A nice touch is the contrast between the dense sculpting and nearby plain surfaces.

Looking upwards the effect is reminiscent of entrances to Gothic cathedrals. Perhaps the intention was to relate the building to the nearby Abbey.

This is Admiralty Arch linking The Mall and Trafalgar Square. Ornamentation is much more dense than on the contemporaneous Middlesex Guildhall. It is unusual in that it combines the features of an arch (that is usefully placed) and an office/residential building (at one time the Admiralty's First Sea Lord resided here).

The dark, shaded structure to the left is a wall of The Tower of London. The classical facade beyond the park belongs to 12 Trinity Square. And the large, Postmodern structure in the distance is 20 Fenchurch Street, popularly known as the Walkie-Talkie (named after a American World War 2 communication device).

The Walkie-Talkie and other new City buildings as seen from across the Thames.

A little farther upstream towards London Bridge we find this view. the tall structure is called The Shard, and it's the tallest building in London. The designer is the well-known Renzo Piano. No doubt, as witnessed by the seemingly inefficient floor space, the building was intended to make a statement. I think the current building-as-sculpture fashion is not a large improvement over the rectangular box style of 1950s-1960s New York City, but it's what those independent architectural minds see fit to design these days. I think the Shard's best feature is the treatment at its top where the machinery area is screened by latticework.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Carl von Piloty, an Accessible Pompier

Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886) was a leading Munich academic painter during the third quarter of the 19th century (Wikipedia entry here). That entry and Google prefer to spell his first name as Karl -- the typical German spelling. However, the German Wikipedia entry as well as plaques for his works displayed at Munich's Neue Pinakothek use the spelling seen in this post's lead sentence. Presumably that version was his preference.

The term "pompier" used in the title was a late-19th century term a derision applied to academic painting, as explained here. True, Piloty was that for most of his career, but I find his paintings generally less stilted than many others of that ilk.

Let's take a look:


Seni in front of Wallenstein's Body - 1855
Wallenstein was a leading general during the Thirty Years War (biographical information here). Eventually he was assassinated, the inspiration for this painting.

Christopher Columbus - 1865
On display at the Neue Pinakothek.

The Taking of Jerusalem by Godfrey de Bouillon 1099 - c. 1855-60
Pompier subject matter -- a scene from the Crusades. Note the strong triangular composition.

Death of Alexander the Great - c. 1885
A late painting. Here the composition is a wedge at the left pointing towards the sheet covering Alexander's body.

Thusnelda at the Triumph of Germanicus - 1873
Background on the subject matter is here. This was painted when Piloty was probably at the height of his powers. His approach is something like that of a mural painter where an important objective is to fill the real estate with detail. In other words, it's not a painting to be grasped at a glance. The viewer is expected to scan it, seeking out and savoring various details the artist has provided. I must confess that, alas, my attention span is not geared for this.

The painting is huge. Note the youngsters at the lower right of my Neue Pinakothek photo that provide some scale.

Here is a part of the painting featuring Thusnelda. For some reason I don't find her very
interesting. In compensation, look at the expressions on the faces of the men at the right. Also, apologies for the usual poor-quality museum setting photography.

Another close-up. This is of the soldier at the lower right shown riding a bear. Again, note the facial expressions: well painted.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Illustrator John Clymer Artifacts, Plus a Tom Lovell Bit

Recently I was on a get-out-of-town jaunt and found myself driving through Ellensburg, a college town in central Washington where I noticed signs directing folks to the Clymer Museum & Gallery. I was vaguely aware that there was such a museum, but hadn't bothered to track it down. Having some free time, I finally did so.

The focus is John Clymer (1907-1989), an Ellensburg native who had a successful career as an illustrator. I posted about him here, and his Wikipedia entry is here.

I snapped a number of pictures using my iPhone, and some of them are displayed below. Click on them to enlarge.


Clymer illustrations for his high school yearbook. Very good for teenager work.

Early example of his commercial work. My father had a .22 that was the same or quite similar to the one illustrated. I used it to shoot at tin cans, my father supervising.

When the USA entered World War 2, not-young Clymer and fellow illustrator Tom Lovell enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Here are the artist jarheads (as we Army types fondly called them).  Lovell is on the left, Clymer on the right.  I posted about Lovell here.

Clymer at work during his Corps years.

Two of Clymer's pallettes.

Part of a Clymer family display. He pictured family members in the Post cover illustration shown.

* * * * *

Below are texts providing interesting background information about Clymer and how he worked.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Some Unfinished Thomas Lawrence Portraits

I last wrote about Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) here.

He was a prolific portrait painter, creating works both fine and mediocre, though most were competently done. Some were never completed, and a few of those are the subject of this post.

I find unfinished works interesting because they shed light on artists' techniques and general approach to the job. In Lawrences's case, he invariably completed the face first, along with enough background to put the colors in intended context. The remainder would be very roughly indicated.

One strongly recommended approach to painting is to work the entire canvas throughout the process. This indeed makes a lot of sense when painting landscapes or still-lifes. But a portrait painter needs to be sure the subject's face is captured to his (and probably his sitter's) satisfaction. So why waste time and paint working the whole canvas if it turns out that the face isn't done right? That seems to have been Lawrence's philosophy if the paintings shown below are any indication.


King George IV, When Prince of Wales - c. 1814
This can be seen in London's National Portrait Gallery.

Maria, Lady Callcott - 1819

William Wilberforce - 1828
Also in the National Portrait Gallery.  Here Lawrence sketched in more non-facial detail than usual, perhaps due to the size and shape of the canvas.  He probably wanted to make sure he got the overall composition right, something not needed on more tightly focused subjects.

John Frederick Campbell, 2nd Baron Campbell and 1st Earl Cawdor - 1829
Painted not long before Lawrences' death, so perhaps he didn't have the time or energy to complete it.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington - c. 1829
The same hold true for this portrait of the Duke of Wellington as Prime Minister.  It is a recent acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery.  The caption on the painting's plaque notes that Lady Jersey, who commissioned the portrait, refused to have a studio assistant complete it following Lawrences's death.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Who Was Illustrator August Bleser, Jr.?

August Bleser, Jr. (1898-1966) was an illustrator active during the 1920s and 30s and probably beyond, for whom I can find no biographical information on the Internet. Well, I dug five pages into Google and was seeing a lot of extraneous items, so the odds of hitting research paydirt were getting pretty slim. About all I could find were his birth and death years.

On the other hand, Google turned up quite a few examples of his work. Information as to where his illustrations were published was skimpy, but it seems to me that he appeared in magazines a notch down from the Saturday Evening Post -- the holy grail for illustrators in his time. That's because many of his works on the Web are in color, something third and lower tier publications could seldom afford aside from cover art.

I rate Bleser as being entirely competent in the context of 1920-1940 magazine illustration. But as I've mentioned at times, there was plenty of competition, including illustrators who were slightly better and had more recognizable (and therefore salable) styles.

Here are examples of his work.


The Casino - 1927
Vignette style was popular then.

Commercial art studio scene - 1930

In the Office - 1932

Meeting at the Train
This looks like it was cropped from the original at the top, but perhaps not. The bottom is okay because his signature is visible.

Night Bridge

Surprise Attack - 1932

A Reflective Moment - 1936
Graveside scene.

Candlelight dinner scene
In the background is New York City's George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson River. It's not clear if the restaurant in on the Manhattan side or the New Jersey side, though I'm inclined to guess the latter. Regardless, I doubt there was such a place when Bleser made this illustration around 1940: there are no restaurants in that setting nowadays, if Google maps offers any clue. But I confess it has been decades since I got to New York a lot, so I might be mistaken.

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Graham Sutherland Churchill Portrait Survivor

Several years ago I did a Molti Riratti post on Winston Churchill.

One of the paintings was the one in the image above, a 1954 portrait by Graham Vivian Sutherland (1903-1980), his Wikipedia entry here. This portrait was noteworthy because Churchill and his wife hated it, and as explained here, Clementine had it destroyed after Winston's death. She did the right thing.

Even though the painting is gone, traces of it remain in the form of sketches and studies Sutherland made. Some of these can be found by Googling. There is one study that can be viewed in person if you happen to be in London.

Here is my photo of it taken at the National Portrait Gallery in April. Click to enlarge, and you might be able to read the plaque dealing with it. Better yet, you can find a larger image by linking here to the Portrait Gallery's page dealing with the painting. The caption material can be found by scrolling down.

Although Sutherland seems to have been highly regarded in Britain in his day, his work is not to my taste. Images of many of his painting can be found on the Internet, but I include a few below so that you can get a sense of what he was doing during his career.


Entrance to a Lane - 1939
During the 1930s and 1940s he favored Surrealistic and semi-abstract styles.

Crucifixion - 1946
He made a number of Christian-themes paintings and created works for the Coventry Cathedral replacement.

Somerset Maugham - 1949
A portrait painted a few years before the Churchill project.  Also anti-flattering.

Self-portrait - 1977
Made when in his mid-70s.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The rue Mallet-Stevens Then and Now

A while ago I wrote about the French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens and included some period images of the rue Mallet-Stevens in Paris' 16e arrondissement, a private street containing Moderne residential buildings designed by him.

I've been both aware and curious about it for many years, so when I visited Paris in April, I made a point to track it down and take a few photos to use for this blog. It's a bit off the beaten track, about a 5-10 minute walk through a nondescript apartment neighborhood from the nearest subway stop. It's also 90 years old, but in pretty good shape, as the photos indicate. When I took the photos I didn't have reference material handy, so they don't quite match the viewpoints of photos taken when the development was new.

A much more detailed treatment of the rue is here. Besides period images, it has recent photos of the exteriors as well as some interior views.


View of the street - c. 1927
That's a Voisin automobile -- very modern in those days.

Street view - April 2018
I happened to take this photo from a similar spot.

Rue Mallet Stevens veille de l'inauguration
Before the formal opening. The building on the left is Mallet-Steven's.

Hôtel Mallet-Stevens - April 2018

Villa de Mme. Reifenberg - c. 1927

Villa of Mme. Reifenberg - April 2018

Atelier frères Joël et Jon Martel, Sculpteurs - c. 1927
Workshop and residence of brothers who were sculptors.

Atelier Martel - April 2018

Hôtel Dreyfus - c. 1927

Hôtel Dreyfus - April 2018