Thursday, September 27, 2018

Hans Thoma: German Semi- Pre-Raphaelite

Hans Thoma (1839-1924), according to some sources Germany's most popular artist around the turn of the 20th century, is difficult to characterize. Well, it's difficult for me. I used the label Pre-Raphaelite in the title of this post mostly because the feeling of a number of his works echoes that of the English group. But other works, especially those dealing with religious themes, might be termed Symbolist. Yet Pre-Raphaelite paintings often had large doses of what later became classed as Symbolism. Sigh: I find this taxonomy stuff frustrating, and should learn to leave that to professional art critics and curators.

Thoma's English Wikipedia entry is here, but for more information I suggest you click on the left-hand panel, select Deutsch, and have it translated if you don't know German. Otherwise, a bit more biographical information in English is here.

He was born in a small town in the Black Forest, far from from Munich and other art centers, and more than 30 years before Bismarck created a unified Germany. Yet he was able to work his way up from decorating cuckoo clocks (an important Black Forest product then and now) to eventually becoming a professor at the Grand Ducal Art School in Karlsruhe and director of the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, the state art museum there.


Self-Portrait with Love and Death - 1875
I suppose he had a reason for showing red paint on his brush, because almost no red can be found otherwise.

Self-Portrait - 1899
Painted when he was 60.

Taunus Landscape - 1890
The man and his dog in the foreground are overwhelmed by the rest of the painting, including much sky and its clouds.

Spätsommertag im Schwarzwald - Late Summer in the Black Forest - 1892
Here he was capturing the darkening leaves.

Spring - 1894
There are sheep with their owner's mark painted on them, a woman in the distance apparently doing some work, and some young people in the foreground.  These latter are jammed at the bottom of the canvas, the girl's dress and feet being clipped off, as is the left foot of the boy playing a fife.  Those figures and their activities (such as they are -- the girl seems bored) are somewhat hard to explain other than they might have been dragged there by the distant women and ordered to entertain themselves until she was done with whatever she was doing.

Diana Under the Tree
Diana was the goddess of animals as well as of hunting.

Frau mit Kind in der Hängematte, (Cella Thoma mit Nichte/Adoptivtochter Ella; das Motiv ist älter als das Bild) - Woman and Child in a Hammock (Cella Thoma with Adopted Daughter Ella; a Scene That Took Place Years Before) - 1896

Uncle Ludwig Maier - 1898
Interesting contrast between the craggy face and the smooth background.

The Flight into Egypt
Thoma painted a number of religious-themed works.

The Temptation of Christ


Monday, September 24, 2018

Willard Mullin, The Sports Cartoonist

Willard Mullin (1902-1978) is considered by many, including me, to be the best-ever American sports cartoonist. He's likely to hold that informal title for a long time because sports cartooning is essentially extinct in these days of shrunken newspapers that still manage to have huge color photos on their front pages and a correspondingly deficit of words. Oh, well ....

Mullins' New York Times obituary is here. But a more interesting link is here: besides many examples of Mullin's cartoons it includes a step-by-step set of photos showing how he worked.

Mullin apparently had little or no formal art instruction. That didn't stop him from gaining a good deal of knowledge about human and animal anatomy -- skeletal and muscular -- to be able to depict subjects both accurately or in hugely exaggerated ways. Many of his cartoons were of the exaggerated kind, but he fairly often would include a realistic portrait of a sports personality. These he usually derived from photographs using a pantograph. But he didn't slavishly trace his reference photos. Instead, as he once put it, he used the pantograph as a sketching tool.

Although he worked in other places on his way to sports fame, Mullin's best-known work was done for the New York World-Telegram evening newspaper, those cartoons usually focusing on New York City teams.

Click on the images below to enlarge.


This shows the characters he created representing pre-1958 New York baseball teams. From left to right are New York Giants (National League), New York Yankees (American League) and Brooklyn Dodgers (National League). The Giant is a bumbling hulk, the Yankee is a coldly efficient athlete, and the Dodger is Mullins' most famous creation, the Brooklyn Bum.

Here the Brooklyn Bum discusses Willard Mullin.

A panel dealing with Yankee shortstop Phil Rizutto that combines a portrait with cartoons.

The New York Yankee infield caricatured.

I'm not sure what this is, given all the whited-over text.  The general subject seems to be baseball Spring Training.  It includes a rare (for Mullin, who usually dealt with men's sports) female.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Munich Secession's First President: Bruno Piglhein

The 1890s were a time of secession movements in German-speaking countries, wherein groups of artists broke away from current exhibition organizations in order to set up their own. The most famous of these from our current perspective was the Vienna Secession.

But the first was the Munich Secession. Like the others, one of the founding issues had to do with artistic style and subject matter. This tended to take the form of increased openness to non-Academic works, though the impact was not nearly so strong as the early-1900s Modernist "isms" that shook the art world and led to today's chaotic scene. (By the way, in my opinion the link above tends to overstate the Munich Secession: its golden years were only from 1892 to around 1912.)

The first president of the Munich Secession organization was Bruno Piglhein (1845-1894), a professor at Munich's Academy of Fine Arts. His Wikipedia entry is brief. But then, Piglhein's life was fairly brief -- he died aged 46. The entry mentions that it took a while for his career to develop. He had to resort to making pastels of attractive women to earn a living before he was given the project of creating a panorama of Christ's crucifixion that was later destroyed in a fire.

That project solidified his career for the next and final seven or eight years of his life, including his appointment to the Academy's faculty. Perhaps due to his short career and his teaching duties, it's likely that Piglhein's production of paintings was fairly small. At any rate, not many can be found via a Google search. Below are some of the images I did find.


Girl with Hat and Fan - pastel

Woman from the Alban Hills - pastel
Examples of the pastel depiction of women.

Im Wartezimmer - Frau Piglhein - Mrs. Piglhein in the Waiting Room

Schwerttänzerin - Sword Dancer

Orientalischer Frauenakt - Oriental Female Nude
The same model was used for both images.

Madonna with Child
The title is what I found on the Web.  But the female figure's costume is suggestive of that of a Catholic Sister.  The circular wording appears to be in Cyrillic (also possibly with other alphabets, including Greek) and beyond my ability to translate.

Blinde in Mohnfeld - Blind Woman in Poppy Field - 1889
Perhaps Piglhein's best-known painting.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Zack Mosley's Character-Driven Smilin' Jack Comic

In the 1930s most American adventure-type comic strips lacked illustrator-quality artwork. One example I used here was the Buck Rogers strip drawn by Dick Calkins. There were a few comic strips that featured convincing depictions -- especially those by Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon) and Hal Foster (Tarzan, and Prince Valiant).

So quality artwork was not necessary for popular appeal, as there were a number of strips in those days that were as successful as Raymond's and Foster's. Those other adventure strips tended to feature adequate depictions given the constraints of the size of panels as they appeared in print and the need to crank out artwork at a pace necessary for daily and sometimes daily-plus-Sunday publication. That is, corners had to be cut even though a successful strip allowed the main artist to hire one or more assistants to help out.

But the main reasons for an adventure strip's success were plotting and characters. Readers had to be pulled along by the action, anticipating each day what might happen next. And the characters had to be interesting enough that readers didn't lose interest in them.

An example of this was the long-lived (1933-1973) comic strip Smilin' Jack by Zack Mosley (1906-1993).  A detailed appreciation worth reading is here.

Smilin' Jack was an adventure strip featuring airplanes, one of several in the 1930s and later. Mosley included drawings of planes as much as he could, placing a tiny one in the background if he couldn't find an excuse to make it more prominent. His drawings of people were marginal. They were simply done, useful for rapid production and appearance in comparatively small space on newspaper pages. But their anatomy -- especially for shapely women -- was distorted. In later decades he tended to make heads and faces too large compared to the rest of bodies. Perhaps that was due to shrinking publication size and a need to somehow compensate.

The strip had a limited set of consistently-appearing characters. This was true of most adventure comics. But the Smilin' Jack cast might have been a little smaller than average around the end of the '30s. Most prominent were Jack himself, a heavy Polynesian named Fat Stuff (or Fatstuff) and Downwind Jaxon, another pilot who often stole the show from Jack.

As the second link above describes it, Mosley wanted to add a character who was really handsome and more successful attracting women than Jack himself (some of the plots dealt more with love life than flying). But he couldn't draw a really handsome face to his satisfaction. So that character, Downwind, was always shown is a pose where his face was averted (usually) or hidden by an object or a speech balloon (sometimes).

(Aside for non-aviation buffs: the term "downwind" has highly negative implications for pilots. One should, if at all possible, never take off or land downwind -- with the wind blowing the same direction as the airplane. That's because airspeed (the speed at which the craft is encountering the air) is lower than its apparent ground speed. For example, a given plane's stalling speed is 100 miles per hour. If it is on final approach for a downwind landing traveling at 110 MPH ground speed but has a 20 MPH tailwind, its airspeed (the flow of air over the front of the wing) is only 90 MPH. That's below its stalling speed, so the airplane will crash rather than accomplish a normal landing.)

Below are some Smilin' Jack panels taken from the Internet. Click to enlarge.


This features Downwind. The other character is Jack himself.

Fat Stuff: his shirt buttons are continually popping off, so Mosley eventually added a chicken that likes to eat them.

The "Dixi" in the final scene refers to a previous girlfriend of Jack's.

Some panels from 1939. In the lower two a photographer snaps a picture of Downwind's face and what happened next.

The April 20, 1940 Sunday strip featuring Fat Stuff and Downwind.-- and an airplane.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Some of Degas' Unfinished Paintings

I enjoy posting about unfinished paintings because I am curious as to how various artists went about their work, and unfinished paintings reveal intermediate levels of that process. For more on this, here is an interesting link to Christie's.

This post's subject is Edgar Degas (1834-1917) who left many unfinished paintings. In some cases he signed them, perhaps signifying that he considered them complete enough to his satisfaction.

Examples are shown below. Interestingly, those I found on the Internet had women as subjects. But then, that is true of the majority of his paintings.


Woman Ironing - c. 1869
I found this in Munich's Neue Pinakothek, which prompted me to write this post. The image is very slightly cropped around the edges. The face seems to be completed. Note the two versions of her left arm and the muddled right hand. His signature is at the lower right.

Madame Théodore Gobillard - Berthe Morisot's older sister - 1869
Essentially monochrome aside for the foliage in the background. The subject's face isn't much more developed than the rest of the painting. Hands are roughly indicated. He signed this.

Ballet Dancer with Crossed Arms - 1872
Not much more than a sketch, yet it has his signature.

Woman Seated on Balcony - 1872
Note his working out the room's perspective (it's not quite correct). Again the hands seem to be saved for later development.

Woman with an Umbrella - Berthe Jeantaud - 1876
Like most other portrait painters Degas chose to complete the face before expending time and materials on the rest.

Study of a Girl's Head - late 1970s
If this is indeed a study (the title was as I found it on the Web), then it's not really an unfinished painting. I include it here to show Degas' brushwork and use of color.

Combing the Hair - 1895
This was painted later than the others and features his more familiar mature style. Interestingly, whereas it's largely "flat" Degas includes a table that provides as sense of depth by its shape and position.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Kolo Moser: Some Graphic Art

Koloman Moser (1868-1918) was one of the key players in the Vienna Secession movement, active in a variety of media as I posted here. Biographical information can be found here and here.

He was very good at everything he did except, perhaps, painting. Below are examples of his graphic art -- posters, Ex Libris stickers, book covers and the like.


Study and the final, printed version of "Allegory of Spring" from around 1896.

Full book cover design -- back, spine and front -- for a book of German poetry.

Poster for exhibit of German art and decoration.

Ex Libris sticker.

Poster for a Secession event.

Vorfrühling - Illustation zum gleichnamigen Gedicht von Rainer Maria Rilke - 1901
"Early Spring" poems by Rilke.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Adolphe Willette's "Parce Domine"

If you happen to be interested in the Paris art scene from around, say, 1880 into the 1920s, a museum well worth a visit is the Musée de Montmartre. It's located on grounds containing a vineyard and the main building was once home to artists such as Raoul Dufy, Suzanne Valadon, and her son Maurice Utrillo.

Perhaps the best-known painting in its collection is the large canvas by Adolphe Léon Willette (1857-1926) titled in Latin "Parce Domine" (refering to the antiphon "Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo -- Spare, Lord, spare your people." It was first housed in Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), a famous late 19th century cabaret. It depicts a fantasy Parisian bohemian scene.

I can't find a satisfactory overall image of it on the Internet, though there are some decent detail images. So I might as well add to that pile with some of my own photos taken in 2015 and earlier this year. That's because Parce Domine has a lot of content, much of it both charming and interesting. Click on images to enlarge.


Slightly cropped version of the entire painting. In the upper right are words and music of the antiphon.

Zooming in towards the left.

Zooming further.

Panning to the right.

Zooming to the lower central part of that image.

And towards the right.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Great War Group Portraits Displaying Commentary

London's National Portrait Gallery has been using the centenary of the 1914-1918 Great War as a theme for presentations in some of its rooms. Among the paintings I saw there in April were three huge works commissioned by Sir Abraham Bailey who Wikipedia describes as a "South African diamond tycoon, politician, financier and cricketer."

These are group portraits of generals, admirals and statesmen. One is just simply that, so far as I can tell. But two of them seem to incorporate commentary, as I explain below in captions.

The images of entire paintings below are via the National Portrait Gallery, London. Click on images to enlarge.


General Officers of World War I - John Singer Sargent - 1922
Wikipedia identifies them here. Most of the most senior officers (French, Haig and Robertson) are placed slightly to the right of center, but as best I can tell, Sargent and perhaps Bailey had no particular point to make in the form of placement of the subjects.

Naval Officers of World War I - Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope - 1921
This is not the case so far as admirals are concerned. At the far right is Sir John Jellicoe who commanded the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland, the most important naval battle of the war and then became First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy (the top position for a serving officer). So why is he pushed off the an extreme side of the canvas while his successor, David Beatty, is shown at the center, his admiral's sleeve stripes prominent? Because of Royal Navy and British government politics. Jutland, or a similar battle, was expected by many in government and in the population at large to be another Trafalgar, where the enemy fleet was to have been destroyed. As it happened, the battle was something of a standoff, where the Royal Navy sustained the greater losses while the German High Seas Fleet pretty much stayed in port for the rest of the war -- strategically defeated. Many blamed Jellicoe for the mixed outcome while Beatty, who made some questionable decisions during the battle, was regarded as a hero. Given existing Royal Navy doctrine and weather conditions when the battle was fought, Jellicoe might have done better, but didn't do badly (in my opinion). But Beatty prevailed in the battle post-mortems, and was First Sea Lord when the painting was made. I suspect Bailey desired Jellicoe's placement at the far edge and Beatty's at the center.

Statesmen of World War I - James Guthrie - 1924-1930
Guthrie was a "Glasgow Boy" near the end of his career when this painting was made. I wrote about him here. Depicted men are identified here. Interestingly, Prime Minister (1908-1916) H.H. Asquith is shown seated below the standing/gesturing Arthur Balfour, and Prime Minister (1916-1922) David Lloyd George is seated third from the left. One might think PMs would be more prominent. But the featured statesman is Winston Churchill, highlighted and facing the viewer. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-1915), Minister of Munitions (1917-1919) and Chancellor of the Exchequer (treasury secretary) 1924-1929 -- essentially the time the painting was made. While he was an important statesman in those days, he was probably not the most important. Again, I think Bailly influenced how he was depicted.

Statesmen of World War I - detail
This is a photo I took at the Portrait Gallery showing Guthrie's depiction of Churchill in greater detail.  He is looking directly at the viewer, while the others are not, thus also attracting further attention to him.  And as it turned out, he proved to be the most important one shown in light of future history.