Monday, December 24, 2018

Fascist-Era Roman Hotel

One of my pet peeves regarding the naming of architectural styles is the category "Fascist Architecture" (fragment of a Wikipedia entry on the subject here).

My contention is that so-called Fascist Architecture was largely the same sort of 1930s transitional (from historical ornamentation to ornamentation-free modernism) found in other countries including the decidedly non-fascist United States. Salient examples tend to be buildings built by governments. But non-government structures also sometimes followed that architectural fashion.

One example of the latter is the Hotel Mediterraneo in Rome, at Via Cavour 15, about two blocks from Rome's main railway station. The link is to the ownership group that holds three hotels clustered near the same intersection. One hotel is 19th century, but the Mediterraneo and the adjoining Atlantico were built in the 1930s -- the Mediterraneo in 1936, designed by Mario Loreti.

The Mediterraneo caters to tour groups, which is how I first stayed there a few years ago. Recently I booked myself on a western Mediterranean cruise and stayed two nights at the hotel before heading to the Civitavecchia cruise port. Below are a few snapshots I took before departing.


Mediterraneo exterior.  The entrance is at the near corner.  To the left is the Atlantico.  Note the tour busses parked on the Via Cavour.

Lounge area off the hotel lobby.

To one side of the lounge.

Dining room at breakfast time.

Wall and ceiling décor in the dining room.

What is shown above are essentially simple shapes and rich materials accented by small amounts of detailed ornamentation. In other words, characteristic of the 1930s transition to ornamentation-free modernist forms.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Floyd Davis: Successful Illustrator with No Training, Few Models

In those olden times when American illustration was in flower, there was no clear path for continued success for artists who had attained a certain degree of fame.

Essentially, this was the matter of one's style in the context of inevitable changes in stylistic fashion. An illustrator with a widely recognized style -- one whose work can be identified at a glance -- can rake in plenty of income while that kind of style remains fashionable. But when the fashion changes from, say, painterly brushwork in oils (1915-1927 or so) to thin linework and watercolor (1928-1935 or so), one's happy career could easily crash.

Other than dropping out of illustration to become an art director, taking up portrait painting, teaching and other non-illustration possibilities, the successful illustrator has two main strategic career alternatives. One is to continue his basic style, perhaps with a few minor adjustments. Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker did this, though Leyendecker's popularity eventually faded whereas Rockwell's did not. I suspect that this holding-the-fort strategy is rarely successful.

The alternative strategy is to try going with the fashion flow. That is, changing one's style and (if necessary) one's preferred medium. This can be very difficult for well-known illustrators because, all of a sudden, they aren't producing what made them popular in the first place. One successful example of this style shift is Mead Schaeffer, whose 1940s work is noticeably different from what he was doing in the 1920s and 1930s. Dean Cornwell shifted his style enough to stay competitive, but John La Gatta's career began to fade as he tried to adjust to the times.

Changing illustration style fashions often worked to the advantage of artists who were fairly successful, but not as famous as the ones just mentioned. The reason is, by not being famous, their initial style hadn't become a strong trademark. So as long as they were competent and could easily practice the new fashion, their careers could continue chugging along.

The present post deals with a top-level illustrator who never had a strongly identifiable style, and therefore easily went along with the changing scene, happily earning a nice income.

Floyd MacMillan Davis (1896-1966), known simply as Floyd Davis, thrived from the mid-1920s into the 1950s, though he dialed back by the latter decade. Background information can be found here and here as well as elsewhere on the Internet and in several books dealing with American illustrators.

Briefly, Davis never had serious formal training. He had a knack for illustration, and that was enough in his case. It seems he seldom used models -- unusual for other top-earning illustrators. And his work could include caricature-like distortions and small, humorous details that did not interfere with his main theme. As for how he approached his work, here is the text of a 1942 interview of Davis by Ernest W. Watson.

Below are examples of Davis' work. I have to admit that I find it surprising that he was so well-known and successful, given the visual variety of his output. All that I can offer is the thought that Floyd Davis was the anti- Normal Rockwell.


A 1928 advertisement where Davis uses contemporary fashion illustration style with a touch more modeling, less flatness.

This would be from the mid-1930s, following the end of Prohibition.

Story illustration from the mid-30s, the setting being a polo club.

DeSoto Airflow advertisement from 1936. Davis did at least two of these. In each case, the ad made a big deal regarding the artist, so Davis was clearly a Name in those days.

This is quite different from the other examples, though various Web sites contend it's his work. I include it here even though I can't vouch for it absolutely. Let us know in a comment if this really was/wasn't by Davis.

Comedian Bob Hope made special efforts to entertain American military personnel during World War 2 and for many years after. Davis was hired by Life Magazine to cover the war, and this cartoon-like painting apparently was from that effort. I don't have a date for this, but it might have been from around mid-1942 when the U.S. Army was transitioning helmets from the British-style Hope is wearing to the one most usually seen on wartime photos.

This is titled "Bar in the Hotel Scribe, Paris, 1944." It's now housed the the U.S. National Portrait Gallery, a work in oil that is a collection of caricatures of well-known people who flocked to Paris after the Liberation. Links to identification are here and here. The style Davis used here is quite different from the other shown here.

A graduation day scene featured in a H.J. Heinz advertisement form 1945. Again, it has a cartoon-like flavor.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Georges van Zevenberghen, Belgian Inspired by Chardin

As the title of this post mentions, Georges Antoine Van Zevenberghen (1877-1968), was presumably inspired by Chardin's paintings. Well, that's what this nearly-worthless French Wikipedia entry mentions: "Il partit ensuite pour Paris en 1903 où il admira les œuvres du peintre du xviiie siècle Jean Siméon Chardin qui le marquèrent durablement."

It seems that van Zevenberghen spent most of his long life in Belgium, enduring periods of German occupation in both World Wars. His main travels apparently were to Paris. The entry also notes: "En 1933, il devint professeur à l'Académie royale des beaux-arts de Bruxelles, fonction qu'il remplit jusqu'en 1948." So he was regarded highly enough to become a professor in the Academy.

Not many of his paintings can be found on the Internet. They are generally solidly done. There is one that stands out, however, as can be seen below.


La repasseuse - 1907
The earliest of his paintings that I could locate.

Les modistes - 1915
Painted during wartime when most of Belgium was German-occupied.

Le joueur de violoncelle
The cello player. Several of his paintings feature cellos.

Adagio - c. 1930
Another cello.

Le jugement de Pâris - 1937
A rare Academy-themed work done while he was a professor.

La cigale ou la musique - The Cicada or Music
I'm not sure what the title means. Also, apologies for the poor quality of the image, but it's the best I could find in that size range.

The Manet - 1922
I think this painting is the best of the lot, though it's not particularly characteristic of his work.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Superferry Supergraphics

Large ferryboats carrying cars and passengers on comparatively long overnight runs are common in the Mediterranean and Baltic sea areas in Europe and in parts of Asia, though not in North America where most ferries simply cross rivers, narrow straits and harbors.

A few years ago I took one such ferry from Palermo in Sicily to Naples. It had a small, but adequate cabin and public areas to visit when not in the cabin. Being an overnight trip, no serious sightseeing or business time was lost. Very convenient.

I recently was on a cruise that covered, among other things, the Tyrrhenian Sea part of the Mediterranean (it's bounded by Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica).

From the cruise ship in several ports I saw that ferries of the Tirrenia line are being repainted using supergraphic images of American superhero comic book and movie cartoon figures.

Take a look:


A Tirrenia ferry not yet repainted, seen at Naples.

Seen at Civitavecchia.

First, Superman.

Next, Supergirl. An image of Superman's face is masked by the bow of the other ferry.

At Cagliari I saw Sylvester and Tweety.

Other ferries carry images of Batman and Wonder Woman.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Brangwyn in San Francisco

Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), Wikipedia entry here, was British artist whose paintings and murals have always fascinated me. My post on those aspects of his work is here.

Aside from his unfortunate set of murals in New York's Radio City that I wrote about here, concentrations of Brangwyn's work are rare in the United States and mostly off the usual tourist track. However, it turns out that there are some Brangwyn's in another major American city.

A few months ago I was in San Francisco on a dinner-date-plus-piano-concert and stumbled across a Brangwyn trove I was totally unaware of -- a set of eight large murals in the auditorium of the War Memorial building in the Civic Center district. At first, I thought they might have been done by him, and later confirmed this via an Internet search.

It happened that they were commissioned for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition and later installed in the auditorium as noted on page 34 of this book:

"The rest of the fair's public art was not dispersed as widely as the contents of the art pavilions. Having been executed on removable canvas, most of the murals were saved and turned over to the Trustees of the San Francisco War Memorial in the hope that they could be installed in other public buildings (Brangwyn's murals were eventually installed in the War Memorial Herbst Theatre, which was completed in 1932, while the others were placed in storage)."

Further research on the Internet revealed that the murals were displayed at the Court of Abundance at the exposition. Their themes were the Classical elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Two murals were painted for each theme.

I took some iPhone snapshots of the murals as an aide-memoir, assuming that I'd be able to find better examples on the Internet. Alas, it turns out that I found nothing really satisfactory, so the images below are of mural fragments taken from odd angles. Nevertheless, I hope you will find them interesting.


First, two images I found on the Internet showing the general arrangement.

North wall murals.

South wall murals.

Now for a collection of my snapshots (click on them to enlarge) ...

Some of the people portrayed in this mural have the knobby features he painted nearly 20 later for the RCA Building lobby that I criticized in the second link above.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Louis Denis-Valvérane the Painter Who Also Was Vald'Es the Cartoonist

Louis Denis-Valvérane (1870-1943) was a Provençal painter and illustrator/cartoonist who is perhaps best known for his racy (at the time) cartoons in the magazine La vie Parisienne that he signed as Vald'Es.

Biographical information on him is almost non-existent on the Internet. Very brief items are here and here. A web site devoted to him is here. It is in French and contains a little more information, but mostly mentions aspects of Provençal nationalism.

Denis-Valvérane's paintings found on the Web tend to be somewhat mediocre in my opinion, but some of his cartoon work strikes me as being very good. Examples of each are shown below.


Notre Dame du Romigier, Mairie de Manosque
A scene from Denis-Valvérane's home town.

Traveuax des champs - Working the Fields

Young Woman Reading a Letter to a Blind Man
The man's shirt and hands are done well.

Sailing Boats

Apparently it was expected in La vie Parisienne that it was good to show some female thigh above the stocking.

But that wasn't mandatory.

Hinting was also acceptable.

Flapper and apparent Sugar Daddy.

A two-part cartoon about young French women in the Roaring Twenties.

I like this one. Well-drawn, witty. Click on it to enlarge.

Monday, December 3, 2018

New Book About Haddon Sundblom

Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976) was a leading illustrator for many years and influential in the careers of other illustrators.

Now Dan Zimmer of Illustration Magazine has written a lavishly illustrated book about him (information here). I am quite pleased with it. Some books on illustrators lack details regarding their subjects because illustrators, like many writers, can live somewhat isolated lives due to the nature of their work. Sundblom ran a commercial art studio in Chicago, so there were many people around him that could provide stories. Also, he was quoted in interviews, which helped Zimmer to provide a more rounded portrait than he was able to do in some other cases.

For a quick take on Sundblom, his Wikipedia entry is here.

I posted about him here on 27 February 2012 and here on 8 June 2011. In the latter post, I stated:

"Yet something bothers me just enough that I can't place Sundblom with contemporaries such as Dean Cormwell, John La Gatta and Mead Schaeffer. Maybe it had to do with stereotyping or pigeonholing by clients and art directors. Perhaps it was Sundblom's preference. In any event, the result was that little of his work had drama or "bite" of any kind."

Some of the illustrations in the book invalidate what I thought back in 2011. Sundblom was quite able to paint in styles other than the buttery sort that he is best known for. Some examples are below.


Sundblom is best-known nowadays for his depictions of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola. This example is from 1946.

He did a good deal of other work for Coke, such as this 1950 poster.

Coca-Cola illustration from 1937. Again in his buttery oil-painting style.

Red Cross theme poster art.

Now for some editorial art for fiction pieces in magazines: this seems to be from the late 1930s.

From a June, 1957 Ladies' Home Journal.

Now for some illustrations that are not "buttery."

These three images represent top-quality 1930s-vintage magazine illustration, and are far removed from Sundblom's Coca-Cola work.

Finally, a Sundblom story illustration demonstrating his ability to depict ordinary folks, and not glamorous or dramatic types.

Haddon Sundblom was really good.