Thursday, January 31, 2019

Hugh Goldwin Rivière, Mid-Lever British Portraitist

Hugh Goldwin Riviere (1869–1956) lived a long life and made a living as a portrait painter in the United Kingdom. The most detail I could find about him during a short Google search is
here -- almost nothing there, as you can see.

Nevertheless, he painted many portraits, a number of which can be seen here. Note that nearly all are of persons of local or middling national interest. There are no royalty, top-level nobility or senior military leaders shown. Nor are there subjects from the entertainment world.

That said, Rivière (of Huguenot descent) was competent in his work and also painted subjects besides portraits on occasion. Despite his competence, as readers of this blog might be aware by now, he had a great number of British competitors who were equally good, and a few who were much better.

In the Gallery below, a few portraits are presented, then three other works. The latter pre-date the portraits, so I'll conjecture that he tried other subjects before settling on portraiture as a career.


Henry Solomon Wellcome - 1906
Perhaps his most famous subject: Information regarding Wellcome is here.

Lady Monica Bullough - 1909

Mary Scharlieb, Royal Free Hospital
I find her pose unusual, but interesting and probably characteristic of her.

Miss Peggy Wood

Rosalind Monica Wagner - 1931
At this point in his career Rivière introduces a whiff of fashionable modernist simplification.

Jimmie - 1935
Another variation in style.

The Lonely Life - 1899
More a commentary than the portrait this might seem to be.

The Garden of Eden - 1901
Perhaps his best known painting.

A Libation to Olympus - 1904
Another interesting work, but apparently wasn't enough to propel Rivière's career.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Konstantin Korovin: Sketchy Paintings

Konstantin Alekseyevich Korovin (1861-1939) was a Russian painter with a free, sketchy technique influenced by Impressionism, though his style apparently was always somewhat loose before he first visited Paris in 1885. He was well-connected, knowing many of the important artists and patrons in Czar Nicholas II's day. Not long after the Revolution he moved to Paris, where he lived the rest of his life. Biographical information can be found here.

Korovin's stylistic sketchiness seemed to kick into a higher gear following his move to France in 1923. Perhaps this had to do with the need to quickly produce paintings to bring in money. Or maybe it had to do with Paris being an avant-garde artistic place (though the same might be said for Russia, especially in the early post-Revolution years). Or it could have been that this was his natural artistic trajectory as he continued to gain maturity and experience. And, possibly, this looser style was what the Paris art market wanted, so he supplied it.

Below are examples of Korovin's work. I essentially skipped over his earlier landscape paintings, but they and others can be found by Googling.


At the Window - 1893

Arkhangelsk - 1894
Russia's main White Sea port.

On the Balcony, Spanish Women Leonora and Ampara - 1897–98

Portrait of Ivan Morosov - 1903
Morosov was an art collector.

Portrait of Fyodor Chaliapin - 1911
The famed opera singer.

A Ballerina in Her Boudoir -1923

At the Window - 1923

By the Window

A Night in Paris

Café de la Paix - 1920s

Paris scene - c. 1930

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Up Close: Frank Wootton's "Harts Over the Himalayas"

Frank Anthony Albert Wootton (1914-1998) painted landscapes and horses, but for me he's noted for his illustrations of automobiles and airplanes. In particular, he was highly skilled at depicting the effects of light, shadow and reflections on shiny metallic surfaces such as can be found on cars and planes.

His brief Wikipedia entry is here. A more extensive treatment can be found in his obituary in the Independent. I wrote about his poster art here.

In October I visited the Royal Air Force Museum London located at the former Hendon aerodrome north of town. Besides aircraft and support vehicles there was a small gallery of aviation paintings, several by Wootton. The one I focus on in this post is titled "Harts Over the Himalayas" (c. 1967) that shows three Hawker Hart biplane bombers in the north of India during the 1930s. Closely related to the Hart was the Hawker Fury fighter that in turn was an ancestor of the famous Hawker Hurricane fighter that comprised the bulk of Britain's interceptors during the 1940 Battle of Britain.

Below are images of Wootton's Hart painting.


Image of the painting via the museum's Web site.  Click on this and the other images to enlarge.

A detail photographed by me.  Conditions were poor due to lighting in the area along with the protective cover on the painting.  A smear of reflected light is at the lower left and the darker area to its right of that is my shadow.  Keep these in mind when evaluating Wootton's technique as shown in this image and the one below.

A closer view of his capture of the metal covered portion of the fuselage.  Not hard-edge as some aviation artists are prone to do -- freer and slightly impressionistic.  Contrast this to his treatment of the fabric-covered part of the fuselage beginning abaft of the lower wing.  At least one Hart exists, and can be found in the museum.  I do not know if Wootton was able to use it as a model for the painting or it he relied on period photos of Harts --- most likely the latter.  I also strongly suspect that his treatment of the fuselage surfaces and other parts of the aircraft was from his imagination honed by years of depicting planes of many types.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Axel Törneman, Early Swedish Modernist Painter

Johan Axel Gustaf Törneman (1880-1925) is credited in his Wikipedia entry as being "one of Sweden's earliest modernist painters."

Not knowing much about Swedish painters other than Anders Zorn, I can't attest to the truth or falsity of that. However, given that Törneman turned 20 years old towards the end of 1900, this means that Swedish artists must have been years behind those in France, Germany, and perhaps even Russia in terms of modernist styles.

Sadly, he died age 45 of a stomach ailment, so we will never know what he might have produced with increasing maturity and exposure to Parisian art fashions. In the years leading up to his death he sometimes distorted proportions of his subject matter considerably. But for most of his career proportions were close to reality, though he did simplify and slightly distort as he saw fit. His Modernism, therefore, usually took the form of exaggerated or shifted colors.

The images below are ordered by year.


Absint - Absinthe - 1902
Experimenting with somewhat distorted shapes and colors.  Here he seems to be trying Edvard Munch's style.

Bretagnare I - Brittany Scene
Probably painted before 1905.

Självporträtt med cigarett - Self-Portrait with Cigarette - 1904
Experimenting with color and brushwork.

Gudrun - 1904
He married Paris chanteuse Gudrun Høyer-Ellefsen in 1908.

Bonden i Bretagne - Farmer in Brittany - 1905
Here he experiments in van Gogh's style.

Nattcafé I - Night Café I - 1905-06
This and the painting below are considered Törneman's most famous works.

Nattcafé II - Night Café II - 1906
This Paris café scene has distorted colors, so Törneman probably was aware of the new Fauvist style.

The Artist's Wife - 1909
More Fauvist influence coupled with square brushwork.

Självporträtt med pipa - Self-Portrait with Pipe - 1916
Now he tries some cloisonnisme.

Sagostund - Story Hour - 1919
Probably his wife and son: rather thinly painted.

Autumn Hunt - 1920

Skuggor - Shadows - 1925
Painted the year he died.  As best I can tell, he still hadn't settled on a personal style, though possibly this it it.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Honoring the Picture Plane: Sophistry in Action

"Honoring the picture plane" was a big deal when I was in art school, though the idea has lost some of its punch in Postmodern times. The gist of it was, since a canvas is normally a flat, two-dimensional object upon which things are painted, its nature is violated by attempting to depict three-dimensional things on it. More simply put: flat painting surfaces demand flat depictions.

What interests me nowadays is how seriously this was taken by intelligent people. My sophomore-year undergraduate art history course cast a deterministic process for Western art where the ultimate, end-of-history was abstract art as currently practiced by highly publicized New York City painters. I'm pretty sure our instructor, a senior staffer at the university's art museum, was largely influenced by Clement Greenberg (1909-1994).

The Greenberg Wikipedia link just cited has a sub-link to something called medium specificity, a fancy term for picture plane honoring that I hadn't been aware of.

Tom Wolfe in his often-hilarious way dealt with the business of flatness and abstraction in his 1975 book "The Painted Word." In it, he features the influence of important New York art critics, including Greenberg.

Here is a taste of Greenberg's writing from "The Role of Nature on Modern Painting," Partisan Review, January 1949. He was discussing the rise and importance of Cubism, but the passage below includes some of his thinking regarding flatness.

"By dint of their efforts to discover pictorially the structure of objects, of bodies, in nature, Picasso and Braque had come -- almost abruptly, it would seem -- to a new realization of, and a new respect for, the nature of the picture plane itself as a material object; and they came to the further realization that only by transposing the internal logic by which objects are organized in nature could aesthetic form be given to the irreducible flatness which defined the picture plane in its inviolable quality as a material object. This flatness became the final, all-powerful premise of the art of painting, and the experience of nature could be transposed into it only by analogy, not by imitative reproduction. Thus the painter abandoned his interest in the concrete appearance, for example, of a glass and tried instead to approximate by analogy the way in which nature had married the straight contours that defined the glass vertically to the curved ones that defined it laterally. Nature no longer offered appearances to imitate, but principles to parallel."

This is sophistry. Its premise and conclusion are that flat painting surfaces are determinative.

They are not. Great artists can and do whatever suits them on those innocent flat surfaces. They can paint flat color areas, they can create illusions of three-dimensionality, they can even go the collage route by pasting foreign objects on the canvas or board. Greenberg and his followers were placing art in a straightjacket through use of an arbitrary premise from which constrictive deductions were made.

Let's look at some examples.


Number 1 - by Jackson Pollock - 1949
Greenberg was a huge Pollock fan, yet here was Pollock painting actual layers of colors atop a flat canvas.

Untitled - by Piet Mondrian
Mondrian, on the other hand, for many years painted very flat, not-curving images using only black, white and the three primary colors. Can't get more basic than that.

School of Athens - by Raphael - 1511
One-point perspective began appearing in Western painting in the early 1400s. "One point" refers to a single vanishing point, found here between the two figures framed by the most distant arch. Artists in Raphael's time were thrilled at this means of showing depth on a flat surface.  Eventually, two-point and three-point perspectives were discovered.

Canyon Green - by Franz Bischoff - c. 1915-25
Another way to portray distance is called "atmospheric perspective" which involves the greying-out of increasingly distant objects caused by particulate matter in the air.

Lady of Shalott - by John W. Waterhouse - 1888
Here Waterhouse uses both linear (mostly regarding the boat) and atmospheric perspective.

Ajax and Cassandra - by Solomon J. Solomon - 1886
The background pedestal has linear perspective. The figures are given three-dimensionality by use of light and shade to suggest their surface modeling.

Un Bar aux Folies-Bergère - by Édouard Manet - 1882
Manet's paintings often had a flatter look, though the small figures reflected in the mirror behind the barmaid diminish in size with distance, just as Raphael's did in "Athens."

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne - c. 1903
Cézanne attempted to reconcile depicting a 3-D world on a 2-D canvas with crude, though influential, results.

Church of the Minorities II - by Lyonel Feininger - 1926
Feininger was influenced by Cubism, but only superficially. Note the one-point perspective and the atmospherics in this painting.

Variation #1 in Orange - by David Leffel
An impressive, comparatively recent painting making zero use of Greenberg's ideas.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Examples of Soviet Brigade Art

Aside from perhaps a few religious icons and early modernists such as Kandinsky and Malevich, my college art history class ignored Russian art. I don't know what current art history classes deal with, but it's clear to me that late 19th century Russian painters are becoming better-known than they were 50 or 60 years ago.

Still confined to obscurity is Stalinist Socialist Realism. In part this was because of its propagandistic nature. Perhaps an even greater reason for its disparagement by the Art Establishment was its use of Academic and other pre-modernist styles.

Due to all this, until recently I was unaware that along with collective farming and other individualism-suppressing practices, there was the use of "brigades" of artists who collectively created large paintings. This is dealt with in this book. On page 182 Matthew Cullerne Brown writes:

"In 1949 [Vasili] Efanov and a team of young artists painted Leading People of Moscow in the Kremlin. This work stimulated a revival in the practice of creating pictures by brigades, the method that had been adopted at the end of the 1930s for the New York international exhibition and the pavilions of the Agricultural Exhibition. Now a method of working once restricted to the fulfilment of special projects became commonplace. This accorded with the pressure on artists to ... produce bigger and yet bigger pictures in academic style -- while the party allowed no extra time for their creation....

"Brigade painting gained another justification, inherent in communal endeavour. This was the inevitable elimination of much personal style, affecting all participating artists. Their work approached an ideal of wholly anonymous academic execution; the brigade method predicated the whole Stalinist straining towards a mass culture and the eradication of individual difference....

"[W]hereas the huge paintings for the 1939 exhibition in New York had been created by groups of equals, now each brigade was led by one artist, usually an Academician... Typically, these artists would devise a composition and then employ younger, less well-established artists to carry out the chore of innumerable portrait and architectural studies."

The author goes on to note that those younger artists benefited because it enhanced their reputations and the work paid well.

The Russian Museum, Málaga branch had an exhibition of Soviet-era painting when I visited, and one of those works was a brigade effort. It and two other examples are shown below. Click on the colored images to enlarge.


"Leading People of Moscow in the Kremlin" - 1949. Brigade artists were the leader Vasili Efanov, Stepan Dudnik, Yuri Kugach, Konstantin Maksimov, and Viktor Tsyplakov.

"Lenin's Speech to the Third Congress of the Komsomol" - 1950. Artists were the leader Boris Iognson, Nikolai Chebakov, Nataliya Faidysh-Krandievskaya, Vasili Sokolov, and Dmitri Tegin.

"In the Name of Peace (The Signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Union and Mutual Assistance Between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China)" - 1950. Brigade leader was Viktor Vikhtinsky, but I have no information about the other artists. This is an iPhone snapshot I took.

A more detailed snapshot. I can recognize the following people (standing, left to right): Nikita Khrushchev,  Vyacheslav Molotov, unknown general, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Chou En-Lai.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Millions for an early N.C. Wyeth Illustration

The image above is an illustration titled "Hands Up," alternatively "Holdup in the Canyon" painted for C.P. Connolly’s “The Story of Montana,” published in McClure’s Magazine, August 1906. In 2016 it was auctioned at Christie's for just under $4.5 million (details here).

This amount was far above Christie's price estimate and even greater than previous prices for works by N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth (1882-1945), considered one of America's greatest illustrators. Biographical information on him can be found here and here.

Both sources mention that he made two journeys from Pennsylvania to the West with the purpose of soaking up the spirit and details of that region from personal experience rather than second-hand via books or magazines. "Hands up" was one of many drawings and paintings resulting from those journeys.

I'm featuring it here because I'm pleased that classic American illustration is getting its due recognition as valued by the art market