Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Soviet Tag-Team Painting

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 in the Soviet Union. This is dealt with in this book starting on page 182. Around 1950 huge paintings were commissioned for exhibition, but with completion deadlines so tight that a single artist could not hope to complete the work in time. So "brigades" of artists able to paint in an academic style were formed to do the work. They were under the direction of a brigade leader, usually an academician, so their style of painting was similar enough that individual treatments would not be noticed. For example, one such painting, "On the Great Stalinist Construction Site" (1951), had five artists participating.

Even before this form of group painting emerged, there were cases where two artists would work on the same large canvas. An example is "The Taking of Sevastopol" painted 1944-1947 by Pavel Sokolov-Skalya and Andrei Plotnov. I viewed it when I was in Málaga, Spain in November where I visited a branch of Saint Petersburg's excellent Russian Museum. It was holding a year-long (ending February 2019) exhibit titled "The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art." A fine exhibit. Plenty of paintings, some of which I even knew about before I visited. Of course I took lots of snapshots, including some of The Taking of Sevastopol, shown below. Click on images to enlarge.


The Crimean port city of Sevastopol was captured by Germany in the summer of 1942 after an eight month siege.  The Russians recaptured it in the spring of 1944, this action being the subject of the painting.

Russian soldiers and sailors are shown attacking Germans, a number of whom are in a state of panic. I'm pretty sure this scene is contrived for artistic and propaganda purposes. Such a concentration of men, artillery and a tank would have been quite rare in World War 2. Furthermore, hand-to-hand combat was not a common as in earlier wars, but might have been more prevalent on the Russian front. Most likely the Germans held off the Russians as long as they could using long-range rifle fire and then retired as carefully as they could manage. However, at the crest of the bluff above the city shown here, there would have been some action because a few German troops were needed to delay the Russian advance up the slope. Also, note the falling Russian soldier at the right of this detail photo and compare it to the image below.

Robert Capa's famous, but controversial, photo of a Republican soldier being killed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. The pose isn't identical to that of the figure in the painting, but there are similarities -- note the forward legs and the pant leg cloth folds in each image.

Panning to the right. Again the soldiers and sailors are packed tightly for reasons of drama. The background city view reflects that most of the building in Sevastopol were damaged during the earlier siege. I wonder if one artist painted the city and other background features while the other concentrated on the soldiers.

The term"tag-team" in the title of this post has to do with a feature of American professional wrestling whereby two two-man teams participate. Only two opponents are in the ring at one time, but team members can be substituted if the man in the ring touches (tags) his teammate waiting outside the ropes.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Melbourne Brindle, Illustrator and "Car Guy"

Ewart Melbourne Brindle (1904-1995) -- Melbourne Brindle, as he signed his name and was known by -- was a successful illustrator whose peak career spanned the early-1930s to the late-1960s when he chose to retire from commercial work. His Wikipedia entry is here, and more background can be found here.

His most characteristic illustrations, in my opinion, were done in pen-and-ink. A few of these are shown below along with works in other media. Some of the images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Brindle was basically a careful artist who seldom tried for flashy effects. But his illustrations were not necessarily static and dull (unless an art director insisted on him doing so). My take is that, at his best, his illustrations were pleasing and satisfying.


As noted in the headline, Brindle was a "car guy." He is shown at the top of this advertisement with his Crane-Simplex car -- an extremely rare and valuable one and only part of his collection.

An illustration done in the later-1950s. Note his standard signature at the lower left.

That signature is on one side of his gravestone: the other side has the usual information.

A Packard advertisement from around 1946 featuring a probably fictitious Army Air Forces colonel who loved the Packard-built motors in his P-51 fighters.

A Packard ad from 1948.

Illustration from a 1949 Packard ad. In these advertisements for Packard, the illustration style of the cars and that of the backgrounds are different enough to make one wonder if a different artist painted the cars. On the other hand, Brindle was quite capable of rendering an automobile: plus, his signature is on the illustrations. By the way, the Packards are distorted to make them seem more sleek than they actually were -- a common advertising practice in those days.

An illustration of a 1956 Chevrolet.  Again, it is distorted by order of an art director.

Illustration of an early gasoline station.

Matson Line ad from 1946.  Yes, the ship is idealized.

Here is what I consider a characteristic Brindle illustration. It was made for an advertisement promoting the Territory of Hawaii in 1936. The view is of Honolulu harbor. At the left is a white-hull Matson liner. At the center is the city's famous Aloha Tower.

View of a Territorial University building from the same ad series.

Landscape painting of Block Island, Rhode Island that might have been painted after he retired.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Naval Art of Henry Reuterdahl

Henry Reuterdahl (1870-1925) was born in Sweden and moved to the United States in 1893. As his Wikipedia entry mentions, he lacked formal art training yet nevertheless had a successful career as an illustrator and painter of naval and marine subjects. More information about him is here.

His illustration and painting style tended towards a flashy, free form of impressionism with a touch of other modernist influences. Much of this seems to be for dramatic effect rather than careful documentation of events he witnessed such as the early stages of the 1907-08 around-the-world cruise of the Great White Fleet.


Illustration showing a U.S. battleship in a foreign harbor

Strange Ships - 1910
One source has the date as 1918. However, this might be related to the previous one even though their settings differ (one has high hills in the background, the other does not).

United States Fleet in the Straits of Magellan, February 1908
The around-the-world cruise: the sea is tranquil here.

The Fleet Passing Through Magellan Straits
And here, at the same location, it seems less so, though this is more of a closeup view. The empty area at the lower right of this print where Reuterdahl signed it gives the impression that the sea is dropping downwards.

Great White Fleet at Sea, December 1907 (Rear Admiral Charles Mitchell Thomas on USS Minnesota BB-22)
Another Great White Fleet illustration.

New York Harbor 1914 - H.S. Vanderbilt schooner Vagrant amidst commercial and military shipping
The white building is the Woolworth, the other tall one is the Singer Building: both are idealized, exaggerated. The point-of-view here is looking down the Hudson.

Naval Engagement - c. 1915, watercolor
This has a Fauvist feeling thanks to the exaggerated colors.  Again, the water appears to be falling off the frame.

Sinking of the Battlecruiser Queen Mary at the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916
The Queen Mary suffered a magazine explosion, broke in half, and sank. Only 20 of her crew survived. One is shown here on the hull of the ship near the center of the paining.

U.S. Navy recruiting poster - c. 1917

Convoy - c.1920 - USS Allen DD-66, SS France, USS Mount Vernon ID-4508
Here in a somewhat Cubist-Futurist vein are depicted camouflaged ships. This is not quite characteristic of Reuterdahl's work, but he is credited as the painter on the Internet site where it was found.

Air Patrol of the Atlantic - USS Edwards - c.1919 - watercolor
Another highly dramatized scene, though the North Atlantic can be vicious and destroyers are comparatively small and narrow.

Battle Fleet Returning to New York Harbor - 1920
From about the same viewpoint as the 1914 scene -- southern Hoboken or northern Jersey City, New Jersey, perhaps. The buildings are shown more accurately here. Even so, I have the feeling that Reuterdahl used some exaggeration: the river seems pretty wide in relation to the indicated size of those battleships.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Daphne du Maurier's Sister Jeanne's Paintings

Jeanne du Maurier (1911-1996) was an artist, a painter. But she is probably best-known as being the younger sister of the writer Daphne du Maurier. Jeanne and Daphne were daughters of the well-known (in his day) actor Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont. Their grandfather was George du Maurier who worked at Punch magazine and wrote the novel "Trilby" that had the character Svengali.

Although there are printed biographies dealing with the three du Maurier sisters (the oldest was Angela, who also wrote), the main Internet source dealing with Jeanne is here. It states:

"She studied at the Central School of Art in Southampton Row, and was in the life class under Bernard MENINSKY. She also studied drypoint and etching there. After she attended the St. John's Wood School of Art (studying painting under P F Millard) her first studio was in Hampstead, and she began exhibiting in 1938 with the RBA [Royal Society of British Artists] and SWA [Society of Women Artists]. ...

"Her next exhibition [after World War 2] was with STISA [St Ives Society of Artists] in the Autumn of 1945, opened by her mother Lady du Maurier. She took a studio in St Ives and again exhibited in 1946 where she met Dod PROCTER who asked her if she could paint her portrait. The two became close friends, spending three winters together, two in Tenerife and one in Africa. By the time she exhibited at the RA [Royal Academy] in the 1950s, Jeanne had moved to Manaton in Devon. She painted mostly still life, flowers, landscapes and the occasional portrait. Among her works exhibited at the RA were flower paintings."

Hardly any images of her paintings can be found on the Internet, nearly all held by the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. Worse, none are dated. This means I cannot place them in context of 20th century painting trends and fashions. I'll guess that the images below are of paintings made between 1950 and 1970. If any reader has better information, please post a comment.


Birds and Flowers
This, and the painting below feature mirrors.

Reflections I

Repetition II

The Bird Cage

The House Next Door
Her treatment of foliage seems inspired by Cézanne.

House in Madeira

Your tastes might well differ from mine. And tiny images seen on computer screens seldom capture what one experiences when viewing paintings in person. That said, from my perspective Jeanne du Maurier was not a good artist. The paintings shown here (aside from The Bird Cage and The House in Madera) tend to be wispy and unfocused. Bird Cage seems unresolved, incomplete. The Madeira house painting is the most solid, yet it has those three blue patches representing upper-story windows and the roof without the correct shadow pattern that distract from the rest of the work. Based on these few examples, it puzzles me how she ever got paintings accepted by the Royal Academy. Could it have been her family connections?

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Admirals Descended from Artists

Back in 2012 I posted about the interesting (to me) case of a famous artist's son who became an admiral and the son of an important admiral who became a painter. I wrote:

"Let's start with Augustus John (1878-1961), best known as a portraitist who sired children by his wife and other women. His second son (by his wife) was Caspar John (1903-1984), who went on to become First Sea Lord (1960-63), attaining the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1962. In the Royal Navy, First Sea Lord [was] the highest position that an officer can attain."

Caspar John's Wikipedia entry is here.

Recently I became aware that the grandson of Sir John Everett Millais, 1st Baronet (1829-1896) also became a Royal Navy Admiral. Millais was one of the original members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and later went on the become a successful portrait painter and, not long before his death, president of the Royal Academy.

"Bubbles," a 1886 painting of a young boy, became famous because it was controversially for Millais used for many years in advertising material by England's Pears Soap company (more information about it here).

The boy in the painting was Millais' grandson William Milbourne James (1881-1973) who later rose to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy.

Sir William had to bear the cross of the painting in the form of having the nickname "Bubbles" during his naval career. He was a prolific author during and after his time in the navy. In the early years of the Great War he was executive officer of the battlecruiser Queen Mary, serving under Sir William Reginald "Blinker" Hall who later was in charge of the famous Room 40 decoding center where James also served. Both Hall and James transferred from Queen Mary before the Battle of Jutland where the ship was destroyed when a magazine exploded: only 20 men survived of a complement of 1,286.


Caspar John by Augustus John - c. 1920

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Caspar John in 1963
When he was First Sea Lord.

"Bubbles" by John Everett Millais - 1886

Admiral Sir William Milbourne James

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Posthumous Tribute to Sergei Kirov

Sergei Kirov (1886-1934) met a curious end, as explained in this Wikipedia entry. He was a prominent Bolshevik, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Communist Party and at the time of his assassination head of the Leningrad branch of the Communist Party. Following his death he was treated as something of a martyr to the Communist cause. In post-Stalin USSR a major warship was named after him.

Yet, as Wikipedia indicates, for many years there have been strong suspicions that Kirov had been killed by order of Josef Stalin and the assassination was covered up in part by the posthumous honors. A few years later in his great purges, Stalin simply had people snuffed out on the pretext they were traitors. No posthumous honors. Perhaps Stalin had learned something from the Kirov experience or maybe the sheer logistics and justifications of the purges eliminated such honors.

When I was in Málaga, Spain in November I visited a branch of Saint Petersburg's excellent Russian Museum. It was holding a year-long (ending February 2019) exhibit titled "The Radiant Future: Socialist Realism in Art." A fine exhibit. Plenty of examples, some of which I even knew about before I visited. Of course I took lots of snapshots.

One painting I photographed was "Sergei Kirov Reviews the Athletic Parade" completed in 1935, a year following the assassination, and clearly part of the honors heaped on him. The artist is Alexander Nikolayevich Samokhvalov (1894-1971), Wikipedia entry here, a prominent member of what is called the Leningrad School who tended to specialize in athletic subjects.

I am not impressed by Samokhvalov paintings that I know of, and the tribute to Kirov strikes me the same way. I include it as an example of one kind of Socialist Realism and for its historical as well as political overtones. I doubt that Samokhvalov at the time of his work was aware of any controversy regarding Kirov's death.

Click on the images below to enlarge.


Image of the painting found on the Internet.

Snapshot of the painting that I took. The painting is huge. Note the relationship of the floor and the plaque at the left: these indicate the foreground subjects are not much smaller than life-size.

Detail.  Several of the athletes depicted have curiously large whites of their eyes for some reason.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Stanhope Forbes, Revisited

Ever since I viewed the painting "A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach" by Stanhope Forbes (1857-1947) at an exhibit in San Francisco a dozen or more years ago, I've wanted to see it again. (I posted twice regarding Forbes -- here on 14 May 2018 and here on 13 June 2011.)

The painting is based at the Plymouth Museum and Art Gallery, not very far from Newlyn in Cornwall, where it was painted. I was on a bus tour of England's West Country recently, and hoped to track it down while passing through Plymouth. Alas, the tour provided no time for that. Not that it mattered, because Plymouth is in the process of consolidated several museums into one structure, and all are closed during the construction.

That afternoon the tour bus dropped us off at St. Ives, a flashier arty spot on the north shore than Newlyn on the south shore of the peninsula, about ten miles away by road. I never quite got to Newlyn, but took photos in St. Ives, one of which gives us idea as to how well Forbes captured Cornwall beaches at low tide. Click on the images to enlarge.


A Fish Sale on a Cornish Beach - 1884-85
The painting's Wikipedia entry is here.

My photo of the beach at St. Ives, 9 October 2018.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Painting Shiny Metal: Rembrandt and Wootton

I recently wrote here about British artist/illustrator Frank Wootton (1914-1998) who was skilled at depicting light, shade and reflections on shiny metallic surfaces. Doing this convincingly requires skill and especially experience.

Just for fun, below I present some images by Wootton along with a few by Rembrandt who also was no slouch when it came to metal.

The Wootton images are photos of details of paintings I saw in the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, just north of London. Lighting conditions were poor, and protective material affected color and allowed reflections, so keep in mind that what you're viewing is an approximation.


Man with the Golden Helmet - c.1650 (detail)
Note how Rembrandt deals with the effect of light on warm gold and cool steel.

Man in Armor - 1655
Here he deals with steel.  I'm not sure if the painting has been cleaned and colors are original or if the yellow hue is due to old varnish.

Old Man in Military Costume - 1630-31
An earlier painting, but one I find particularly impressive because he depicts brushed steel convincingly.

April Morning, France, 1918 - 1982 (detail)
This is a tiny part of a much larger Wootton painting and might be close to actual size when viewed on a desktop computer screen.  The aircraft is a Sopwith Camel with metal at the forward part of the fuselage.  Note how he shows reflections.  Also the effect of light on the gunsight in front of the cockpit windscreen.

Harts Over the Himalayas - c. 1967 (detail)
The darker zone is actually a shadow of Yr. Loyal Blogger on the protective glass or plastic.  The forward metaled area reflects the sky, the upper wing and the mountainous terrain below.