Monday, April 29, 2019

William Orpen's Great War Portraits

William Orpen (1878-1931), who I wrote about here, is best known as a portrait painter. Biographical information is here.

During the Great War, Orpen became a war artist attached to the British Army, painting scenes of combat areas and related subjects. Naturally, he also made portraits. Some of these were of enlisted men and junior or mid-level officers. Others were of leading officers and statesmen. In 1919, after the war was over, he painted a series of "unfinished" appearing portraits of leading Army and Royal Navy personalities. Perhaps he left these seemingly incomplete because he painted so many of them and lacked time to make them look finished. They mostly are signed, so Orpen must have regarded them as finished, and the sketchiness was probably intentional. I find these generally more interesting than his more traditionally-done military portraits.


Winston Churchill - 1916
Andrew Roberts, in his recent biography of Churchill states that this was the portrait Churchill though best of himself. It was painted after he returned from the Western Front where he had commanded a battalion for several months.

Douglas Haig
Commander of the British Army in France during most of the war.

Hugh Trenchard
Trenchard became commander of the Royal Air Force when it was established in April, 1918. This painting from 1917 and the one of Haig are not "completed," though the use of full background color makes them seem more so than the paintings that follow.

John J. Pershing
This portrait of Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France is one of those seemingly incomplete portraits made in 1919.

Rosslyn Wemyss
Memyss became First Sea Lord (commander) of the Royal Navy after the war. Note how he is posed. The following two painting use similar poses.

Henry Wilson
Wilson became Chief the Imperial General Staff towards the end of the war and was a member of the anti-Haig faction.

T.E. Lawrence
Lawrence of Arabia.

Adrian Carton de Wiart
Carton de Wiart was insanely brave, losing an eye and arm in combat. This failed to prevent him from serving as a general in World War 2.

Ganga Singh
Singh was Maharaja of Bikaner, a general in the Indian Army and a member of the Imperial War Cabinet during the war. Sikhs have long been noted for their warrior qualities.

David Beatty
Beatty commanded battlecruiser squadrons 1914-16 including the battle of Jutland, and then the Grand Fleet, Britain's main naval force.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Giacomo Balla, the Oldest Futurist

Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), whose most famous painting Dinamismo di un cane al guinzaglio --Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash -- 1912, shown above, spent part of his career as a Futurist, Futurism being one of Italy's two main contributions to early modernist art (the other is Giorgio de Chirico's Metaphysical Art).

Balla's Wikipedia entry mentions that he had training at Turin academies and then went to Rome where he painted portraits and did commercial art to earn a living. At some point before 1900 he took up Divisionism, related to Claude Monet- style Impressionism. Then, as Wikipedia states (as of 1 January 2019):

"Around 1902, he taught Divisionist techniques to Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini. Influenced by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giacomo Balla adopted the Futurism style, creating a pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. He was a signatory of the Futurist Manifesto in 1910."

So Balla's friendship with Boccioni and Severini, who were early converts to Marinetti's Futurism, seems to have led to his knowledge of and participation in that movement when he was about 40 years old. For a while. Hard-core Futurism and other 1900-1914 modernist movements had lost much of their fizz by 1920, and Balla's style drifted back towards conventional representation by the 1930s.


Famiglia Carelli. Effetto sera - c. 1901
Divisionist-lite dual portrait, the title stating "evening effect."

Lampada ad arco (Street Light) - 1909 dated, though 1910-11
Perhaps Balla's earliest Futurist painting.

Accelerazione (Gaining Speed) - 1912
Note his signature at the lower left. He often signed his Futurist paintings FUTUR BALLA.

Velocità astratta + rumore (Abstract Speed + Sound) - 1912-13
This is actually a very early European abstract painting.

Velocità astratta (Abstract Velocity) - 1913
Some Cubist influence here.

Velocità d'automobile (Speeding Automobile) drawing - 1913

Expansion of Spring - 1918
Although Balla's signature includes FUTUR, he is drifting from Futurism.

Circular Planes - 1924
An abstraction -- now FUTUR has become FUT.

Fanciulla pensosa (Fanciulla Pondering)- 1932

Chiacchierì (Chatting) - 1934
Two conventional, nicely made paintings. The one immediatey above seems to show some Balla paintings in the background.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Stanley Arthurs, Early Howard Pyle Student

Stanley M. Arthurs (1877-1950) was one of the earliest select students of famed illustrator Howard Pyle. Arthurs first encountered Pyle at the Drexel Institute in west Philadelphia near the Penn campus where Pyle was teaching art. (I myself once taught there: an introductory Sociology class while I was a grad student at Penn.)

Pyle decided to continue teaching at his home base in the Wilmington Delaware - Brandywine Pennsylvania area -- but instructing only those who he considered had great professional potential. The result was something now referred to as the Brandywine School of illustration.

The most lengthy biography I could find on the Internet regarding Arthurs was in this PDF file. Below is an extraction of that part of the document.

"Stanley Massey Arthurs was born November 27, 1877, to Nancy and Joshua Arthurs, in Kenton, Delaware, where Joshua Arthurs owned a general store. Arthurs was interested in art as a boy, and, after leaving school, he studied in Wilmington with Clawson Hammitt, who urged him to study with Howard Pyle. Convinced of his talent, Pyle enthusiastically accepted him as a student. In 1897 Arthurs joined the classes Pyle was teaching at Drexel Institute, and in 1898 he was invited to attend the summer scholarship classes at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His first illustration was published in the December 2, 1899 issue of Harper's Weekly. When Pyle left Drexel to open his own school in Wilmington, Arthurs went with him and worked in one of the studios Pyle had built for the school. When Pyle died in 1911, Arthurs purchased his studio and, until he died, led a quiet, solitary life there, dedicated to his work. He lectured occasionally at the Wilmington Academy and did some teaching in his studio.

Although Arthurs illustrated a great deal of popular literature, his real specialty was illustrating historical texts. His pictures were as historically accurate as he could make them. He did several murals of historical subjects for the State House in Dover, Delaware, and for the Minnesota State capitol building and produced a long series of historical paintings for DuPont Company calendars and the DuPont Magazine. Many of these were published in book form in the American Historical Scene in 1935. The historical illustrations occupied most of Arthurs' attention after 1920, but he also painted landscapes, not only of local scenes but also in Florida, the Western states, and Europe.

Source: Elzea, Rowland and Elizabeth H. Hawkes, eds. A Small School of Art: The Students of Howard Pyle. Wilmington: Delaware Art Museum, 1980."

Examples of Arthurs' work are presented below. I find his painting style a bit too heavy for my taste, but it was mainstream -- especially in the period 1900-1920.


Death of Modred - 1906
Modred was a traitor to King Arthur.

Old Boston Post Road
Two illustrations from an article Arthurs wrote for the November 1908 issue of Scribner's Magazine.

Woman with Parasol - c. 1905

The Third Minnesota Entering Little Rock - Minnesota State Capitol mural
Civil War Scene.

Franklin the Printer - 1915
Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia.

Waiting at the Ford - 1915

The Fleet - 1912
A somewhat sloppy work. I don't know if this was simply a sketch or if it was published. The warships are not convincingly portrayed -- too sketchy and the perspective seems off.

America's Answer to the Submarine - c. 1918
A Great War vintage illustration supporting the war effort, though I don't know where it was published. Arthurs seems to have used artistic license here because submarines were usually destroyed using depth charges. Unless they were caught on the surface, as shown here. But about the only way a German submarine could be caught on the surface by a warship this closely would be if it had been damaged by a depth charge and had to surface. Fortunately for Arthurs, most viewers were probably ignorant of anti-submarine warfare, so such details didn't really matter.

Trimming the Tree
Probably from around 1926. The reproduction was intended to be two-color, a common magazine practice in those days.

New Year's Eve - 1928

Thursday, April 18, 2019

In the Beginning: Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) seems forever linked to the French Impressionists. Although he was involved with their exhibitions, the styles he used over his career were considerably different from those of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, archetypical Impressionists. A long Wikipedia entry on Degas is here.

The present post presents some of his earlier paintings, most from when he was under 35 years old. They were painted before the first exhibit of Impressionist works in 1874 the year Degas turned 40, though the movement had begun to form in the early 1860s. Into the 1860s Degas' style tended to be traditional, but not hard-core Academic.


René De Gas - c. 1855
The artist's younger brother who later ran up large debts in New Orleans that Edgar took it upon himself to repay.

René-Hillaire De Gas - 1857
Degas' grandfather.

An Old Italian Woman - 1857
He spent the late 1850s in Italy.

The Daughter of Jephtha - 1859-60
A classical theme, but not painted in a truly Academic manner: an academician would consider it "unfinished," which it literally is.

Young Woman with Ibises - 1860-62
Most of the detailing is on her garment. Note the imaginary cityscape in the background -- here Degas seems to be influenced by the Renaissance paintings he studied in Rome.

Portrait of a Lady in Gray - c. 1865
Degas had the habit of not finishing his paintings. Here the woman's face and upper body seem completed, but her arm and hand are sketched in.

The Bellelli Family - 1858-1867
Perhaps Degas' best-known early work, depicting his Italian relatives.

The Cotton Exchange in New Orleans - 1873
Painted years later than the others, but its style remains essentially traditional. However, note what seems to be forced perspective of the room.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Examples of Socialist Realism Group Portraits

Some Soviet Social Realism paintings were very large, and a number of these were group portraits with large casts. Often the groups portrayed were Party leaders or members of prominent Russian organizations. Others were of common folks.

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. Examples of some of those group portraits are shown below. Click on images to enlarge.


Odintsov, V.G. - Sergei Kirov in Astrakhan in 1919 - 1940-49
This painting's composition seems peculiar. Which man is Kirov? (A prominent Bolshevik later assassinated in 1934, possibly on orders from Stalin and then treated as a hero for political purposes.)  Is Kirov the man in dark clothes toward the upper left who appears to be gesturing, but actually is holding onto a line?  Or is he the man towards the upper right in a light jacket and khaki uniform?  I guess the latter because he is better lighted and at least a few people in the lower center of the picture are looking at him.  But why are most other folks not paying him attention? Also note that the composition is in the form of an X, but where the lines cross there is only the side of a man's head.

Left side details.

Right side details.

Lukomsky, Ilya - Meeting of a Factory Party Committee - 1937
Some background regarding the painting is in this book. On page 108 Matthew Cullerne Brown writes:
"[T]the subject of which is a komsomol [Party youth organization] member's acceptance into the party, depicts the actual membership of the Stalinogorsk communist party at the time. The applicant stands at the left, answering with anxious resolve questions put to him by the committee. The painting lacks drama, but the social importance of its theme -- this moment was advertised as being the most significant in a person's life -- caused it to be widely discussed in the art press of the time."

This painting has a whiff of the primitive to it, but I don't know if this was a purposeful affect or the artist's actual style.

Nalbandian, Dmitri - For the Happiness of the People (Session of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party) - 1949
The room shown here is not at all fancy. Was Stalin's Kremlin actually like this, or did the artist make the place appropriately proletarian?

Detail of the pervious image. Among those easily identifiable are Anastas Mikoyan (standing, with mustache), Nikita Kruschchev (to the right of Mikoyan), Vyacheslav Molotov (seated, wearing glasses), and Josef Stalin (in uniform, drawing on the map).

Efanov, Vasily - Session of the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR - 1951
Efanov, also rendered as Yefanov, was perhaps the best Socialist Realist portrait painter. Here he creates a believable scene with some attendees focusing on the lecturer, others doing other things. At the far left is a man reading something, and there are others scattered across the room doing the same. At the center rear is an attractive secretary in pink, the only cast member in sunlight (Efanov liked to depict pretty young women). Viewing it all are sculptural busts of Lenin and Stalin.

Detail view. Nice study of the old gent wearing a hat and sporting medals on his suit jacket.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thornton Oakley, Howard Pyle's Atypical Student

Thornton Oakley (1881-1953) received a BA and an MA in architecture from Dear Old Penn (I went there too), as mentioned in his Wikipedia entry as well as this other fairly lengthy source.

But he became aware of famed illustrator Howard Pyle and his training program down the road from Philadelphia in Chadd's Ford, near the Delaware border. So he dropped the idea of becoming an architect and learned illustration, making a successful career at it.

Pyle did not deal much or at all on the mechanics of making art. Instead, he stressed psychological factors of picture-making, having to do the the artist becoming intellectually, emotionally and theatrically involved with the subject.

Nearly all of Pule's students went on to careers in illustration, some highly successful ones, making illustrations dealing with people in historical or fictional settings. Not so Oakley. Much of his work had to do with industrial scenes having little or nothing in the way of story-telling. Perhaps his architectural training and interests had something to do with this, though he often sought to dramatize his scenes Pyle-like.


Broadway scene
An early illustration.

The Betsy Ross House
Another work not typical of his later production.

Building Military Airplanes
Probably created in 1917 or 1918, showing airplanes destined for non-European service. Planes to be used in France during the Great War were given roundel insignia similar to those of the UK and France, but with the outer band painted red, the middle one blue and the central dot white.

Building the Manhattan Bridge over the East River
The bridge was completed in 1909, but I'm not sure when this illustration was.  For many years Oakley tended to favor vertical formats for his industrial illustrations as seen here, the preceding image and the two following ones.

Ocean Liner Passenger Terminal
These passengers have completed customs inspection and now need to find ground transportation.

Oakley usually included a few workers, sometimes to feature them at their tasks, or in this case to provide scale.

Radio-Telephone Control Room
This looks somewhat like a matte painting for a sci-fi movie.

Subway Platform, 34th Street
Probably painted in the very late 1930s or early 1940s, judging by the length of the red-orange skirt the nearest woman is wearing.

West Side New York Bus Terminal
From about the same period.  Here Oakley's style had shifted to the sketchier, watercolor-influenced illustration fashion that began in the early 1930s.

Loading a C-47 Transport
From about 1943, judging by the red-bordered insignia on the aircraft.  Actually, most of the planes are C-47s, but the tail of the second aircraft in line is that of a Curtiss C-46.  So Oakley clearly was painting this on-site or working from a reference photo.  And paying good attention.