Monday, July 29, 2019

Ellen, Another Pyle

Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle (1876-1936) was a highly successful illustrator whose career mostly took place 1920-1935. My criterion is that she illustrated around 40 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, America's leading general-interest magazine in those days. For an illustrator, getting even one cover assignment for the Post marked entry into the big leagues of the field.

Ellen was not a birth-relation of Howard Pyle, the famous illustrator and teacher. But she was a student of his at Drexel in Philadelphia (her home town, she came from the upscale Germantown area). More important, she was one of his select group of students at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

She became a family member of Howard Pyle via marriage to his younger brother Walter Pyle (1859-1918). Ellen dropped her illustration career to raise their children, but resumed it upon his death.

Background on Ellen Pyle can be found here and here. The second link has Walter dying at age 42 when in fact that was Ellen's age when he died.

Below are examples of her Post cover art.


Saturday Evening Post cover - 21 January 1922
She mostly painted attractive young women as subjects.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 10 July 1926
This cover marked the 150th anniversary of America' independence.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 11 June 1927
She included men as needed to set the scene.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 8 October 1927
Until the early 1940s Post cover art was vignette format, often with a geometric device as can be seen here and in the first two images above.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 17 October 1931
An unusual cover format (for the time) that is more framed art than vignette.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 9 January 1932
In real life, a roadster driven in January would have the car's top raised along with the side curtains -- so here Ellen used some artistic license.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 24 November 1934
This is a study for the final cover that is essentially the same.  Her car is convincing, which to me is a sign that the illustrator knew her stuff.

Saturday Evening Post cover - 21 September 1935
One of her last Post covers.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Pre-Rapahelites Up Close: Some Snapshots

A large exhibit of Victorian art from Birmingham, England is touring the USA, currently parked at the Seattle Art Museum. Part of that exhibit is of paintings by Pre-Raphelite artists whose works are well-represented in Birmingham.

As I have mentioned from time to time, I'm not a big fan of hard-edge, highly detailed painting. I can respect it, and I prefer it to most modernist painting, but don't love it for the most part.

While visiting the exhibit I took snapshots using my iPhone of reference images followed by close-ups of Pre-Raphaelite painting on display. Some are shown below: click on them to enlarge considerably to view that painstakingly detailed work.


The Blind Girl (1854-56) by John Everett Millais
Millais later painted more conventionally -- many portraits -- and eventually became president of the Royal Academy.

Note the many blades and other details on this fairly small painting.

Pretty Baa-Lambs (1851-59) by Ford Maddox Brown
Another fairly small painting.

Detail everywhere -- from the quilted garment to the wool and grasses.

Elijah and the Widow's Son (1864) by Ford Maddox Brown
A "finished study for a picture" Brown stated.

Being a study, it's not hard-core Pre-Raphaelite. But it's essentially a complete work and pleasing to me because detailing is less intense. Note the Hebrew writing around the door.

Work (1859-63) by Ford Maddox Brown
A well-known Pre-Raphaelite painting that yet again isn't large.

Even the tiny sign slogans are depicted.

Perspective on the boy' head seems a bit off, but hey, Pre-Raphaelite's weren't normally painters of action scenes.

Detail, detail, and more detail here in this small segment.

Medea (1866-68) by Frederick Sandys
Not strictly Pre-Raphaelite style aside from being hard-edge.

The painting's plaque notes the Japanese influence on the background.

Monday, July 22, 2019

A Tempest Called Ralph Barton

Ralph Waldo Emerson Barton (1891-1931) had a tortured mind and a short, tempestuous life that ended in suicide. Yet he was a talented, highly successful cartoonist for such publications as Puck, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

A general biography is here. For more on his failed romantic life, David Apatoff provides a summary here. For much more detail regarding Barton, you might was to read what The New Yorker published in 1989 here.

Also, Apatoff discussed Barton's art here.

Barton developed a simplified, modernist cartooning style during the 1910-20 decade and refined it during the 1920s. He usually relied on thin pen lines, areas of black plus washes to depict his usually exaggerated scenes. Some examples are below, but do take a look at the examples in the Apatoff links.


A Montparnasse scene in Puck, 30 October 1915.

Charlie Chaplin in his Tramp costume beheading mannequins with German "pikelhaube" helmets used in the early years of the Great War.

Barton (left) and Chaplin (right) were buddies for many years.

Barton's take on Ernest Hemingway for Vanity Fair.

"Heywood Broun finds America suffering from a dearth of Folly" -- a literary caricature.

Flapper entering a party.

Tullio Carminati and Muriel Kirkland - "Strictly Dishonorable" - 1929

Famous theatre couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Photo of Lunt and Fontanne from a few years earlier.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Charles Saxon: Bomber Pilot, New Yorker Cartoonist

Charles David Saxon (1920-1988), born Charles David Isaacson in Brooklyn, was a 1940 graduate of Columbia University (he entered in his mid-teens) who later for many years was a major cartoon contributor to The New Yorker magazine.

During World War 2 he piloted B-24 bombers on raids over Germany and northwestern Europe. He can be seen in the photo above standing just to the right of the English boy.

Saxon's Wikipedia entry is here, and information regarding his military service is here.

His family background appears to have been upper-middle class, and those people and upper-class folks were his usual cartoon subjects.

Below are samples of his sketchy, slightly spare, but effective and appropriate (for his subject matter) style. Unfortunately for Saxon and us, a change in New Yorker editorship essentially ended his career there. However, he also derived income illustrating advertising material.

There is a common element in each of the cartoons below. Do you notice it?


What appears in each cartoon is at least one painting. In some cases, paintings are the subject. In others, they are part of the setting. I think Saxon deliberately chose the type of setting painting as one of his environmental means to define the people acting out the cartoon's punchline.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Alma-Tadema Paints Something Non-Classical

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) is best known for his paintings of Classical scenes. I wrote  in 2011 about the rise of prices for his work, discussed his miniaturist aspect here and recently wrote about this small painting seen at San Francisco's Legion of Honor museum.

During that same museum visit I spied and photographed another small painting by him, but this was not one of his Classical scenes. Nor was it an early painting made before he settled into that genre. Rather, its title is "In My Studio" and was painted in 1893 when his career was thriving.

What I think is important about this work is his use of color, explained in a caption below. Click on the images of my photos to enlarge, especially if your computer has a large screen.


Establishment iPhone snapshot.

Detail. Tadema was skilled at depicting materials, especially Classical marble. This painting displays skillful work dealing with the draped cloth over a chest or table. But what intrigues me even more is the color work on the woman's dress.  No hard-edge pattern here. Instead, subtle mixtures of toned-down, somewhat grayed reds and blues painted in a seemingly casual yet actually disciplined manner. That Alma-Tadema fellow was really good.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Chiaroscuro and More: Joseph Wright of Derby

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), Wikipedia entry here, is probably best known for his dramatic Chiaroscuro paintings in the manner of Caravaggio.

But he painted most of his works in less dramatic settings. Typical of many artists of his time, he made many portraits in order to support his family, though he was not notably successful compared to the likes of his contemporaries Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and their ilk. Nevertheless, some of his portraits are in the collections of major museums.

What interests me is that his most famous works tend to depict people more convincingly than can be seen in portraits painted around the same time. I should also note that his portraiture became more impressive as his career rolled on. Generally speaking, Wright's later portraits tend to compare well with the subjects shown in his earlier Chiaroscuro illustrative works. Go figure.

His interest in dramatic settings also tended to take the form of nocturnal scenes -- strong moonlight and swirling clouds. Plus, he painted several imaginary scenes of the volcano Vesuvius erupting.


An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump - 1768
This might well be Wright's most famous work. Obviously, he couldn't have had people posing in that setting while he was painting. Perhaps someplace is a discussion of his method for depicting light and shade on faces from a single light source. For now, I speculate that he observed people (possibly one at a time) under those conditions and then recorded what he observed for later use.

Margaret Oxenden - c. 1758
One of his earlier portraits.  He did a decent job on the clothing, but the lady's face and neck seem a bit off. Her right arm doesn't look quite correct either, though her costume makes it hard to judge.

Miss Jane Monck (?) - c. 1760
Another early portrait. Several of these are posed about the same way and the subjects' faces seem a trifle too narrow. Again, the neck seems too long.

Miss Catherine Swindell - 1769-72
Wright painted this a decade later and the likeness seems more correct.

Mrs Francis Boot - 1790-93
One of the last portraits, also reasonably believable.

Cave in Evening - 1774

Cavern Near Naples - 1774
Wright often painted several versions of the same or similar scene.

Vesuvius in Eruption, with a View over the Islands in the Bay of Naples - c. 1776-80
According to Wikipedia, Vesuvius did not erupt during Wright's stay in Naples, so this image is fanciful.

Bridge Through a Cavern, Moonlight - 1791
A dramatic nocturnal scene.

An Iron Forge - 1772
One of Wright's Chiaroscuro paintings.

A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun - c. 1765
One of his most famous paintings. This and the painting at the top were made during the decade between when the first two portraits shown above were painted.