Friday, December 19, 2014

Molti Ritratti: Queen Alexandra

Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925), wife of King Edward VII and therefore Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, was the subject of many photographs, but surprisingly few painted portraits. A substantial Wikipedia biography is here.

Thanks to Queen Victoria's longevity, Alexandra was Princess of Wales for nearly 38 years. And because Edward was only 68 when he died, she was queen for little more than nine years. A small flurry of portrait activity followed her coronation.

Back in those times, and to a considerable degree today, commissioned portraits of royalty feature formal poses and conservative representation. So it was with Alexandra. Photographic and painted portraits of her with few exceptions showed her face-on or with her head only slightly turned, usually favoring her left side.

Artistically, portraits of Alexandra offer little interest. Nevertheless, I hope that showing some here will provide some context to paintings of similar vintage that I post about.


Photo - 1889
To set the scene.

By Franz Xaver Winterhalter - 1864
Winterhalter was no stranger to portraying royalty.  This painting, in the Royal Collection, was painted soon after her marriage.  A curiosity is his treatment of the royal nose, which looks rather lumpy here.  Yet photographs show Alexandra with a nose of regular shape.  It's hard to image that Winterhalter made a mistake, but absent more information, that seems to be the case.

Photo showing left profile
This photo was taken years after Winterhalter's portrait.  Here Alexandra sports a nose with a straight bridge.

By unidentified artist

By Luke Fildes - 1893

By Luke Fildes - coronation portrait

By John Longstaff - 1904
Longstaff was an Australian artist.

By Fran├žois Flameng - 1908

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Eugene Speicher: Forgotten Tepid Modernist

American portrait painter Eugene Speicher (1883-1962) has remained largely forgotten since even before his death. A brief Wikipedia entry is here. An extensive analytical piece on Speicher is here. And a bit more about him can be found here.

The links above stress that he was considered a leading representational painter largely uninfluenced by modernism and, in those artistically somewhat conservative times in this country, had a successful career. He trained with Georgia O'Keeffe and Edward Hopper, both of whom achieved more lasting fame. His most influential teacher was Robert Henri, whose painting style was not entirely traditional (take a look at his brushwork).

Based on the images of Speicher's paintings I found on the Internet, I find it a little hard to understand the praise he received at the height of his career. He did not employ dimensional distortion (a major modernist tactic), nor did he do much in the way of color modification. But he did employ the third major modernist tool, shape simplification, to a slight degree. The result was paintings that were not quite naturalistic depictions of their subjects. They clearly included mannerisms that were part of artistic fashions of the period 1920-1945. In sum, I consider him a good painter in terms of his time, but not a great one.


Georgia O'Keeffe - 1908
Painted when they were students.

Portrait of a French Girl (Jeanne Balzac) - 1924

Jeanne Balzac
I don't know whether or not this is the actress Jeanne de Balzac (1891-1930).

Katharine Cornell (as Candida) - 1926
Perhaps Speicher's best-known painting. Cornell (1893-1974) was one of America's most famous stage actresses in her day. Both Speicher and Cornell hailed from Buffalo, New York.

Red Moore: The Blacksmith - c. 1933-34
His non-commissioned portraits included people from the Woodstock, New York area where he lived.

Girl in a Coral Necklace (Joyce) - 1935
Mid-1930s modernist-inspired simplification here. Too much contrast between the sharply-defined eyes and the the rest of the brushwork for my taste.

Kingston, New York - 1935
The nearest "big city" to Woodstock was Kingston. I never visited Kingston much when I lived in upstate New York, but this modernist-influenced painting is suggestive of a neighborhood at the edge of town.

Monday, December 15, 2014

John White Alexander's Women in Green

John White Alexander (1856-1915) rose from being an orphan to the upper reaches of the Art Establishment of his day, as is mentioned here. This was because he was technically very good and could create some interesting, though sometimes stylized, images.

The paintings shown below are neither formal, commissioned portraits nor the stylized works just mentioned. Instead, they seems to be more like exercises or experiments Alexander did when not working on major assignments.

This selection shows women dressed in green gowns. It happens that green seems to be a difficult color for many artists to work with, especially when the main subjects are people. For example, the somewhat orange color of skin often stands out sharply when placed in a woodsy or grassy landscape setting. For that reason, artists need to take special care to create paintings with that subject matter that are harmonious in terms of color. So even though Alexander was painting interior scenes here, he might have been working the flesh-green problem because the results are rather sketchy, unfinished. I note below that he was probably using the same two costumes for his models.


Green Girl - 1896

Juliette - 1897

A Quiet Hour - c. 1901
The three paintings shown above feature a billowy gown that might be the same item shown from different model poses.

The images below are of paintings where clearly the same gown is used in all cases.  The model might also be the same.

A Rose

The Green Gown - c. 1904
This seems to be a sketch or study.

Study in Black and Green - C. 1906

Study in Black and Green - 1906
These two paintings are nearly identical, but the one immediately above is more finished.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Frank Tinsley: Illustrator of the "Gee Whiz!"

Frank Tinsley (1899-1965) was an illustrator who specialized in machines. Aircraft, usually, but also ships, trains, cars, space ships and any other speculative technology that pulp and semi-pulp magazine editors tossed his way. By the 1950s he was often called upon to write the articles that he was illustrating. So he had a nice little niche and filled it well.

Here is biographical information, and links with plenty of examples of his work are here and here.

Tinsley worked in color when doing magazine covers, but much of his article illustrations were two-color, the norm for the likes of Mechanix Illustrated, where he did a good deal of illustration following World War 2.

During the 1930s his drawing wasn't always accurate, but he improved somewhat as time went on. Apparently his editors and fans weren't troubled.


Bill Barnes magazine cover - October 1934 or 1935
This seems to be a Curtiss BF2C or something like it. The fuselage is too large, too long, if we use the pilot as a scale reference. The upper and lower wings are out of perspective, seeming too close together.

Bill Barnes magazine cover - January 1936
Shown here is the Boeing model 299, or XB-17 Flying Fortress that first flew in 1935. Although Tinsley got the various parts in roughly the correct shapes, they are out of scale. The perspective is off -- the axes of the wings and horizontal stabilizers on the tail diverge with distance, whereas the opposite would be correct. Also, the 299 was never painted, nor were other 1930s B-17s, yet Tinsley gave it current Army Air Corps colors (sort of -- the green is wrong and the orange should be more yellow).

Air Trails magazine cover - April 1937
This is a Fokker G I two-place fighter that flew for the first time in March of 1937, about the time the magazine hit the news stands. Therefore, Tinsley must have been working from other drawings and perhaps photos of the plane on the ground. As usual, details are wrong. For instance, the unit housing the pilot and gunner is too small relative to the rest of the aircraft. Further, for some reason the plane doesn't carry actual Dutch insignia.

Air Trails magazine cover - August 1938
Featured here are two Junkers Ju 86 bombers, but they are carrying civilian rather than military markings.

Air Trails magazine cover - April 1948
That's a Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber. I'm not sure why rocket-like flames are spewing out behind its jet engines. The escort fighters are purely Tinsley's imagination. Their fuselages resemble that of the Bell XS-1 that broke the sound barrier the previous October. The wings and tail are swept back, unlike the XS-1. On the other hand, Tinsley's fighters seem to have rocket motors like the XS-1, but are shut off, a jet engine being in use. Yet I don't notice any air intake for a jet engine. Oh well....

Mechanix Illustrated magazine illustration - 1948
Here we see what the McDonnell XP-85 (later XF-85) Goblin "parasite fighter" might have looked like had it entered service. The B-36 bomber shown in the image supposedly had a 10,000 mile range, far in excess of any potential escort fighter, so one idea was to have them carry tiny escort fighters for deployment as necessary. Two prototypes were actually built and a few test drops were made from a specially modified B-29, but the project was cancelled due to its impracticality. As usual, Tinsley's drawing is off: the XF-85 fuselage was actually shorter and chunkier, and the tail units were closer together. The B-36 is poorly drawn as well, the wings seemingly drooping and the cockpit glazing pulled too far around the side of the aircraft.

Magazine illustration - 1950
This is the left-hand part of a two-page spread. The helicopters are conjectural, so I can't criticize how they are drawn. I include this because it embodies the "gee-whiz" sort of speculative future technology that Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Mechanix Illustrated and perhaps other magazines featured for many years. The idea of ordinary people replacing their automobiles with personal helicopters is clearly insane for a number of good reasons, including what would happen in inevitable collisions and engine/rotor failures.

Mechanix Illustrated magazine illustration - August 1955
The U.S. Air Force funded development of an atomic reactor powered bomber, but the project was cancelled for reasons of practicality. Here Tinsley (who wrote the article) came up with a speculative design of a delta-wing flying boat bomber that used hydro-skis like those on the Navy's XF2Y Sea Dart fighter that first flew in 1953, but never saw service.

Moon base illustration - 1959
Finally, an atomic-powered rocket ship seen blasting off (or landing, maybe), and a base on the moon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Paul Nash: War Artist, Surrealist

Paul Nash (1889-1946) was a member of the Slade School's second surge of noteworthy artists, a group strongly influenced by modernism while retaining a bit of traditional British caution in the matter. A lengthy Wikipedia biography is here and here is a short note from the Tate.

It seems that Nash had a deficiency exposed while at the Slade: he wasn't very good at depicting people. As a result, he generally painted landscapes. During the 1930s when Surrealism became fashionable, he did works in that vein based on landscape art.

Nash is best known as a war artist, particularly for his works featuring the Great War (he also depicted World War 2). Unlike many men commissioned to do war art, Nash had had combat experience as an officer and knew full well what that war was like.


The Ypres Salient at Night - 1918
A 1917 exhibit of works dealing with Ypres led to his posting as a war artist, according to the Tate link above.  This painting was done later.

Wounded at Passchendaele
Showing why Nash seldom featured people in his paintings.

The Menin Road - 1919
This and the Ypres Salient painting above are probably his best-known Great War paintings.

The Shore - 1923
A nice, bold composition, which accounts for the tilted horizon line, I suppose.

Event on the Downs - 1934
An early Surrealist work.

Landscape from a Dream - 1936-38
Much Surrealism supposedly dealt with dreams, something I find hard to believe.

Messerschmidt [sic] in Windsor Great Park - 1940
Nash wasn't any better with airplanes than he was with people.

Battle of Britain - 1941
Perhaps his best-known Second War painting.

Totes Meer (Dead Sea) - 1940-41

Defence of Albion - 1942
This painting is dreadful.  Perhaps Nash's frail health was overtaking his abilities.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Luke Fildes: Painter of Poverty and Royalty

Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (1843-1927) began his career as an illustrator, then moved into painting. He also moved from depicting poor or common folk to making portraits of members of the royal family. Plus, he seemed to enjoy painting portraits of pretty young women. If he did any landscapes or still lifes, they were a small part of the output of his career.

Filde's Wikipedia entry is here. He had one son who died in childhood, that event serving as the basis for one of his best-known paintings, "The Doctor". Fildes lived a long life, as did two other sons, Luke and Sir Paul.

Given that his art training took place before French Impressionism was revealed to the world, Fildes' style remained traditional, though some of his informal works done after 1900 feature more casual brushwork than what he used when depicting royalty.


Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward - 1874

A Venetian Flower Girl - 1877

Venetians - 1885

An Alfresco Toilette - 1889

Fanny, Lady Fildes - 1887

Portrait of Venetia - c.1900

Edward VII - 1905

Carina - 1910

George V - after 1910

Self Portrait - 1911

Naomi - 1914

Adoration - no date