Friday, September 19, 2014

Men's Suits: Drapery Extremes

Many things seem to swing between extremes. Not all extremes reach absolute limits, but they can come close to something like limits imposed by practicality. That is the case for the subject of this post: the amount of cloth used in men's suits.

It turns out that two extremes were reached about 20 years apart. Around 1940, fad apparel for some young men was in the form of the Zoot Suit, an exaggeration of current men's suit styles that already were rather baggy. By 1960 fashionable men's suits were snug and used minimal material. Lapels were narrow, as were neckties. The archetypical suit had three buttons and the two upper ones were buttoned down. On college campuses, this was sometimes called Ivy style, after the prestigious group of colleges and universities in the Northeastern USA (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell) where the mode of dress was supposedly popular.


Here is a Zoot Suit. Its characteristics include: Baggy, high waisted trousers "pegged" (narrowed) toward the cuffs. A loose-fitting suit jacket with wide lapels, heavily padded shoulders and a hem down toward knee level. An extremely long key chain was a usual accessory. Neckties might be long or (as in this case) bow, in both instances using plenty of material.

Two Zoot-suiters with a young Army sergeant (who himself might have worn a Zoot Suit a year or two earlier).

The great Cab Calloway in 1942 wearing an exaggerated (yes, it must have been possible) Zoot Suit for a performance.

Now it's 1961 and we find Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard on New York's Park Avenue during the filming of Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Peppard is wearing an Ivy style suit, but for comfort's sake has it unbuttoned.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

William Aylward, Illustrator of Nautical Scenes

William James Aylward (1875-1956) came from a Great Lakes shipping family, was a student of Howard Pyle, and usually illustrated stories with nautical themes.

Biographical information about Aylward is skimpy. Two sources are here and here. The Kelly Collection site deals with him here.

Having been accepted by Pyle as a student signifies Aylward's potential as an illustrator, which was fulfilled in most cases. I do include one poorly-done example below from late in his career.

Some of the titles of the illustrations shown below are truncated. Those lacking capital letters are conjectural titles.


Coming to America

Contrasts - 1905

future airships? - McClure's Magazine - 1905

storm scene - Harper's - 1909

Surrender of the Guerriere - Harper's - March, 1912

Perry Transferes His Flag - 1913

Mystic, Connecticut - 1916

battleship - c. 1943
This looks like a North Carolina class battleship, though a number of things seems "off" to me. For instance, the ship is too foreshortened for the viewing angle. The North Carolina and Washington had long bows, so it's possible that Aylward used some artistic license to better fit the ship into a compositional scheme. In any case, the top of the hull is too low at the front (there's much more of an upwards curve on the actual ships) and the main turrets are more distant from the prow than is shown here. The foremast structure and, indeed, all the superstructure elements shown are seemingly too high and definitely too large compared to the main turrets. The problem here is that the perspective is a mess. The anti-aircraft guns mounted high on the superstructure appeared late in the war on the North Carolina, but by that time the foremast was much more cluttered than pictured here in its 1941state. I really have no idea why an artist as experienced as Aylward would let all this happen.

SS America Bringing Troops Home - c. 1945

Monday, September 15, 2014

Molti Ritratti: Lina Cavalieri

Natalina "Lina" Cavalieri (1874-1944) was orphaned as a teenager and ended her life in a bombing raid. Between those events she appeared in a movie and in operas while having her image on postcards and other popular media. That was because she was regarded as perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world.

Her Wikipedia entry is here, and a slightly snarky take regarding her singing ability from London's Telegraph is here.

Usually I populate Molti Ritratti posts with paintings. Oddly, even though Cavalieri's career was at its height when painted portraits were commonly made, very few were actually created.


Cavalieri was mostly depicted by photography.

Here she appears in an illustration for a Palmolive soap advertisement.

Portrait painting by Cesare Tallone, early 1900s.  The contrast between the face and the rest of the painting is jarring.

Photo of portrait painting by Antonio de la Gandara, 1912. This is the only image of the painting I could locate on the Internet. Let me know if a better one exists.

Two portraits by Giovanni Boldini painted in 1901.  He caught her in police mug shot fashion -- profile and full-face -- but neither try seems satisfactory to me.

Is it possible that a woman can be so beautiful that artists are incapable of conveying that beauty? Possibly.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thomas Dugdale: Wars and Portraits

I seem to post a lot about 20th century British artists who are little known today, yet seem to have carved out respectable careers for themselves. Today I do it again, this time about Thomas Cantrell Dugdale (1880-1952).

I could find little in the way of biographical information about him after a half-hearted Web search. London's National Portrait Gallery has only this: "Thomas Cantrell Dugdale was a painter and book illustrator. During the First World War he served as a Staff Sergeant in the Middlesex Yeomanry." The Tate offers only a little more here.

As a result, we are left to fall upon the device of examining Dugdale's art. Which is a sensible thing to do, because that's what really counts.


Charge of the Royal Buckinghamshire Hussars at El Mughar, Palestine, 13 Nov. 1917 - 1920

Wellington and crew, Pilot and Navigator Confer - c. 1940
Dugdale served in Allenby's Palestine campaign, though apparently not with the Buckinghamshire Hussars. As for the World War 2 scene, I have no information as to whether or not he had any sort of official war artist status.

Night - 1926
This image might be an illustration, rather than strictly a painting.

An interesting, naturalistic pose. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was based on photography.

La Bella Andaluza
Stylistically different from Dugdale's other works, but another natural pose.

Jessie Matthews - (actress)

Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller - c. 1935

Vivien Leigh - c. 1936
Dugdale seems to have painted quite a few portraits of British actresses during the 1930s, though I have no information regarding why.

Portrait of a lady

Princess Margaret, Colonel-in-Chief, Royal Highland Fusiliers

I think Dugdale at his best was a good artist, yet not top-notch. I like the paintings of the mother-and-child and Andaluza best of this lot. The rest display a touch of Modernism that is manifested in a sort of dabby style that lacks punch and individuality. That might be why he is little remembered even though representational art is regaining popularity.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Towards the End: Georges Braque

Georges Braque (1882-1963) is famous for having invented Cubism along with Pablo Picasso, as his Wikipedia entry indicates. I posted about Braque's early painting here, and the present post presents some of his late works.

According to the biography by Alex Danchev, Braque was pretty much the opposite of Picasso when it came to personality and approach to art. Braque was a quiet Zen-like soul, stayed married to the same woman, and painted like a careful craftsman rather than a too-wildly "creative" native of Málaga by way of Barcelona.

As best I can tell, Braque was always a Modernist of one kind or another. If he ever drew or painted in a strictly representational manner, evidence of that seems to have been lost or destroyed. However, once his Cubist phase ended and his recovery from a serious Great War wound was completed, Braque did introduce recognizable objects to his paintings, albeit in distorted fashion.

A few paintings from the last ten years of his life are presented below.


La guitare (Mandore, La Mandore) - 1909-10
This Cubist painting is to remind viewers of what Braque is famous for.

Studio VIII - 1954-55
This item from a series was snapped up by modernist art collector Douglas Cooper.

Les oiseaux - Louvre, Salle Henri II - 1953
Braque was the first Modernist invited to tart up a Louvre ceiling. Not quite as inappropriate as Chagall's re-do of the Opera Garnier ceiling, but still....

L'oiseau noir et l'oiseau blanc - 1960
He make many paintings featuring birds in this last years. This was after a series featuring (usually black) fish.

The Weeding Machine - 1961-63
Perhaps his final painting.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Cadillac Tailfins Legend, Updated

The most successful styling gimmick for American cars was probably the tailfins that appeared on 1948 Cadillacs. They were controversial at Cadillac before the 1948s reached dealer showrooms, but the fins proved to be wildly popular. For a few years, cheap copies could be purchased at auto accessory stores and screwed onto fenders of other makes of cars. Cadillac continued use of tailfins of various sizes and shapes through the 1964 model year. And Chrysler famously added fins to its entire automobile line for 1956 and made them the strongest styling element on its redesigned 1957 models.

A legend of sorts deals with the origin of the 1948 Cadillac tailfins; here is one version, and I have read other accounts over the years. The story goes that GM styling chief Harley Earl learned of the then-futuristic Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter and took some members of his styling staff to see an example. Most accounts mention that the P-38 was top-secret at the time. That last item is not true, which is the point of this post.

Edson Armi's book on automobile design (Amazon link here) has the following account on page 76 of the hardcopy edition:
* * * * *
At GM the wartime preoccupation with the monocoque fuselage had been reinforced by Earl's personal fascination with the P-38 Lockheed Fighter.... In 1941 Earl and a group led by [Bill] Mitchell visited the still-secret fighter.  As Mitchell tells it: 'We absorbed all details of [its] lines. Every facet of the twin tails and booms stretching out behind the engine enclosure was recorded mentally. After returning to the studios, Mr. Earl immediately put designers to work adopting the ideas to automobiles.  Small models of automobiles embodying the P-38's characteristics were made.' Earl impressed upon his men the significance of the bulky pontoon shape of the P-38 and encouraged them, as he later wrote, to 'soak up the lines of the twin booms and twin tails.' The fishtail, he said, 'helped give some graceful bulk to the automobile.'
* * * * *
The Wikipedia entry on the P-38 is here, mentioning that the prototype P-38 first flew early in 1939 and that the first production models entered service in September of 1941. A service-test batch of YP-38s appeared between September of 1940 and June of 1941.  The aircraft that Earl and his crew examined was surely at the Selfridge Field Army Air Corps base located not far northeast of Detroit.  Selfridge hosted P-38s in 1941, and Earl knew about them, not because he had special connections with the Army Air Corps, but instead because the P-38 was not in itself "top secret" and examples were flying around the Detroit area.

Furthermore, images of the P-38 had been publicly seen for at least two years previously, so the plane's appearance would have been known to Earl and the stylists before they made their Selfridge Field visit. That visit probably served to create a greater visual impact for team members than photos would have yielded.


XP-38 prototype - early 1939

Model Airplane News magazine cover - May, 1939

1948 Cadillac brochure page

Cross-posted at the Car Style Critic blog.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Over-Designed Flatware

Flatware (or silverware, as perhaps most people call it) presents an interesting challenge for designers. The basic pieces -- knife, fork and spoon -- have specific tasks in the eating process. Moreover, they must be held by human hands of various sizes (though the range for adults is fairly limited), and therefore cannot be too large or too small. In fact, flatware items of a given type (table knife, butter knife, soupspoon, teaspoon, etc.) are usually pretty much the same size across sets.

The design challenge largely lies in creating a distinctive appearance for a flatware set when there are already many hundreds of patterns having appeared over the years. Usually the distinction-creation focus is on ornamentation and detailing, the general shapes being largely traditional.

But the ethos of Modernism in its classical form holds that ornamentation is to be shunned. Therefore, a modernist designer must concentrate on shape alone to create a distinctive flatware set for the marketplace. The task is difficult thanks to this additional design constraint, and it isn't surprising that some designers seem to try too hard. In this case, the result often is a visually interesting design that is marred by ergonomic (human factors) defects.

Let's look at some examples of flatware designs that suffer from that problem.


Josef Hoffmann for Wiener Werkstätte - c. 1903-04
Hoffman (biographical links here and here) thought of himself primarily as an architect, but he also devoted considerable effort to domestic design, such as for the silver flatware set shown here.  The tips of the handles contain tiny bits of what can be called decoration,  The round opening between the tines of the center fork also is pure decoration.  Potential ergonomic problems include the arbitrary round spoon bowls and the broad, flat handles on most of the other pieces.

Josef Hoffman - Hugo Pott 86 - 1955
Half a century later, not long before his death, Hoffmann created this design.  The little round knobs at the ends of the handles serve to help balance while holding the piece, though they are basically decorative.  To me, the problem is that the handles seem too thin to grasp comfortably.

Arne Jacobsen - 1957
As Wikipedia indicates, Jacobsen also was basically an architect who practiced industrial design on the side.  The (partial) set shown here is interesting to look at, but probably not easy to use.  For example, the fork tines seem too few, too short and perhaps too sharp.  The flat handles might be a little uncomfortable to hold.  The knives and spoons could be better balanced.

Sasaki Aria Asani
This set is from a Japanese firm, but I don't have a date for it.  Again, wide, flat, poorly balanced handles.

Yamazaki Haiku
Another set from Japan, designer and date unknown (to me, anyway).  The design is interesting and creative: note the split handles (a decoration, not being functional) and uneven fork tine lengths.  But yet again, I doubt that the pieces would be comfortable to use.  And the split handles might be hard to clean.