Thursday, July 2, 2015

Monuments, Texas-Style

The state of Texas has many virtues, especially for a good many of its residents. A deficiency is in tourist attraction sites, the only truly famous one being the Alamo.

For several year my wife was anxious to tour Texas, and we finally made good on the plan in April. For various reasons en route from San Antonio to Houston's Clear Lake area, we skipped a planned visit to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station. Instead, we visited the San Jacinto battlefield east of Houston where on 21 April 1836, Texans defeated a Mexican army (for more information click here).

San Jacinto (the J is pronounced by Texans using a hard "J", not the expected Spanish "H" alternative) is not a strong attraction for most non-Texans, but I found it an interesting place.

One attraction is the San Jacinto Monument. This link states: "The monument, constructed between 1936 and 1939 and dedicated on April 21, 1939, is the world's tallest masonry column..." It is 567.31 feet (172.92 m) tall, slightly higher than the better-known 554.612-foot (169.046 m) Washington Monument in the District of Columbia. Note that construction began a century after the year of the battle.

Also on the site is the battleship USS Texas, BB-35 (Wikipedia entry here). Commissioned in 1914, it is the oldest remaining dreadnought-type American battleship; other survivors are of the World War 2 vintage "fast-battleship" type.

Below are some of my photos.  Click on the images to enlarge.


There stands the monument behind our rental car. Unlike the plain, obelisk-like Washington Monument, the San Jacinto Monument has flutings like Greek columns on four of its eight faces.

Atop the monument is a four-sided Texas star.

The base, containing a museum, features inscriptions describing the battle's circumstances.

And there are very 1930s-Moderne bas-relief images with captions.

Not far away is the USS Texas. In a few years it will be placed in a dry setting (it has experienced leaks and other deterioration from time to time since it arrived at San Jacinto in 1948). Aside from the placement of the main turrets, the superstructure and armament of the Texas are drastically different from its appearance in 1914. I know it's financially impossible, but I'd love to see the Texas as it was when it was new.

Navy buffs will find the Texas interesting due to the layout of its main gun turrets. The guns are 14-inch cannons mounted in pairs. Since ten guns are carried, there are five turrets strung along the ship. This is not ideal because the third turret is placed so that its guns cannot fire fore or aft nor even nearly fore or aft, a waste of potential firepower. The strung-out turrets also require a longer swath of side armor, adding to the ship's displacement. Later battleships used three- and even four-gun turrets (Dunkerque and following French battleships).

Monday, June 29, 2015

Henry Soulen, Mural-Style Illustrator

Henry James Soulen (1888-1965) was an illustrator whose work was published in major magazines, yet he is virtually unknown today. Short biographical links are here and here.

Soulen's style included bright colors, limited depth, and cloisonnist outlining of his subject matter. These traits are commonly found in murals painted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.


Dancing at the Waldorf

Great War scene

The Three Musketeers

The Ukulele Player

Flowers of Gold

From "One Man and One Woman"

Here is an example of a problem faced by me and other bloggers who make use of unfamiliar images found on the Internet. Not having seen the original art or even a printed reproduction, I have no sure way of telling what the original coloration was like. Above are two versions of "The Parade." The upper version has more naturalistic colors. But I wonder if the image was scanned from a magazine; illustration colors were and are altered purposefully or otherwise during the publication process. The lower version has better resolution (you can see more impasto brushwork: click to enlarge), yet the colors don't strike me as realistic for a German scene. If any reader knows for certain what the original colors were, please post a comment.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Gregory Stocks: Bold-Brush Tonalist

In mid-March I was doing one of my usual walk-throughs of Palm Desert's El Paseo area killing time while my wife was watching tennis at Indian Wells. El Paseo has a number of art galleries, and I finally decided that this would be the day to walk into some to find out what was new since last March. Turns out that there wasn't much of interest this time, though I did write down names of a few artists for further investigation.

One instance was the Jones & Terwilliger gallery (which is also found up in Carmel-By-The-Sea) that had several landscapes on display by Utah-based painter Gregory Stocks whose biographical note in his website is here.

Both links show paintings by Stocks whose commercial work is mostly landscapes that usually feature trees with autumn leaves and are painted boldly, but not wildly. Stocks has a very nice touch that is best appreciated when viewing his works in person.  He favors autumn scenes where he can tone down (mix in some opposite color) reds and oranges, etc. on the foliage while doing the same for grasses and and green leaves that are dark, yet haven't yet turned color. In a way, his color strategy is similar to that used by a number of American painters and muralists in the 1920s, something that for some reason has appealed to me for a long time.


Autumn Stand

In Harmony

Distant Cloudbank
Not as strongly autumnal as the first two painting, but there are hints in the nearest clumps of trees. Also note the inclusion of orange, ochre and such for the grasses.  More distant grasses are greener due to the blueing of atmospheric perspective.

A much different scene from the previous painting, but the same color strategy is used.

Mixing It Up
This seems to be a plein-air painting due to its small size (14 x 11 inches; 35 x 27.5 cm). Plenty  of bold, square-brush action here.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Extra-Fancy Building Tops: 1930 and 2004

Most modernist architecture is horrible. There: I said it. Actually, I've probably said it before, either on this blog or back when I blogged on 2Blowhards.

For now, I'll spare Faithful Readers a rant on why I think modernist architecture is horrible. Instead, this post deals with a building that from one perspective seems a bit silly, yet from another point of view has some merit.

That building is the Frost Bank Tower (completed 2004) that I recently saw in Austin, Texas. Here's a photo I took:

What the photo doesn't show is the base that's a few stories tall and fills the space out to the sidewalk. That's a good thing in principle, because most pedestrians pretty much view things near eye level rather than gaze upward at tall buildings they're walking past. Unfortunately from an aesthetic point of view, the base and tower designs don't seem to blend well, although they easily could have (scroll down the above link for more views).

I like the massing of the tower, this offering some relief from its stubby proportions. This massing also evokes skyscraper design from its 1925-32 golden age.

The controversial feature is the decorations at the top. A hardcore functionalist observer would collapse with the vapours at such ornamentation. Me?: Although the top is a little "over the top" as they say, I like the idea of tall buildings having something interestingly decorative at their apex.

The opening defined by the four highest spikes recalls the top decor of Rochester, New York's Times Square Building, shown in a postcard view below.

This 1930 treatment is even more outrageous than that of the Frost Tower. My main objection is that those wings are out of scale with the rest of the building. They would have worked much better were the tower 30 or so floors tall.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Anthonius Mor: 16th Century Portraits that Looked Like People

"Sir Anthonis Mor, also known as Anthonis Mor van Dashorst and Antonio Moro (c. 1517 - 1577) was a Netherlandish portrait painter, much in demand by the courts of Europe. He has also been referred to as Antoon, Anthonius, Anthonis or Mor van Dashorst, and as Antonio Moro, Anthony More, etc., but signed most of his portraits as Anthonis Mor" is how this Wikipedia entry begins.

As regular readers of this blog probably know by now, I seldom write about artists active before around 1850. That has to do with my interests, and I write about what interests me. Paintings done before the mid-19th century for the most part elicit a reaction of indifference. I don't hate them, but don't love them either. (Exceptions include Velazquez, Tiepolo, Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Chardin and some others.)

Two reasons for this, among others, are (1) the settings are too "staged" or static or artificial for my taste, and (2) I don't love highly "finished" paintings. Plenty of exceptions here, but when both factors are present, I'll usually give the painting a once-over and move on. Which is why, when I'm in Paris next month, I might not get farther into the Louvre than its great book / gift store.

Portraits made before about 1700 usually strike me as offering a sense of what the sitter looked like, but seem contrived, somehow. Again there are exceptions. One such set of exceptions includes some portraits by Anthonius Mor, who I was unaware of until I saw a post on the Gandalf's Galley blog featuring his portrait of the Duchess of Parma. Mor's portraits include all the fancy costuming expected for important sitters. But it is the faces that strike me as being those of flesh-and-blood people -- not smoothly-painted diagrams of people's faces.


Duchess Margaret of Parma - 1562
Click on the image for a considerably enlarged version and examine Mor's treatment of her face.

Willem I van Nassau (William of Orange) - ca. 1554

Queen Mary Tudor of England - 1544
Painted before she gained the throne.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sergius Hruby: Sensual Symbolist

There's not a lot regarding Sergius Hruby (1869-1943) on the Internet other than examples of his artwork. Some biographical information is here, and a much shorter mention is here.

In brief, his Czech name to the contrary, he was born in Vienna, studied art and made his career there.

Hruby can best be classified as a Symbolist of the Art Nouveau variety. Many of the images he created featured nude or partly-clad women and were in the form of illustrations for printed reproduction. What I find interesting is that his style changed little over most of his career, unlike many other artists of his generation who chased modernist artistic fashions.

It's also worth noting that Hruby's works draw one's interest because, in part, they are unconventional. That is, the humans he depicts are done in representational style with little in the way of simplification and none of the distortion often found in mainstream symbolist works. From that basis, he places those humans in strange situations using dramatic or unusual compositions.



Ungleige Seelen (Different Souls)
That's a rough translation, the title might also be rendered as "Unequal Souls" or even something more freely put in English.

Die Verspottung Christi (The Mocking of Christ)
Click on it to enlarge.

I'm not sure what the title is for this painting. The image I captured from the Internet had the tag "Oil on Wood," which would be the description of materials used to make it. This strikes me as being an earlier work, though I might easily be completely wrong. Nevertheless, it's pleasing.

Anbetung der Natur (Nature Worship) - 1932
At least this one is dated, and was made when he was in his early sixties, still evoking 1900 sensibilities.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Alexander Leydenfrost: Illustrating Technical Stuff

American readers born before, say, 1950 might recall leafing through copies of Life Magazine or other publications and coming across illustrations by Alexander Leydenfrost (1888-1961). What most viewers didn't realize was that Leydenfrost was an Hungarian Baron who moved to the United States in 1923 to escape the aftermath of the Great War. By 1930 he was working as an industrial designer for Norman Bel Geddes, and at the end of the decade moved into illustration full-time. Those and other details can be found in this short Wikipedia entry.

After a fling in Planet Stories, a science-fiction magazine, Leydenfrost built his illustration career depicting current and futuristic machines and settings. This was not a large step away from making certain kinds of industrial design presentations. However, he had an artistic sense that set him apart from those simply skilled in product rendering, which is why his scenes were usually dramatic and halfway believable even if they dealt with future possibilities.


Brooklyn Battery Tunnel - 1950

Fleeing after atomic attack - Pageant Magazine - February 1951

Science on the March - Popular Mechanics Magazine - January 1952
This was a spread in the magazine's 50th anniversary issue.  Click on the illustration to enlarge.

Future Dirigible - ca. 1944

B-26 Bomber - 1942 or 1943

Pennsylvania Railroad calendar illustration - 1945