Friday, March 27, 2015

Edward Penfield and His Poster Style

Edward Penfield (1866-1925) is considered America's first great poster artist. His Wikipedia entry is here, a chronology of his life and career is here and a Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame appreciation is here.

His posters and magazine covers might seem pretty tame today, but they were striking when they first rolled off the presses. His basic style was cloisonniste, using dark outlines with areas filled in using flat colors. However, Penfield's outlines tended to be on the thin side, so the impression generated was more like a conventional illustration than something with a more designed look that thick outlines might have yielded.


Harper's poster - August 1897
That's a semi-enclosed beach chair next to the girl, with beach houses and a boardwalk in the background. Harper's was and is a magazine, and Penfield was one of its art directors for about ten years during the 1890s and designed and illustrated many of its publicity posters.

Collier's cover - 28(?) April 1902
Just in time for the start of baseball season.

Pierce-Arrow advertising - ca. 1907
Pierce-Arrow was an American luxury automobile maker whose fortunes steadily declined after the Great War of 1914-18.  Here, it was in its heyday.

Penn and Cornell athletes - ca. 1907
Similar posters were done for some other Ivy schools. In all cases, we view huge bodies and comparatively tiny heads.

Collier's cover - 10 October 1914
This seems to be in reaction to the start of the Great War in August of 1914, even though the USA was not yet at war.

Collier's cover art, ca. 1918
The caption on the Web where I found this indicated that it was for Collier's, but I can't yet verify that.  Again, the heads are a bit too small.

Washington's Birthday Holiday poster

Saturday Evening Post cover - 4 March 1905
This is interesting because here Penfield did not use his usual flat, poster style of illustration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wyndham Lewis' Excellent Modernist Portraits

Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) divided his career between art and writing, winning esteem and controversy in both fields, but not a lot of money. By his late 50s he was undergoing serious bladder operations. Not long after, a growing pituitary tumor degraded his optic nerves to the point that in 1951 he announced that he had gone blind. Myself having had a vision scare recently, I have an inkling of the horror he must have experienced. (It turns out that a tentative diagnosis of macular degeneration was false, and my problem was almost entirely fixed by surgery.)

As for his art, Lewis was a vocal modernist in traditional England, promoting Vorticism, a form of Cubism around the time of the outbreak of the Great War. This was in part through his own works and also via his publication "Blast." More biographical information can be found here.

For this post, I'm setting aside his Vorticist work to focus on his portraiture. This was highlighted in a 2008 exhibit at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Early in his career Lewis considered himself a modernist, one of those self-anointeds who were to remake just about everything, including art. But by the late 1930s he conceded that things weren't working out as intended. And as early as 1919, Lewis' portrait drawings were an interesting blend of modernist simplification and accurate portrayal. His subjects' appearances and personalities show strongly in part because simplification was only lightly applied and tended to be dominated by his sure control of line. This ability resulted in drawings that usually outshone his painted portraits.


Ezra Pound - 1919
Lewis and the poet were good friends when this drawing was made.

James Joyce - 1921
Lewis did several portrait drawings of Joyce.

Edith Sitwell - 1921
His drawings of Sitwell eventually led to a painted portrait that I included in this post (scroll down).

Girl Seated (Gladys Anne Hoskins) - 1922
Lewis married Hoskins in 1930. She was called "Froanna" by then, but mostly remained in the background while Lewis was alive.

Augustus John - 1932
Portrait of a fellow portrait artist.

Dorothy Alexander (Lady Harmsworth) - 1932

Dame Edith Evans - 1932

Rebecca West - 1932
Lewis and West were miles apart politically, but got along personally.

Girl Reading (Froanna) - 1936

Froanna - 1937

T.S. Eliot - 1938
This, and his portrait of Sitwell, are perhaps Lewis' best-known portrait paintings.

Miss Close - 1939
I'm not sure who the sitter is, but include this because it was painted only a few years before he realized that he was starting to go blind.  Lewis continued to paint while he was able, but quality began to fall away.

Monday, March 23, 2015

F.R. Gruger: Black & White Master

Frederic Rodrigo (F.R.) Gruger (1871-1953) was a prolific and highly respected illustrator whose career was at its zenith during the 1920s and early 1930s. In those days, most story illustrations (as opposed to magazine covers) appeared in black and white or sometimes duotone. So Gruger generally used monochrome media such as soft pencils, pen and ink, and washes. At times he did illustrate in color, as we'll see below, but he is mostly remembered for his monochrome work.

Gruger was inducted into the Society of Illustrators' Hall of Fame in 1981. A biographical citation is here. David Apatoff posted a series of articles about Gruger here, here, here, here, here and here and, as usual, makes excellent observations. Another worthwhile Web page dealing with Gruger is here.


Illustration for the book "Manslaughter" by Alice Duer Miller - 1921
This seems to have been done entirely in pencil.

It seems to be dealing with ghosts from different eras and places.

Gruger also used watercolor or lampblack washes.

Note how sketchily done most objects are here.  The viewer will therefore probably focus on the two faces and maybe the girl's knee.

Perhaps a speakeasy nightclub scene. Compare to Henry Raleigh's party scenes. Different styles, but equally compelling. Makes me wish I was there.

Illustration for "He'll Come Home" - Saturday Evening Post - 16 March 1929
More lightly done than many of his illustrations.


Illustration for "Show Boat" by Edna Ferber - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926

Color illustration for "Show Boat" - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926
Yes, Gruger also could do color. This is a scan from Benjamin B. Pearlman's biography of Gruger, "The Golden Age of American Illustration: F.R. Gruger and His Circle" North Light Publishers, 1978. The image in the book was itself scanned from a copy of the magazine because the original art could not be found. Therefore, the quality is not good and the color might have shifted due to aging of the magazine page.

"Show Boat" - Kelly Collection
The Kelly site dates this as 1903 (as of the time I captured the image), but 1925 should be a better estimate. The publication image is below. But might this actually be the presumably lost original? Although the colors differ (they seem thinner here, for one thing), examination of the line work, shading, and other details show that it is the same as the final version. Could colors have been altered during printing preparation?

Color illustration for "Show Boat" - Woman's Home Companion - April 1926
I like this illustration a lot due to the delineation quality -- the variation in line weights and such. The remarks for the first scan, above, also apply here. Moreover, both images have been slightly cropped.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Molti Ritratti: Nancy Cunard

Nancy Cunard (1896-1965) was a rich heiress of the kind who led a messy, self-destructive life that ended in poverty, alcoholism and a degree of insanity. I speculate that, because she reached maturity when Modernism (and its rejection of the past and quest for a fabulous, new, to-be-determined-by-the-Modernist-elect, future) was becoming fashionable, this made things even worse than they might have otherwise been.

I'll spare you more details of her foolishness, but this link provides the basics.

Cunard's portraits were mostly photographic, but a few were painted. Here are examples of both:


By Man Ray (un-cropped version)
This seems to be a contact print.  Man Ray tended to cut the bottom at or just below her left elbow.

By Cecil Beaton
A fashion magazine image.

By Cecil Beaton - ca. 1930
This is one example from several taken at one shoot.  Probably not used for publication, as others were better.

By Ambrose McEvoy - ca. 1925
Doesn't really look like her.  Plus, I don't see her trademark bangles.

By Alvaro Guerva
A Russian look, but that was in fashion during the early 1920s.

By John Banting
Edging towards Surrealism, but a few bangles still show up.

By Oskar Kokoshka - 1924
A mess of a painting.

By Wyndham Lewis - 1922
Several sources mention that Lewis and Cunard were having an affair that year. This bangle-free drawing exhibits his skill in judicious modernist simplification that nevertheless retains the character of the portrait subject.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

El Lissitzky: Mostly Non-Objective

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky (1890-1941), who styled himself El Lissitzy (the "El" might be from Eleazar, or perhaps from an aspect of the Unovis movement of 1920 when he first identified himself as "El"), was a major player in the group of Russian modernists who briefly thrived around the time of the Great War and for a dozen years or so in its aftermath. Biographical information on him can be found here, and this site features a number of large images of his graphic work.

Lissitzky trained in architecture in Germany and traveled in the west, but was forced to return to Russia when the war started in 1914. He did not serve in the Imperial army though he was of military age. This might have been because of tuberculosis, a disease that killed him at age 51. (Though one source mentions that the disease did not impact him until after the war, so perhaps his professional training or other factors kept him out of the army.)

The October Revolution kicked his creativity into high gear, his Jewishness no longer being a social barrier. Lissitzky's graphic designs helped anticipate the work of the Bauhaus in Germany and modernist-inspired designs elsewhere up into the 1950s when angled design elements became largely passé.

Some of his designs spilled over into painting, where his works were what was termed Non-Objective Art, a phrase used during the 1930s by New York's Museum of Modern Art for abstractions often comprised of geometrical elements. Aside from some Op-Art pieces in the 1960s and 70s, this geometrical type of decorative painting seems to have been an artistic dead-end.


"Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge" poster - 1920
This was in support of the Bolshevik armies during the post-revolution struggle against anti-Bolsheviks.  The Red Army eventually succeeded against the White forces, but didn't do well in its push into Poland.

Preliminary version of poster design - 1920

Proun design

Proun design

Vyeshch cover - 1922
Vyeshch was an avant-garde, modern art review that seems to have been multi-lingual to a degree. Note the German and French, especially at the lower left. The title is the three large Russian letters, the third of which symbolizes the "shch" sound.

"Iron in Clouds" design for Strastnoy Boulevard structures - 1925
The note at the upper right indicates that this drawing was a gift from Lessitzky to J.J.P. Oud, the Dutch architect who happened to have been born the same year.

Kusntgewrbemuseum Zürich catalog cover - 1929
This is perhaps Lissitzky's best-known graphic design, the merged heads being a clever but not particularly meaningful touch.  The event was a Russian exhibition, presumably of architectural and graphic designs.

Monday, March 16, 2015

When Renoir Doubted Impressionism

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) was, along with Claude Monte and Camille Pissarro, a major French Impressionist whose painting style is archetypically "Impressionistic" in the minds of most viewers. (On the other hand Edgar Degas, although considered one of the original band of French Impressionists, painted in a more traditional style.)

Were I into pop-psychology, I might assert that Renoir experienced a "mid-life crisis" in 1883 when he was in his early 40s. He began to doubt his Impressionist painting style and experimented with a more delineated, harder-edge approach inspired by his admiration of Ingres (who Picasso also claimed to admire). This is noted in his Wikipedia entry and elsewhere on the Internet. It is also discussed in this book by Anne Distel, a Musée d'Orsay curator.

Renoir's wanderings in a not-quite-Impressionist wilderness lasted roughly five years (1883-88). He then picked up where he had left off stylistically.

But not entirely. From time to time he continued to make paintings featuring more sharply defined subjects. And not just commissioned portraits; the final painting below was done for his own purposes in 1896.


Luncheon of the Boating Party - 1880-81

On the Terrace - 1881
To set the scene are the two paintings above, made not long before he modified his style.

Les parapluies - ca. 1880-86
As this link notes, Renoir began "The Umbrellas" around 1880-81 and then reworked and completed it about 1885-86. It notes that the right side seems to have been painted first and the left part later. So it is a stylistic hybrid that Renoir was hesitant to sell for several years.

Children's Afternoon at Wargemont - 1884

Bather Arranging Her Hair - 1885

The Large Bathers - 1887

The Washerwomen - ca. 1888

La famille de l'artiste - 1896