Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Charles Constantine Hoffbauer, Versatile Franco-American

Charles Hoffbauer (1875-1957) was a French artist who spent much of his career in the United States. A useful summary of his career is here. It mentions that he "enrolled at the École National des Beaux-Arts where his peers included Henri Matisse, Georges Rouault, and Albert Marquet." After his army service: "In 1898, Hoffbauer’s first submission to the Paris Salon was awarded Honorable Mention, and the following year he became the youngest artist to earn a Gold Medal and be deemed Hors Concours -- a status he held for seven years."

So he got off to a good start. As might be expected, his early paintings were traditional in style. But around the time he turned 30, he adopted a looser technique that had Impressionist overtones when it came to color. But it might also be said that he was a tiny bit expressionistic in his handling of forms, especially when he was in his forties.

Much of his American work in the 1920s was as just described. But he had received a commission to paint Civil War murals for the Battle Abbey at the Confederate Memorial Institute at Richmond, Virginia (see here). This work was painted traditionally and was done both before and following the Great War which interrupted it, Hoffbauer returning to France to serve in the army. Later on, he worked in film animation.

I'm inclined to place Hoffbauer as a fine-artist whose work came close to illustration. Nothing wrong with that; most of the Masters fall into that category as well.

Gallery

A Masked Ball - c. 1901
An early painting, still under the influence of his academic training.

At the Ball - 1905

La sortie de l'Opéra - 1905

Dîner sur le Toit - 1905

In the Restaurant - 1905
A set of Belle Époche images.

Jeune femme à la lecture
A rather unusual style and subject for Hoffbauer.

German Prisoners
Painted during the Great War while he was in the army.

Broadway sous la neige, devant l'Hotel Astor, New York - 1925
Apologies for the blurred image, but it's the best I could locate.

Herald Square, New York
Other sources have titles mentioning rainy streets in New York, but Herald Square this is. The tall, dark building in the center is the Times Building and building at the right with the arcade is the Herald Building.

Metropolitan Life Tower, New York
The smaller tower at the left was part of the original Madison Square Garden.

Times Square at Night
The Times Building is on the left (we are looking south). The building with the Turkish and American flags is the Hotel Astor.

Spring: Stonewall Jackson reviewing his troops in the Shenandoah Valley
An explanation as to how Hoffbauer did the murals is here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

How Well Could Picasso Draw?

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), like Rembrandt, is probably still synonymous with "artist" for the general public. As regular readers of this blog probably know, I am not a Picasso fan. I never liked his work aside from a very few paintings. On the other hand, I have no problem with artists who are famous and financially successful in their own lifetime, something that applied to Picasso in spades.

From what I've read, it seems that his abilities were regarded with something like awe by artist friends in his early Paris days. That prompted the idea behind this post: just how well could he draw? After all, the ability to draw is an important artistic skill.

Below are some examples of Picasso's naturalistic drawings that should help indicate how well he could depict people when he put his mind to it.

Gallery

Femme assise dans une chaise (Dora) - 1938
To begin, here is a drawing of Dora Maar, his mistress at the time this drawing was made. I include it as a reminder of one sort of drawing he made later in his career. Some Modernist Art fans might insist that this is a marvelous drawing if one disregards accurate depiction and considers other qualities. But that is a separate matter from this post's focus.

The Artist's Father - 1896
Picasso was 15 or 16 when this painted sketch was made. Okay, it's not a drawing, but not a finished painting either. It does show that he was precocious. Very good considering his age.

Unknown subject, unknown date
Were I really diligent I might have tracked down the missing information. What matters is the quality, which seems to me is at the level one would expect from a good academic art student.

Self-Portrait - 1901
I like this drawing. It captures the 20-year-old artist without hard-edge detail: "suggestive," I'd say.

Portrait d'Olga - 1920
This is Picasso's first wife. It seems he first sketched in pencil and then inked it -- some pencil lines still show, especially near her nose and left eye. Anatomically correct aside from her fingers that seem over-simplified.

Olga au chapeau à la plume - 1920
Her head seem a bit small compared to the rest of her, but otherwise this is a competent linear treatment.

Mother and Child - from p. 28 of sketchbook 77 - ca. 1922
By this time, Picasso was in his classical phase where heads were inspired by Greek statuary and bodies were somewhat massive. An idealization, not really a depiction.

My verdict from the gallery above is that Picasso was quite capable of representational depiction. But this did not rise head-and-shoulders above what a number of other artists could do. He was a shrewd man and made a wise career choice by becoming a Modernist. Otherwise, he seems to have had nothing special to offer artistically.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Molti Ritratti: Iris Tree

Iris Tree (1897-1968) came from an established English family, and was well-connected socially and with artistic groups. Her brief Wikipedia entry notes that she was "an English poet, actress and artists' model, described as a bohemian, an eccentric, a wit and an adventuress." (The entry at the time I wrote this post includes a Modigliani painting said to be of Tree. I question this because, first, all Modigliani nudes look pretty much the same, and second, the image has long hair whereas Tree had bobbed hair at that time.)

A more detailed biographical sketch is here. Below are various portraits of Iris.

Gallery

Photo by Man Ray - early 1920s
Iris Tree had an interesting face that Man Ray captured nicely.

Photo: Lytton Strachey and Iris - ca. 1930
Perhaps taken at Ham Spray.  Compare Iris' figure with 1915 portraits below.

Iris and Dora Carrington - ca. 1930
Taken the same day as the photo above. The Wikipedia entry on Carrington is here.

Sculpture by Jacob Epstein
Epstein made at least three sculpture portraits of Iris.

By Vanessa Bell - 1915
Now for three portraits made in 1915 by central members of the Bloomsbury set. (Vanessa was the sister of the more famous Virginia Woolf.)

By Duncan Grant - 1915
Grant was the love of Vanessa's life and the father of her daughter, even though he was homosexual. (Bloomsbury relationships are extremely complex, and are touched on in several of the Web pages linked here.) This painting and the one above seem to have been made at the same sitting: note the setting and differing points of view.

By Roger Fry - 1915
Fry was a more marginal Bloomsbury figure, though he did have an affair with Vanessa. As with the two paintings shown above, Iris was about 18 years old when she sat.

By Adolphe Borie
I'm not sure if this was painted in America or Paris.

By Augustus John - 1920
In my judgment, John was a better artist than Bell, Duncan, Fry and Borie, so this is the best portrait of the bunch. He knew Iris since she was a girl.

Drawing by Augustus John
Another nice image by John.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Christopher Nevinson: War Pantings

Christopher Richard Wynne (C.R.W.) Nevinson (1889–1946) had a prickly personality, falling into and out of friendships with the likes of Wyndham Lewis and becoming a tad paranoid regarding Slade School instructor Henry Tonks, who didn't think much of his drawing ability. This and more is discussed in more detail in Nevinson's Wikipedia entry. For a shorter take, you might want to link to this Tate page.

At the time the Great War started, Nevinson was practicing Modernism in a Cubist-inspired manner to which was an added dash of Futurism. He volunteered for ambulance work in the French army zone of operations, returned to England for health reasons, and then went back to France as a British war artist. During this time his style evolved toward traditional realism, but not quite abandoning all of Modernism's quirks. After the war, he drifted from time to time to a Cubism-lite style  that was dropped again when he made some World War 2 paintings.

In the present post, his Great War paintings are featured.

Gallery

Bursting Shell - 1915
Futurist influence is strong here. I can't tell if he is depicting an explosive shell or an illumination shell.

Pursuing a Taube - 1915
The Taube (Dove) was a type of German airplane.

La mitrailleuse - 1915
Probably Nevinson's most famous painting. It shows a French machine gun team in action.

Returning to the Trenches (study) - c.1915
This gives us a notion as to how Nevinson constructed his compositions at that time; a whoosh of Futurist movement along with Cubist segmentation.

Ypres After the First Bombardment - 1916
Although Cubist elements might be present, to me this seems Expressionist: think of the settings of the post-war (1920) German film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.

La patrie - 1916
"The Fatherland" depicts a French army evacuation station.

French Troops Resting - 1916

Dog Tired - 1916
Two takes on tired soldiers. The upper painting shows French soldiers apparently taking a break while either entering or leaving a combat zone. The lower image is of British soldiers behind the lines dealing with supplies (note the bales and boxes they are on and the fact that they are wearing cloth caps rather than helmets).

A Group of Soldiers - 1917
Modernism is ebbing away a little here.

A Tank - 1917
A British Mark V (Male) tank. Nevinson had it stubbier than it actually was.

Paths of Glory - 1917
This was controversial when it was new, as this Telegraph article explains. The style is more representational than that found in the previous paintings.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Leo Putz: The Golden Years

Leo Putz (1869-1940), an Austrian painter who spent most of his career in Germany, did some very interesting work during the ten years or so between 1903 and 1912. Unfortunately for his reputation here in America, his last name is a slang term of disparagement, though in German it can refer to fashion, ornamentation and such. (The German word schmuck, with a somewhat similar meaning, suffers the same fate for perhaps the same reason.)

Biographical information about Putz can be found here and here. He was highly regarded in Munich where his career was centered. His favorite subject was women. He painted his attractive wife, the artist Frieda Blell, a number of times during what I consider his peak years. Putz also made a large number of paintings of nude women, but I consider most of these less interesting, especially those done from around 1912 on. His later paintings were sketchier than his more solid earlier works, and incorporated light touches of fauvist coloring along with fading hints of his earlier flat-area style.

What interests me most is his use of large, flat brush strokes. This is a mannered style that works best, I think, in small doses. Perhaps that is why Putz drifted away from it. Nevertheless, when I think of Leo Putz, his square-brush style comes to mind first.

Gallery

Drawing of woman's head - 1899

Gasthaus in Schenna - 1900
These first two images show Putz' degree of skill depicting representational subjects before he shifted to a more mannered style.

Porträt Veronika Kirmair im Schleissheimer Garten - 1903
An early square-brush effort.

Hinter den Kulissen - 1905
"Behind the Scenes" is the English version of the title.  Nice job on facial expressions.  Note that Putz abandons or minimizes flat-brushing on faces that require a softened approach.

Sommerträume - 1907
"Summer Dreams" is a large painting that's particularly striking when viewed in person.

Spiegelbild - 1908

Am Ufer - 1909
Two paintings featuring Frieda Blell.

Cara Sophia Köhler - 1911
By now, Putz is abandoning his classical style.

Blond und Brünett - ca. 1913
Another example of his new stylistc direction.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Samuel Melton Fisher: Painter Without a Past

Samuel Melton Fisher (1860-1939) was born in London. That's about all I could discover about him via three or four Google screens. Surprising, in a way, because he did paint at least one personage and his paintings often displayed a nice, soft, slightly flattened touch.

Gallery

Festa: a Venetian Café - 1889

A moonlight Sonata, Venice

Flower Makers - 1896

Asleep - 1902

The Chess Players - 1903

Mabel Carlisle, Wife of High Edwardes, 6th Baron Kensington - 1919

Winifred - 1924

Field Marshal Lord Allenby of Megiddo and Felixstowe - ca. 1925