Friday, April 18, 2014

Disaster and Chaos as Depicted by John Martin

"If it bleeds, it leads" is an old newspaper saying, a comment on the taste of the general public when it comes to news. That's just human nature: how much might daily circulation increase if the top front page headline stated "Crocuses are Now Blooming?"

Before the advent of photography and even after, painters had the option of depicting scenes of mayhem and destruction. One artist who did quite well at this was John Martin (1789-1854). A lengthy Wikipedia biographical entry on him is here. In 2011-12 Martin was the subject of an exhibition at the Tate Britain, in London.

Actually, Martin's painting were more epic than gory, as can be seen below.


Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion - 1812

Fall of Babylon - 1819

Belshazzar's Feast - 1820

The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum - 1822
This painting was badly damaged in the 1920s and required a restoration much more extensive than usual, as this Guardian piece indicates.

Pandaemonium - 1841

The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - 1852

The Great Day of His Wrath - 1851-53

The Last Judgement - 1853
Painted not long before Martin suffered a debilitating stroke.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jean-Louis Forain: Painting as Commentary

Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931) forged a successful career as a painter and illustrator, though he is not very well known today. His Wikipedia entry mentions that he was a friend of Degas (not always an easy task) and followed or admired by Lautrec. The article classifies his art as Impressionist, though I can't quite buy that. Rather than focusing on effects of light and color, his work strikes me as being closer akin to that of a sketch artist -- setting down that kind of impression.

Forain was happy to depict both French society's highlights and lowlights -- from courtroom scenes to fancy dress occasions, often with satirical intent. This link has a lengthy commentary on an exhibit of Forain's work that took place a few years ago, and offers another perspective regarding his work.


Courtroom scenes...

Legal Assistance - 1900
Avocat et accusé - 1908
Witness Confounded - 1926

In the gardens...

Jardin de Paris c. 1882
The Public Garden - c. 1884

High life...

A Soiree at the Opera
The Buffet - 1884


The Fisherman- 1884
La cavalière

Here and there...

Cafe Maxim, Paris
Dans les coulisses
Behind the Scenes

... and some portraits

Jeanne Forain
Anna de Noailles

Monday, April 14, 2014

Doris Zinkeisen: Even More Elegant than Her Art

Doris Clare Zinkeisen (1898-1991) was born in Scotland, but like many others, made her career in England. Her sister Anna was also an artist, perhaps a better one. Doris' Wikipedia entry is here.

From what I can tell from photographs and portraits, the young Doris was a real beauty. More beautiful than many of her paintings, I have to say.

Zinkeisen's subjects ranged from portraits to social scenes to wartime art, the latter being rather sketchy, given the circumstances.


Doris, portrayed...

Photo by Beryl Cazeneaux - 1929

Photo by Harold Pierce Cazeneaux - 1929

Doris decorating the Queen Mary, by Madame Yevonde - 1936

Doris, by her sister Anna

Self-Portrait - 1929

Portraits by Zinkeisen...

Elsa Lanchester - 1925

Margaret Duncan

Lieutenant Murray Johnstone, the artist's son - 1966

Mrs Sanders Watney

Here and there...

Dressing Room

Bois de Boulogne

War art...

British Red Cross Issuing Comforts to Prisoners of War at Brussels - 1945

Air Ambulance being Unloaded near Bruges - 1945
She got the basic shape of the Dakota nearly correct, but couldn't depict the rounded fuselage correctly. Drawing mechanical objects is difficult for many otherwise competent artists.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Architectural Archetypes, Side-by-Side

Well, "archetypes" might be putting it a bit strongly, but blog titles do require brevity. Here are two buildings, one characteristic of the 1930s, the other an example of a 1950s-60s fad.

I took the above photo in January of this year while visiting Reno, Nevada. The white building to the left is the former downtown Reno post office, built in the early 1930s and currently being renovated (background links are here -- does not mention the closing -- and here). On the right is the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. Its roof is a geodesic dome, but in plan view it's a pentagon whose sides bulge out as if inflated.

Some people consider the post office building an example of Art Deco style. While it does feature some Art Deco decoration, I'm inclined to place it in the category of abstracted, stripped-down classical architecture often seen in government and other buildings of the 1930s in Germany, Italy, and the United States as well as elsewhere. Visually, such buildings aren't as entertaining as those of High Art Deco style, but I find them better than the designs that appeared after World War 2.

Now let's consider the juxtaposition shown above. In downtown areas of relatively unplanned American cities, you usually can see a jumble of architectural styles including interesting contrasts such as in Reno. This can be good or bad, depending on the styles. Jumbles can satisfy libertarian philosophy or might well appear as an ugly mess. Uniformity can be totalitarian (to introduce another political metaphor) or a means of protection against something stylistically worse. Below are some examples of uniformity.


Modernist architect Le Corbusier came up with a massive urban renewal scheme for Paris known as Plan Voisin. A 1925 model is shown here. At the lower right is the River Seine and the Ile de la Cité, which provides orientation. Corbu's plan would have taken out a large swath of streets and structures north of the river and replaced that with a uniform set of high-rise structures. Lower buildings would be placed close to the Seine. At the lower left of the image we see that arcaded rue de Rivoli structures across the street from the Louvre would also have modernist replacements. To me, this would have been capital-T Totalitarian.

And what about the geodesic dome, an object of much praise in certain quarters. For the most part, they are simply scattered here and there. But there is at least one concentration of them, something in Cornwall, England called The Eden Project, shown above. For what it's worth, I consider it ghastly.

Here is a contrasting, traditional small community, the town of Ivoire on the French bank of Lake Geneva. Its buildings are not a uniform design, but share a similar range of building materials and spirit. Très charmant, say I.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

William Merritt Chase's Studio Scenes

William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) was a leading American painter during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as his Wikipedia entry indicates. Highly prolific, he often would paint whatever was at hand when he wasn't teaching or doing commissioned work. Such subjects included family members and even scenes of his studio, the subject of this post.

Here are some of Chase's studio scenes.


Photo of studio
This is a photo of Chase's studio on Tenth Street in New York City.

In the Studio - 1882

In the Studio - 1884

Alice in Studio in Shinnecock, Long Island

The Tenth Street Studio - 1880

The Tenth Street Studio

Connoisseur - The Studio Corner - 1882

Monday, April 7, 2014

Joe Jones: 1930s Political Artist

Political art is a form of lipstick on the newspaper editorial page cartoon genre. Or so I think. Messages are brought to the fore, usually in a heavy-handed manner, while artistic merit is subordinated to The Cause.

Which brings us to the interesting case of Joe Jones (1909-1963). He was a self-taught painter from St.Louis who was swept up by Communism in the 1930s and ended up painting innocuous covers for Time Magazine not long before he died. His Wikipedia entry is here.

Considering his lack of formal art training, by the time he was in his early 20s Jones was surprisingly proficient in the Social Realism style of the 1930s. And he abandoned this by the time World War 2 was over. Nevertheless, it was his 30s work, both political and American Scene, that serves as the basis for whatever notoriety he has today.


St. Louis Riverfront - c. 1932

Roustabouts - 1934
These two paintings fall into the American Scene category. Note the simplified forms, a popular, yet tepid form of Modernism popular at the time.

We Demand - 1934
Now Jones gets into cartoon-style paintings dealing with causes.

Thrashing, No. 1 - 1935
And back to American Scene.

Mural segment depicting Arkansas lynching - c. 1935
Information regarding the mural and its restoration can be found here.

American Farm - 1936
A cartoon-like take on the Dust Bowl; the farmer who for some reason does not care for his land.

Time cover - 19 May 1961
Time cover - 15 December 1961
What Jones ended up painting.