Monday, September 18, 2017

J. Allen St. John: Monochrome Illustrations

I previously wrote about J. Allen St. John (1875-1957) here, mostly dealing with his color illustrations for books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). Background information on St. John can be found here and here.

St. John is considered by many to be highly influential to later generations of illustrators dealing in Science Fiction and, especially, Fantasy art. That is probably more to do with establishing certain conventions than his abilities as an illustrator. In the post cited above I mentioned "reproductions of his paintings often strike me as having too-fussy brushwork." I think this tendency carries over to his monochrome illustrations, especially those rendered in pen-and-ink.

To demonstrate my point about St. John's dithering penwork, compare those illustrations to that of master pen-artists Franklin Booth (1874-1948) and Joseph Clement Coll (1881-1921). Some of the difference might be chalked up to the quality of paper used for printing their works. Book illustrations on the same kind of paper as the text couldn't support fine penwork. On the other hand, some books from the early decades of the 20th century had glossy paper tip-ins that allowed for much more detail and subtlety in the artwork. In such instances St. John would abandon pen-and-ink for charcoal or wash drawings.

Interesting fact: All the men mentioned above were near-contemporaries.


From Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Here St. John does a better job on the lion than he does with Tarzan.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Some illustrations from another Tarzan book.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
Here the depiction of Tarzan's body comes off fussier than that of the foliage.

From Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
This seems to have some wash or diluted ink work. Still, the pen strokes are largely haphazard, resulting in lack of clarity for the scene depicted.

From Mastermind of Mars
Illustration for one of the John Carter of Mars novels. The background shading blends too closely to the definition of the subjects, reducing clarity.

From Swords of Mars
This illustration was intended for slick paper, but St. John's use of shadows again hurts the composition.

From Tarzan the Terrible
All the images thus far, including this one, are probably scans from old books. This one seems to be from a slick tip-in, but it's hard to be certain what medium St, John used.

From Tarzan the Terrible
My previous St. John post included a reproduction of this image from a book, whereas what we see here looks like a scan of the original artwork. So far as I am concerned this wash drawing is his most successful illustration ever. The fussiness seen in the other images is absent. Why? I have no idea.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

George Spencer Watson: Portraits and Nudes

George Spencer Watson (1869-1934) is yet another Royal Academy painter active early in the last century who was competent, made a decent living, and is now largely forgotten. He mostly made portraits, but also turned out some very nice paintings of nudes, and painted some landscapes and religious scenes. A brief Wikipedia entry on him is here.

This post mostly deals with his portraits. Stylistically, he was not influenced by Modernism until perhaps near the very end of his career. Some unfinished works are shown that might interest readers who paint and others interested in how artists go about their business.

Office viewing warning: The nudes are at the bottom of the image stack, so scroll carefully.


Lady in White (unfinished)
This probably dates from around 1900. I failed to notice any earlier works by Watson via Googling.

Hilda and Maggie - 1911
A portrait of Watson's wife in the Tate collection.

A Lady in Black - 1922
Also in the Tate collection.

Portrait of a Lady (unfinished)
I'll guess that this was painted after 1920, possibly not long before he died. If the subject's costume were more finished and the hair style more visible, dating would be easier.

The Orange Dress
This might be Mary, the artist's daughter.

The Cottage Garden - 1928
An example of Watson's landscape work.

Miss Beaton - 1934
This too is probably unfinished: note the date and the sketchy brushwork in the lower part of the painting. The subject is Barbara Beaton, a sister of Cecil Beaton, the famous photographer (though before finding a detailed caption, I was guessing that she was Nancy Beaton, her more famous sister).

Nude - 1927
I find the unconventional pose interesting.

Sunlight Nude
I like this painting a lot, partly because of the (again) slightly different-from-the-usual pose and setting. But the best part, to my way of thinking is Watson's treatment of color. This was probably painted in the mid-to-late 1920s, before high-quality color photography was available. So he had to do this without that kind of photographic reference.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Gainsborough's Sketchy Brushwork and Background Treatment

People with only a casual exposure to art history -- perhaps an introductory college class on the subject -- might think that painters used tight brushwork and hard edges up to the time of the French Impressionists. They would be largely correct. Mediaeval, Renaissance and Academic paintings are mostly rather solid-looking affairs.

And yes, they might be aware of a few exceptions such as Frans Hals. But they might not realize that, by the late 1700s, several important painters were not making totally solid paintings. That was because subjects of portraits looked crisp and carefully done (this is what viewers mostly focused on -- faces, etc.). What tends to be ignored are other parts of the same painting that were not painted with the same exactitude.

This post considers Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and his painting Portrait of Anne, Countess of Chesterfield (1777–1778) that resides in the Getty in Los Angeles.

Biographical information on Gainsborough can be found here, and the Getty's web page on the painting is here.

Let's take a look.


First, another Gainsborough portrait, The Blue Boy (1770), found across town at the Huntington in Pasadena. Note how sketchy the background is.

Here is the Getty web site's image of the Countess that I brightened somewhat to set the stage for the following photos I took in April (click on them to enlarge).

An establishment shot showing the scale of the painting: compare it to the information plaque to the right. Lighting in the galley partly washes out the upper part of the painting, but that's the way it often is when you photograph paintings in such settings.

Here is Gainsborough's treatment of Anne's costume. Plenty of visible brushwork here. Note the lack of detail for her hand and how the arm is outlined. Far from Academic painting, but then, Gainsborough never attended an academy school.

And here is some of Anne's setting.  Gainsborough began his career as a landscape painter, yet even here his treatment isn't detailed. At this late date it's hard to tell if he sketched in the background for aesthetic reasons or because additional care would have taken so much extra time that the effort wouldn't have been commensurate with the fee he charged. There also is the possibility that details such as the treatment of costume and setting was stipulated in his contract or agreement before work was started.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

In the Beginning: Georges Seurat

Georges-Pierre Seurat (1859-1891) was a founder of the color-dot technique of Pointillism and is best known for his paintings in that style. As this mentions, he had a few years of formal art training before his military service, and then went on to his brief career as a painter.

Also mentioned is that Seurat did a good deal of preparation before making his large, Pointillist paintings -- understandable, given their subject matter, composition and coloring. Part of this preparation involved smaller studies. And before that phase of his career he did paint many small works that had an impressionist feeling.


Un dimanche après-midi à l'île de la Grande Jatte - 1884-86
This is the painting Seurat is most famous for.

Head of a Girl - 1879
Here is the earliest Seurat that I could locate. Done while attending the École des Beaux-Arts.

Sunset - c. 1881
An early post-Army painting. Wispy and not nearly as solidly conceived as most of this later works, but at this point, he was probably just experimenting with Impressionist ideas.

Banlieue - 1881-82
A mix of a few well-defined and ill-defined forms. Brushwork is nondescript.

Landscape in the Ile-de-France - 1882
Brush strokes here are more obvious.

Fishing in the Seine - 1883
Stronger brushwork for the riverbank, similar to what is found in the following images.

Man Painting a Boat - c. 1883
A good deal of hatching brushwork in the vegetation.

The Stone Breakers, Le Raincy (c. 1882)
I found this at the Norton Simon in Pasadena. It's a small study (compare its size to the information plaque). The museum's web site deals with it here.

Detail photo. Again we see short, strong brush strokes at different angles. An exception is the human figures who are rendered in a different manner. Note that on the stone pile, Seurat was careful to paint thick-over-thin, a concept he surely learned at the Beaux-Arts if not before. Click on the image to enlarge.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Some Frans Hals Brushwork

This post is mostly intended for readers who paint or are interested in technique. The subject is a work by Frans Hals (c.1582-1666) -- extensive Wikipedia entry here -- titled "Saint John the Evangelist" (1625-28).

I came across it when visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in April. The Getty's Web site deals with the painting here.

It was painted long after St. John's time, so Hals either created an imaginary image or, more likely, got someone to pose and represent the Evangelist. What interest me most about the painting is how Hals treated the hands. Click on that photo to enlarge.


An image of the painting via the Getty Web site. I brightened it slightly.

Establishment view from my camera of the painting as displayed.

Closeup view of the part of the painting that interested me the most, the treatment of the hand holding the pen.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Atypical Winterhalter at the Getty

The subject painting for this post isn't an early one, because Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873) was about 38 years old when he painted it. But it (and one other of the same subject) has a different feeling that those made before and after.

The painting is "Portrait of Leonilla, Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn" (1843), described here on the J. Gaul Getty Museum web site.

And here is Winterhalter's Wikipedia entry. It mentions that he made a highly successful career as a court portraitist. One result, according to the entry, was that his work is difficult to categorize in terms of the various movements of his day. Another is that he was looked down upon by other artists.

Setting that aside, let's turn to Leonilla's portrait and a few other Winterhalters to provide context. Included are two photos I took in April at the Getty that you might want to click on to enlarge.


Elisabeth, Margravine of Baden - 1831
An early example of Wilterhalter's court paintings.

Queen Victoria - 1842
Painted a year before our subject painting.

Barbe Dmitrievna Mergasov, Madame Rimsky-Korsakov - 1864
One of Winterhalter's best-known works.

Sascha von Metzler - 1872
One of his last paintings.

Leonilla, Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn - 1843
The subject painting as seen by my camera at the Getty.

Closer photo.  Unlike the other examples of Winterhalter's work, this painting is hard-edge with slightly simplified forms hinting at the Art Deco / Moderne style of around 1930. His subject does not quite seem real.

Princess Leonilla of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn - 1840s
I found this image on the Web. It was dated vaguely as being from the 1840s, but appears to have been made about the same time as our subject. It, too, has the same stylistic spirit. However, the Wikipedia entry on Leonilla has it that its date was around 1836 and painted in Italy along with a portrait of her husband (that I could not find via a Google search). I'm doubtful regarding this claim, given the similarity in painting style and her hair style in both paintings, but could easily be mistaken. Also, I could find no photos of her in a brief Google search, so can offer no other evidence of Leonilla's appearance. She lived to be 101, by the way.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Alma-Tadema, Miniaturist

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912) was both popular and financially successful in his day. Then Victorian-era art went seriously out of fashion after his death. Times change, pendulums swing, and if your grandparents had sprung for one of his paintings in 1945 and willed it to you, it might be worth several -- perhaps even tens of -- millions today. More about him here.

About six years ago I wrote about Alma-Tadema and his 1894 painting "Spring" that is a public favorite at the Getty in Los Angeles. I visited the Getty again in April and took more photos of it and its details.

When seen in art books, his paintings tend to give the impression of being large. Some are, but many are surprisingly small. And some of his larger paintings contain many small elements. Such is the case with Spring. Below are a few detail photos I took. Click on them to enlarge.


This is an image of Spring found on the internet for general reference.

Here is my establishment photo. Spring is by no means Alma-Tadema's largest painting, but it isn't small. You can get a sense of its size by comparing it to the information plaque at the right. What is small are most of the people and related details pictured in the painting.

This segment is near the painting's center. It shows people in the background of the scene.  Many of the heads are about one centimeter high, some even smaller.

The lower part of the painting, edges slightly cropped. Those flowers are a little larger than the letters in the plaque's caption text.

Closer, and slightly to the left of the previous image. On my desktop iMac, what's shown here appears about the same size as in Tadema's painting.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Bernd Steiner, Poster Artist with No Set Style

Bernd Steiner (1884-1933) was an Austrian illustrator and artist best known (though he is far from famous) for his posters. The only biographical information I could find on a quick Google search was this Wikipedia entry in German. The translation feature for once yielded a text that largely made sense in English. Unfortunately, the entry is brief. Basically, Steiner was an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army during the Great War and had his right hand (presumably the one he drew using) badly injured. Regardless, he was able to continue his career, and most of the images of his work on Google are post-war.

By the late 1920s he was living in Bremen, Germany, doing posters for the North German Lloyd steamship company and teaching art. But he returned to Austria, dying in Vienna aged 49.

As the title of this post indicates, Steiner had no recognizable style. On one hand, this meant he could stay current with changing illustration fads and fashions. On the other, this probably contributed to his lack of the fame that the likes of A.M. Cassandre and Ludwig Hohlwein attained in the poster field.


We begin with two examples of Steiner's painting. I don't have information of the first one, but the once immediately above is titled "Oberwölz" (1921).

Here are two posters using the same format from the early 1920s.

Another Vienna poster from the same period. I'm not sure what "Red Monday" refers to other than a name for the event being publicized -- presumably nothing political. The women emerging from a tomato plant is odd, yet interesting.

Postcard illustration.

North German Lloyd poster from around the mid-1920s advertising North Sea destinations.

Nice illustration of elegant first-class passengers heading to South America on Norddeutscher Lloyd steamer Sierra.

Norddeutscher Lloyd announced two very large, fast liners for the North Atlantic run via posters such as this.

Steiner is now using a simplified style fashionable around 1930. This poster advertises three spring sailings to the Mediterranean.

Another North German Lloyd "To South America" poster. This shows Rio in the background.

A polar sailing to Iceland, Spitzbergen and Norway on the "Stuttgart" steamer with two (!!) propellers -- I'm not sure why this fact was featured other than to suggest that the ship had some substance and was less likely to become immobilized if a singe propeller shaft went bad.

This poster is dated 1933, the year of Steiner's death. It features an Austrian lake along with an apparent shift in his style.