Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In the Beginnig: Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) is best known for being one of the first of the 1960s Pop Art practitioners. His reputation was built on paintings that were based on comic book images he found here and there. (His Wikipedia entry mentions this, and here are matched examples of his paintings and their likely sources of inspiration.)

Lichtenstein spent three years in the Army during and after World War 2 and then time completing college, so his career didn't really begin to roll until the end of the 1940s. Thanks to this timing, his works then and for the next dozen or so years were the usual modernism of the day. That was what was expected by the rising new Art Establishment, so Lichtenstein was hardly alone in going along with what seemed to be a safe career-building move. But by the late 1950s it occurred to a number of artists that Abstract Expressionism and similar modernist styles were dead ends, and that something new was needed. One such new thing was Pop Art.

Below is an archetypical Lichtenstein Pop Art painting followed by some of his earlier works.


"Oh Jeff... I Love You, Too... But..." - 1964

The End of the Trail - 1951

Death of Jane McCrea - 1951
This is the largest image of the painting that I could locate.

"Assemblage" (oil on wood, metal screws) - 1955

Untitled paintings - 1959

Monday, April 28, 2014

Norman Wilkinson's Travel Posters

Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971) was an illustration all-rounder. As his Wikipedia entry indicates, besides the travel posters treated in this post, he was a noted painter of naval scenes as well as a camouflage expert. With regard to the latter, he is credited with inventing "dazzle" camouflage for ships during the Great War.

From what I can glean from viewing Images in Google, most of Wilkinson's poster work was done for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway between the world wars. The LMR's main routes were up the west side of Britain, so places such as the Lake District, Wales and Western Scotland were often featured in his work.

Not shown here are Wilkinson's naval paintings -- I might feature those in another post. For those, he used a painterly technique quite different from the areas of flat color he judged appropriate for poster work. A versatile professional, and good at what he did.


Of course, London itself was a tourist destination for people living in other parts of the UK. True to form (as all the other images shown indicate), Wilkinson includes water -- in this case the River Thames. I chose to use a downstream sequence of views for the three posters shown above.

Friday, April 25, 2014

William L'Engle, Well-Connected Interwar Modernist

William L'Engle (1884-1957) graduated from Yale University in the field of naval architecture, but became a painter instead. A chronology dealing with L'Engle's career is here.

Although L'Engle was capable of painting in a traditional representational manner (see the portraits below), he became a run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road modernist of the 1920-1940 variety that I describe in the book Art Adrift. Not that his paintings were bad; he was a competent artist. But they were typical of his times, where many painters had to decide whether or not to accept modernism, and if they did, to what extent they would embrace it.

Like many of his contemporaries, L'Engle never quite settled on a distinctive, personal style. Instead, he drifted along, following the American modernist fashions of his day.

* * * * *

Update - 8 February 2015 -- The images on the original post were removed at the request of their copyright holder who also requested that I remove the link to the official L'Engle web site, to which I complied. I retained the image captions so that interested readers can track them down using Google image search.

* * * * *


Self-Portrait - 1914
The "L'E" symbol on many of the images here is probably related to a source claiming copyright, which I hereby acknowledge, if that is so.

Portrait of Lucy - 1919
Lucy was his wife, and also an artist.

Cranberry Pickers - 1926

Trapeze Artists - 1926

Martha Graham Dancer - 1927

Madeline and Thelma - 1930

Paintings on front and back of panel.

Building New York - 1935

Cuban Scene - 1938

Nightmare, or the End - 1954

Sacrifice of Abraham - 1957
Painted the year of his death.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

In the Beginning: Chuck Close

Self-Portrait II - 2011

Chuck Close (1940 - ) is noted for his monster-size portraits. But during the years around 1960, he followed the Abstract Expressionist path that was more or less expected of "serious" art school students at that time.

Useful references: his WIkipedia entry is here, a student painting (shown below) is appraised on PBS here, and some paintings from his University of Washington days (also below) along with commentary can be found here. It seems that Close is afflicted with limited ability to recognize faces, which might account for his emphasis on portraits since the late 1960s. He became crippled due to a spinal problem in 1988, but this did not curtail his productivity.

Close interests me for two reasons. One has to do with the fact that he attained fame as a modernist / postmodernist while painting what are essentially representational images. The other is because he and I overlapped one academic year (1960-61) at the University of Washington's School of Art. We did not formally cross paths there, though it's quite possible that we might have been in the basement student coffee shop at the same time on occasion. (His specialty was painting, mine was commercial art and we were both upperclassmen at the time.)


Student work while at Everett Community College - 1960

Untitled - c. 1961-62

Blue Nude - c. 1961-62

Untitled - 1962

Photo of Close while at Yale

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ernst Kirchner: Messy Life, Messy Art

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) threw himself into modernist painting styles and the related bohemian lifestyle, making a name for himself as an Expressionist, Fauvist and (organizationally) Die Brücke artist. Considering the generation he was born into, this is understandable. It also meant that his art usually wasn't very good and, from my point of view, is destined to increasingly become a matter of historical curiosity.

A lengthy Wikipedia entry is here, detailing his fragile mental and physical state, numerous visits to sanitariums, and ultimate suicide.


Berlin women...

Berlin Street Scene - 1913

Five Women at the Street - 1913
I think this series of paintings is the most interesting of his earlier works.


Portrait as a Soldier - 1915
His most famous self-portrait. His right hand is shown severed, though it remained intact in reality.

Selbstbildnis als Kranker (Self-Portrait as a Sick Man) - 1918

Self-Portrait - 1925
I suppose we are supposed to ignore the drawing and focus on the composition and colors.

Paintings of women...

Sitzende Dame (Dodo - Doris Grosse, a favorite model) - 1907

Portrait of a Woman - 1907
Two portraits featuring Fauvist color schemes.

Two portraits of Gerda - 1914
Gerda seems to have appealed to Kirchner, because she is drawn with more care than ususal.

Erna (Schilling, Kirchner's companion for much of his life) - 1930

Cityscapes and landscapes...

Nollendorfplatz - 1912

Brandenburg Gate - 1915

Bridge in Wiesen - 1926

Violettes Haus vor Schneeberg (Violet House before Snowy Peak) - 1938
This is one of his last paintings. It's more carefully composed than his previous works.

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