Monday, September 30, 2013

Travel Pix: Europe, 2013

I'm back in Seattle following a 16-day European visit. Sorting through my trip photos, I came across six that while not directly art-related, I thought were nice enough to share. No digital adjustments were made -- what you see is what came directly from the camera. Click on the images to enlarge. The picture above is of the market square (Markt) in Bruges, Belgium taken during a pause in a rainstorm.

Brussels near the Grand Place, as seen from our hotel room. The tower is that of the Hôtel de Ville.

Two old structures wedged near the rue Saint Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris.

Looking up at the Eiffel Tower while waiting for the elevator to arrive. The glass ceiling is dirty, but its effect interested me.

Carriage ride tourists seen in Ghent, Belgium.

The Seine in Paris near the Notre Dame at twilight.

* * * * *
Images in this post Copyright 2013, Donald B. Pittenger.
Bloggers have my permission to use any of the images above provided their source is credited. Commercial use in the sense of travel sites or other Internet or printed publications requires my permission on a case-by-case basis: contact me via the email address on this blog.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

New York City Notes

I spent nearly ten years of my life within striking distance of New York City. But I've seldom been there since around 1990 and my touch with the place is pretty well lost.

One advantage to seldom visiting a city is that changes that might be too gradual to perceive by residents can be clearly seen. I was in New York for part of a day recently thanks to an unwanted layover on our return flight from Paris and was able to stroll a segment of Fifth Avenue, among other streets. And I indeed noticed changes.

What I noticed was that Fifth up to around 55th Street was no longer so ritzy or upscale as it was in the 1960s and before. Back then, there were nice stores along that stretch such as Bonwit Teller and Scribner's bookstore. These have been replaced to a considerable degree by the likes of H&M, a retail chain featuring budget-priced clothing. Shops in Rockefeller Center facing Fifth Avenue now include Bananna Republic, which features moderate-priced clothing. Other nice stores in the upper 40s have been replaced by souvenir shops and other socially lesser forms of retail.

What this seems to represent is the continuation of a long-term geographical trend whereby fancy stores gradually migrate up Manhattan Island, mostly along or near Fifth Avenue. But the Fifth Avenue retail zone is blocked on the north by Central Park. So outlets for Hermès and its likes above 59th Street can be found over on Madison Avenue rather than Fifth.

Unfortunately, my time in New York was far too limited to allow a more systematic exploration of parts of Midtown that I used to know well.

And as for the photo at the top, it's one I took in lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center site.

Friday, September 27, 2013

If Salvador Dali Had Styled Cars

A comparatively easy way to increase fuel efficiency in the wake of the gasoline shortages on the 1970s was to improve the streamlining of cars.  Ford was one of the first American manufacturers to do this in the early-to-mid 1980s, the best-known example being the Taurus line.  These early wind tunnel tested Fords tended to have windows featuring large-radius corners.  This was something in the spirit of 1936 vintage models from General Motors, Chrysler and others introducing all-steel bodies in those days when metal stamping technology could not easily accommodate tight surface curves.

But when the aerodynamic Fords appeared, stamping technology didn't force large-radius window corners; stylists apparently chose strong rounding as a means of emphasizing the curved design theme derived from the wind tunnel testing.  At the time, I felt that all that curving wasn't really necessary and resulted in designs that seemed excessively soft looking; more crisp styling elements in the details would have been better.  And of course others came to the same conclusion, so today's aerodynamically efficient cars include many crisp elements along with the curves.

So why, when it came time for a complete 1996 redesign on the Taurus, did Jack Telnack and his crew decide to emphasize curves even more than they did for the original Taurus design?  I have no idea, other than they might have decided to zig while the rest of the industry zagged.  Or perhaps corporate management interfered.

In any case, while the Taurus design had some nice features (I like the subtle sculpting around the front of the hood and fenders), other parts of the car are simply odd -- especially the windows at or near the rear along with the instrument panel.

In fact, I now entertain the amusing thought that surrealist artist Salvador Dalí of drooping watches fame could have been on the Taurus styling team had he lived long enough.  This is especially true for the station wagon model, the subject of this post.


Here is a general view of the 1996 Taurus station wagon showing the subtle front end styling and hinting at the window curves towards the rear.

This appears to be a factory photo showing the rear of the wagon.  It was taken from close to the ground, a view few people normally have of the car.

I found this image on the Internet.  The car is painted white, eliminating distracting highlights and allowing us a good view of the large, rounded, droopy looking window shapes around the rear.  The rear passenger door looks to be the same as that for the sedan, a cost-saving detail (no special door tooling for the station wagon version).  The problem, as I see it, is that the rear area window treatment is not integrated with the rest of the design.  In particular, the upper edge of the rear side windows fails to link to the upper edge curves of the other side windows, giving the window a tacked-on appearance.

This is the Taurus instrument panel where curves further abound.  To me, the problem area is the cluster in the oval at the center, just forward of the shifter lever.  Control buttons are strewn across it in a somewhat organic pattern, not in well organized (from an ergonomics standpoint) groupings.

Also posted at Car Style Critic

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In the Beginning: Howard Terpning

People have differing opinions regarding when New York City went to hell (I say it was around 1965) and the same goes for what span of years represented the Golden Age of American illustration art. However, most observers seem to agree that the illustration party was pretty much over by 1970.

So what was a (previously) successful illustrator to do when the market for his work was in a state of collapse? Some migrated to doing cover art for books. Others went into portrait painting. And a few, including James Bama and Howard Terpning (born 1927), the subject of this post, left the New York area to do Western fine art painting.

Biographical information on Terpning can be linked here and here. He was part of the last generation of traditional illustrators, those just old enough to have establish themselves by the early 1960s when the market for their work started to crumble. For instance, he was born the same year as Bob Peak; both Peak and Terpning (for a while) taking up the slack by doing movie poster art (See Leif Peng's post on Terpning's posters here.)

Peak died comparatively young, but Bama and Terpning were still alive when this post was written. From what I've read, Bama is no longer active, but Terpning continues to paint and his works have been well received by buyers favoring Western art.

Terpning focuses on American Indians as subject matter as the images below suggest.

Signals in the Wind

War Stories

Status Symbols

Now for examples of Terpning's illustration work.


Beer advertisement

Poster for "Cromwell" - 1970

Poster illustration for "The Sand Pebbles" - 1966

"The Wild Bunch" - 1969

Bar scene

The first illustration is a pretty conventional 1960-vintage work that might have been done by other good illustrators. The movie poster art make use of compositional clichés of the time, and Terpning used a smoother, less painterly style that probably was in line with his clients' expectations.  The two lower illustrations use a sketchy style popularized in the 1960s by the great Bernie Fuchs.  So Terpning was both skilled and versatile, but never quite attained a distinctive style.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Arthur Mathews' Tranquil Painted World

Gertrude Stein famously said regarding Oakland, California that "there is no there there." If you consider Oakland's context in the Bay Area setting and when she last lived there (1903), she might have had a point. (These days, I think the East Bay towns of San Leandro, San Lorenzo and a few others along the flats could be more aptly described thus.) But even today, if you exclude the part of Oakland in the hills and perhaps the part around Lake Merritt and bits of downtown, her point still holds.

One positive Oakland item is the fact that its Oakland Museum of California has a good collection of works by Arthur Frank Mathews (1860-1945) and his wife Lucia Kleinhans Mathews (1870-1955). Their paintings, picture frames and other objects might be pigeonholed as Art Nouveau or Tonalist and clearly seemed old-fashioned during the 1950s when the classical phase of Modernism reached its peak of influence. Now that we are a century away from Arthur Mathews' heyday, his art is oddly compelling, perhaps because it is utterly lacking in irony, transgressive statements, snide cultural references and whatever other characteristics are honored these days by the Art Establishment.

A brief Wikipedia entry on Mathews is here and another short biographical piece is here. A checklist of his mural work can be found here. There's even something I wrote regarding Mathews several years ago here.

Let's take a look at some of his paintings (click to enlarge).


Youth - c.1917
Although he painted a variety of subjects, Mathews might be best known for his images of dancers.

Centaur and Mermaid on a Beach at Sunset
He did on occasion draw on mythology, as seen here. He also did historical paintings, the most important being murals for the state capitol building in Sacramento.

Afternoon Among the Cypress - 1905
Then there were landscapes, many of which featured cypress trees.

Scene with orange poppies
Mathews studied at Paris' Académie Julian 1885-89, so might have been aware of paintings of poppy fields done by Claude Monet in the late 1870s.

Girls dancing
Spring Dance
The Dancers
Young women donning flowing robes and dancing as ancient Greeks supposedly did was a fad on American college campuses in the early twentieth century; plenty of old college yearbooks have photos that attest to this. Mathews was surely aware because the University of California (in the years before other campuses were added) was at nearby Berkeley.

Three women walking - c.1917
Three women gazing
Not the same women, and none are dancing, either.

Apparently unfinished painting
I don't know if this was a mural or an easel painting. Some of the background figures are unfinished. Mathews at this time (1915-20?) seems to have blocked in the main elements -- clothing, faces, etc. -- and then worked in shading and details.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Isaak Levitan: Russian Landscape Master

Readers of this blog who plan to visit Russia are most likely to do so via a cruise ship, which means that St. Petersburg and vicinity is what will be seen. And as for art, the place most likely to be visited will be the Hermitage. But there is more good art to be seen in St. Petersburg besides the Hermitage's collection, so I urge you to try to find time to tour The Russian Museum. It's not far -- about one kilometer east -- as the double-headed Imperial eagle flies.

There you will find examples of paintings by Russia's best late 19th century and early 20th century artists including the great Isaak Levitan (1860-1900) who died before reaching his 40th birthday. His Wikipedia entry is here and more biographical information is here.

By their nature, landscape paintings require less commentary that those dealing with people, so I'll simply let you examine some examples of Levitan's work below. However, let me note that he seems to have included water in his images where possible.  Perhaps selecting scenes with water was one of his strategies to add viasual interest in the part of Russia where he lived and worked -- a land with no mountains.



Evening on the Volga - 1888


Silent Monastary - 1890

After the Rain, Pylos - 1889

River Istra at Twilight - 1885

The Evening Bells - 1892

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Harold Speed: Painter, Teacher, Writer

There's the old saw that goes something like "Them's that cain't do, teach." A grain of truth there for certain fields, but by no means generally so. When it comes to art instruction books, as best I can tell, the authors actually seem to be artists.

Then there's the case of sports, where it is said that the best coaches and instructors are usually not the best athletes. The reason offered is that really gifted athletes practice their techniques intuitively, and aren't really aware of the details less gifted people need to learn in order to improve their skills. A lesser athlete has to pay close attention to such details and therefore is better equipped to impart them to others.

So does this apply to art instruction in studios or via books? Maybe, but I'm not sure, never having seriously analyzed the situation. The reason why I haven't is that when I buy an art instruction book (something I seldom do anymore), I gravitate to books where the author's drawings or paintings influence my decision to purchase. That is, if I don't care for the author's artistic style and degree of expertise, I won't buy the book.

Do other aspiring artists do what I do? I have no idea. But let's consider the case of an artist whose books have been in print for the better part of a century, clearly implying broad acceptance.

That would be Harold Speed (1872-1957). A short Wikipedia entry on Speed is here. Matthew Innis has a long post dealing with Speed here.  Besides many examples of Speed's paintings, Innis includes step-by-step images from a portrait tutorial.

Speed wrote two books about doing art. They are "The Practice and Science of Drawing" and "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," respective Amazon links here and here. Innis mentions that the latter book is in the public domain and can be found online.

So how good was Harold Speed? Let's look at a few of the portraits he painted.


Frank Pomeroy - 1898

Lady Diana Bridgeman

Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman - 1907

Lady in Green

Lillah McCarthy as Jocasta - c.1907

My reaction is that Speed did good, competent work, capturing his subjects with solid skill. Lacking is the flash, dash and artistic personality that more famous portrait painters such as John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Joaquin Sorolla, Giovanni Boldini, Philip de Laszlo and a few other contemporaries and near-contemporaries. I suppose this comes close to the case of sports mentioned above. Whereas the painters just listed might have some students or might have passed along tips regarding painting, so far as I know they never wrote books on the subject. Speed wasn't quite an absolute top-level painter if fame is the criterion, but he was highly competent and able to convey what students of drawing and painting needed (and still need) to know.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Albert Edelfelt: Classic Peripheral

Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905) was one of the artists who served as inspiration for my "Peripheral Artists" series of posts during my time Second or Third Banana at the old Two Blowhards blog.

The phrase Peripheral Artists is actually a kind of pun, because it means artists who were (and to some extent still are) peripheral to the Art Establishment version of art history while also being from lands peripheral to the major art centers of Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This dawned on me while touring Helsinki, Finland and visiting its prime art museum, the Ateneum. There were a number of fine paintings by this Edelfelt, a fellow I had never heard of, not to mention other good paintings by other artists flying below the Art Establishment radar.

As for background on Edelfelt, there's his Wikipedia entry here, but it is skimpy indeed. A much more detailed source is here. Edelfelt, after studying in his native Finland (then a Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire), went to Amsterdam for a while, but moved on to Paris, as many Peripheral Artists did. There he studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme and became friends with Jules Bastien-Lepage, two of the most important non-Impressionists of the day.

Edelfelt's portrait of Louis Pasteur proved to be a prize-winner that launched his career in that genre, later sitters included the Czar. And he painted other subjects as well, as shown below.


Kuningater Blanka (White Queen) - 1877

Louis Pasteur - 1885

Nicholas II - 1896

A Child's Funeral - 1879

Kaukola Ridge at Sunset - 1890

The Gossips - 1887

Portrait of a Young Lady - 1889

Emilie von Etter, Cannes - 1891

Brunette - 1885