Thursday, July 20, 2017

John Spencer Stanhope: Little-Recognized Pre-Raphaelite

John Roddam Spencer-Stanhope (1829-1908) painted (in oil and tempera) scenes that were distinctly Pre-Raphaelite, though the Wikipedia entry just linked does not, as of 18 January 2017, include him in its lists of Pre-Raphaelites, associated artists, and "Loosely Associated Artists."

His Wikipedia entry is here. Art Renewal Center's take on his is here. Clearly, Spencer-Stanhope knew and was influenced by Pre-Raphaelites and their Victorian successors, particularly his friend Edward Burne-Jones. And the renewed interest in that aspect of art history has led to rising prices for his works.

Below are images of some of his paintings in chronological order by year.


Thoughts of the Past - 1859
Although all the details differ, this reminds me of "Mariana," a 1850-51 painting by John Everett Millais.

Study for "Thoughts of the Past" - c. 1859

The Robins of Modern Times - 1860
Any allegorical or symbolic meaning in this painting was more clear to viewers in 1860 than it is to me in 2017.

Juliet and the Nurse - 1863
A Shakespearean subject.

The Wine Press - 1864
Lacking a 19th century elite British education, the reference of this painting also escapes poor me. However the Tate offers this discussion regarding it.

The gentle music of bygone days - 1873
The title is a line from the poem 'The Earthly Paradise' by William Morris.

Love and the Maiden - 1877

Eve Tempted - 1877
Very Burne-Jones- like. Spencer-Stanhope painted several close variations on this, but titles differed.

The Rescue - 1880

The Expulsion form Eden - c. 1900
Note the similar stylized appearance of the males in this image and the one immediately above.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rinaldo Cuneo: Terence's California Artist Uncle

Rinaldo Cuneo (1877-1939) was part of a generation of artistic siblings who were born and grew up in San Francisco. His Wikipedia entry states that his paintings were quite popular and that he was dubbed "the Painter of San Francisco" (though it isn't clear who did the dubbing).

Rinaldo interests me because of his brother Cyrus, who I wrote about here. Cyrus made his comparatively brief career in England and, in turn, mostly interests me because he was the father of the well-known illustrator Terence Cuneo. One of my posts about Terence is here.

As for Rinaldo, his paintings tended to be solid-appearing, slightly simplified representations of landscape scenes (mostly) and urban setting (less so). Aside from a self-portrait, I didn't notice any significant images by him featuring people.

Furthermore, Rinaldo is not considered a California Impressionist. Well, none of the reference books in my library dealing with that school mention him at all. So far as I am concerned, his paintings are generally inferior to those of the best California Impressionists. Perhaps this is because the paintings shown below are mostly from the 1920s or 30s, a period when artists were trying to deal with the advent of Modernism, as I described in my ebook Art Adrift. The result was a lot of inferior artistic work for for painters who were influenced by that fad.


Marin Dairy Farm

Lover's Point, Pacific Grove
Pacific Grove in on the Monterey Peninsula, just west of the city of Monterey.

Sierra Lake
Stylistically a cross between Edgar Payne and Paul Cézanne.

Storm Mountains - c. 1930

Owens Valley

San Francisco Seascape (Baker Beach) - 1928

The Embarcadero at Night - c. 1927-28
The Embarcadero is San Francisco's stretch of waterfront between Market Street and Fisherman's Wharf that was its center for docks and shipping in Rinaldo's day.

Earth Patterns - c. 1932

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Friedrich von Kaulbach Paints Hanna Ralph

Friedrich August von Kaulbach (1850-1920), an important Munich artist in his day, occasionally painted several portraits of one subject. I previously wrote about his multiple portraits of opera singer Geraldine Farrar here. Some background on Kaulbach is here.

Besides Farrar, Kaulback devoted a fair amount of canvas and oil paint to Hanna Ralph (1888-1978) née Johanna Antonia Adelheid Günther, a stage and screen actress. Her Wikipedia entry is here.


Photo of Hanna from 1918.

Kaulbach portrait probably painted around 1915-17.

This version from Seattle's Frye Museum includes the same hat and pose as in the previous painting.

Another portrait, this dated c. 1917.  Might have been made around the same time as the others: note the similarity of Hanna's hair styles.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Bernie Fuchs vs. Post Magazine's Fake Cars

I just got my copy of David Apatoff's long-awaited book about Bernie Fuchs, who many of us consider the greatest illustrator active in the waning days of large-circulation, general-interest magazines. Actually, Fuchs can be ranked as one of the very best American illustrators ever.

During his brief career-building phase (he rocketed to the top by the time he was in his late 20s) Fuchs spent a few years in Detroit working on advertisement and brochure illustrations for automobiles. He mostly did backgrounds and settings, leaving rendering of the car to a specialist. But Apatoff's book suggests that he might have illustrated cars from time to time: he definitely paid close attention to how that was done.

Because of that background, he wasn't afraid to include cars in some of his advertising and editorial assignments, and those cars were easy to identify. That is, he didn't invent his own designs for generic cars.

This is in contrast to the depiction of automobiles on covers of the Saturday Evening Post, the leading American general-interest magazine for most of the first two-thirds of the 20th century. I did a Google search for usable images of Post covers that included automobiles for inclusion in this blog post. I didn't turn up every Post cover from 1945 through 1959 (my target era). All covers can be found on the Post web site, but they are watermarked and therefore not usable here. What I found was that most car designs were totally made up by the illustrator. In a few cases, cars pictured were close to actuality, but partly hidden by other subject matter.

Why did this happen? The Saturday Evening Post was a favorite "ad buy" for advertising agencies with automotive clients. Every issue could be counted on having a number of car ads. So my guess is that the magazine's editors and art directors instructed illustrators to avoid portraying actual cars, this so that advertisers would not be offended. ("Hey, guys, we spend tons of money on Chevrolet ads and your latest cover featured a Ford!! Are you giving them a free plug or something? We just might switch more of our budget to Life and Collier's.")

If anyone knows for sure why the Post featured generic cars, please let us know in Comments.


Fuchs story illustration showing a mid-1950s Volkswagen. Click on the Fuchs images to enlarge.

At the left is a 1960 DeSoto. Behind it, across the street, is a 1959 Plymouth. I'm not sure why Bernie was featuring Chrysler Corporation products here.

This Fuchs view of the Brooklyn baseball stadium in the late 1940s might have been painted in the mid-1970s, judging by the style. The blue car at the right is a 1946-48 vintage Chrysler. Note that Fuchs has a blurred image of a man screening part of the sharply-done car. Amazing how he combined the two styles without destroying the car's details. He must have painted the car first and very carefully added the man and his hat. The car behind the Chrysler is a 1946 Buick.

Here Fuchs fudged things slightly. The car is a 1957 Imperial (yet another Chrysler product).
But he didn't paint a small point on the chrome strip above the headlights, above which was a small crest. That is, he very thinly disguised the car.

Saturday Evening Post - 24 March 1945
This wartime illustration, when no American cars were being built, shows a 1941 Ford. A reference book of mine has a photo of what seems to be this car -- same police sign, same license plate.

Saturday Evening Post - 22 September 1951
This police car is a 1949 or 1950 Ford. However, clipping off the front and rear ends and placing the man in front of the car make it hard to identify for many people.

Saturday Evening Post - 8 September 1956
One last Post example of an identifiable car. It is a 1954 Mercury with some distinctive side trim abaft of the door missing. Placing all the camping stuff in front of the car also helps to disguise it. The image's watermark is because this is a slightly cleaned-up cover by a poster-selling firm.

Saturday Evening Post - 3 October 1953
Now we show what was typical for the Post. The front of the car is somewhat like a 1950 Cadillac, but the rest is nondescript.

Saturday Evening Post - 4 August 1956
These cars look vaguely like early '50s General Motors models, but they lack brand identification ornamentation.

Saturday Evening Post - 8 December 1956
The cars pictured in this cover are totally contrived (though the side trim on the red car is similar to some 1956 Ford's).

Saturday Evening Post - 15 November 1958
The wraparound windshield is similar to 1954-56 General Motors "C" body cars, but the rest of the car illustrated here is imaginary.

Saturday Evening Post - 21 May 1949
A totally imaginary design. However, in the background is what looks like a Jeep station wagon.

Saturday Evening Post - 1 August 1959
The cars in the foreground are imaginary, but farther away I notice shapes and trim that remind me of mid-50s production cars. But their images are so tiny and partial that it doesn't matter.

Saturday Evening Post - 5 January, 1952
I used this Coby Whitmore cover in another post. Whitmore was a total car guy and knew full well what different brands looked like. But had to come up with his own designs here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Victor Arnautoff, 1930s California Muralist

Victor Mikhail Arnautoff (1896-1979) had a career featuring several interesting real or apparent contradictions, as his Wikipedia entry indicates.

He was born in Russia, fought in the Great War for the Imperial army, served in the anti-Bolshevik White army, and then fled the country for China. He eventually came to the USA, painted murals and canvas-based paintings, and taught art at Stanford University. As part of his mural painting, he worked with Diego Rivera which, perhaps along with other factors, led him to left-wing politics. Following the death of his wife and retirement from Stanford, Arnautoff moved to the Soviet Union, dying in Leningrad.

So he "progressed" from anti-Bolshevism to leftism, depicting proletarians while teaching at an elite university. I'd call it a nice trick, but aside from the anti-Bolshevik part, the rest isn't uncommon today.

As for his mural style, Arnautoff was mainstream in his Modernism-lite technique. His approach to subject matter was essentially representational, but tempered by modernist conventions so that picture-plane flatness, considerable simplification, and a little distortion of forms were included. The result has a cartoon-like character to my eyes. But that style was a 1930s artistic fashion.

His major work was a mural titled "City Life" that was part of the Coit Tower mural set (that was recently restored). It is featured in the images below that include a few other works intended to provide some sense of his artistic range. Click on images to enlarge.


Here is an image of the entire City Life mural. At the center is an actual door that Arnautoff framed using a news stand.

A detail from the left-hand panel. Near the news stand is a man being held up at gunpoint. In the upper center area is a dead man in the street being photographed by newsmen. Above it (not seen in this segment) is a street leading up to San Francisco's Legion of Honor art museum that in fact was far across town beyond the Golden Gate.

Detail from the right-hand panel.

And a further detail. The tall man in the image is a self-portrait of the artist. The newspaper rack above the boy at the left contains "The Masses," a far-left magazine and the "Daily Worker," the U.S. Communist Party newspaper. Arnautoff took some critical heat from this sly stunt, but it was far less blatantly leftist than what could be seen in other Coit Tower murals. Almost all the murals were politicized to some degree because most of the artists were leftist. But keep in mind that the Great Depression was in full force in 1933 and '34 and that Stalin's show trials and his later deal with Hitler (which gave a number of Communist sympathizers food for thought) were years in the future.

From a 1932 vintage mural he did for the Palo Alto Medical Center. The bared breasts were controversial.

Photo of a 1935 mural at the Presidio Chapel -- the Presidio being a military base established by Spaniards and occupied by the U.S. Army at the time the mural was painted.

Photo of a 1940 mural for the Richmond, California Post Office. It was removed and forgotten for many years, but turned up not long ago.

Easel oil painting "At Baker Beach" from around 1945. Modernist flatness is gone, but the male at the right has the head of an adult and much of the body of a boy. Makes me wonder what he was teaching Stanford art students at the time.

"City Hall, San Francisco" from the late 1940s (I'm using the poorly drawn cars to date this). Arnautoff is far from his precise mural style here.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sergei Bongart Paints Walser Greathouse

Sergei Bongart (1918-1985), emigré Ukrainian painter, had a successful career in America as an artist and teacher. His early training included a sound grounding in traditional painting, but he also was strongly influenced by Russians whose styles were Impressionism-derived. There is not a lot concerning Bongart on the internet, so this post of mine is about as good a place to start as any.

The present post features a Bongart painting that captured my interest at this exhibit at Seattle's Frye Museum. The exhibit showed a few examples of art acquired for the museum by each its various directors over the years since its establishment in the early 1950s to supplement the founding collection of Charles and Emma Frye. Many examples from the founding collection are always on display in accordance with the Fryes' wishes. The more recent acquisitions are less often seen, and I had never laid eyes on that Bongart.

The subject of Bongart's portrait is Walser Sly Greathouse who was executor of the Frye estate and when the museum they wished to establish was opened in 1952, Greathouse was its directer, a position he held until his death in 1966. The Bongart painting does not have a precise date, being classified as "circa 1966." So it likely was posthumous with regard to Greathouse. On the other hand, Bongart and the Frye were on very good terms, and 21 of his paintings have entered its collection since 1961. Five of these were acquired before Greathouse died, so Bongart knew him and didn't just create the portrait from photos and nothing else.

The Greathouse portrait by Bongart was acquired in 1967 in part using funds from friends of Greathouse, so it probably can be regarded as a commissioned work. It was painted on masonite using acrylic paints.

What caught my interest was the contrast between the sketchy, colorful setting and the subdued, traditionally painted face that, despite all the Bongart pyrotechnics, is the strong focus of the work.

Let's start with two examples of Bongart's style when painting people. First is the brightly done "Girl with Red Shawl" from around 1975.

And using a different color scheme is "Man with Turban" c. 1965.

A photographic portrait of Walser Greathouse made many years before his death. This and the following photo are from the Frye web site.

Greathouse showing paintings at the Frye Museum, perhaps around the time it was opened.

Bongart's portrait of Greathouse. The reds of the furniture are more intense than indicated here. Given such shocking brightness, one would expect this to distract from Greathouse. But no: The cool-colored (again coloring a bit distorted by the camera, grays being less obvious) head and face remain the painting's focus. A real tour-de-force by Bongart.

Detail showing Greathouse's face.  The rest of the painting, aside from his face and hands, is sketchy -- even the attire shown here.  So it is the comparative lack of sketchiness on the face that also attracts our attention.