Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ford Madox Brown

Work, 1852-65, Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown Self-portrait, 1877
If Ford Madox Brown had been born in 1922 instead of 1822, he likely would have become a movie producer rather than a painter. Even so, in examining his major works, one gets somewhat the feeling of having seen a motion picture. It's not that the images move (they don't, of course) but that the theme, scope, and cast of characters is so broad, well defined, and well rendered, that the work itself becomes moving. Brown's most famous work, titled Work (top) was begun in 1852 but not completed until 1865. Even Michelangelo didn't take that long to paint an entire ceiling (four years). Though no small painting (54 inches by 78 inches), painted over the course of thirteen years, that works out to less than one square inch per day. Ford Madox Brown was closely aligned with England's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who were notorious for their time-consuming precision; but even at that, Work was an incredibly slow work.

The Last of England, 1855
(second) version, Ford Madox Brown
Brown was not a Pre-Raphaelite, though he might easily be mistaken for one. He certainly was good friends with Rossetti (whom he influenced), sculptor, Thomas Woolner, and others. But he was also an admirer of John Constable, William Collins, and the satiric painter, William Hogarth.  In fact, following the dissipation of the Pre-Raphaelites around 1858, Brown, along with landscape artist Henry Mark Anthony, and others founded the Hogarthians as a sort of replacement, though this group also fell by the wayside after two or three years. Though Work was well under way during this time, Brown also spent a similar amount of time on his most well-known effort, The Last of England (right), which he painted in at least four different versions between 1852 and 1866 (fourteen years). The painting depicts a downtrodden couple as they sadly sail away from England as immigrants, in this case to Australia, though the work no doubt struck a chord with thousands heading for America and elsewhere.

Work (detail) the shovelers.
Now, back to Work. The painting (top) was commissioned by Pre-Raphaelite collector, Thomas Plint, though he died before it was completed. (After all, thirteen years is a long time.) As to its literal subject, it depicts the excavation for a sewer. London was in the midst of combating outbreaks of Typhus and Cholera at the time. I counted about eighteen major figures in the painting and perhaps that many more in what (if it were a movie) would be considered "bit" parts, mostly on the right in the background. The location, Heath Street in Hempstead, was carefully selected because of its "high road" and "low road" qualities. Careful, systematic examination of the painting reveals figures from virtually every level of British society--intellectuals on the far right, common laborers front and center (left), high society above it all near the top, an Eliza Doolittle lookalike selling flower at left, beer vendors, upper right, and what may be the most enigmatic grouping of all, a young mother with two children and a dog at the bottom (below), aiming a pistol at a blond-headed man. (Or is it a misbehaving child?) See what I mean about it resembling a movie?

Work (detail), one mother you wouldn't want to tangle with.
Work (detail) portraits
of intellectuals Thomas
Carlyle and F.D. Maurice.
Yet Work is not genre. Brown would have been crazy-stupid to spend thirteen years on a genre painting (least of all the digging of a sewer). Work was, in fact, a new understanding of history painting. Perhaps more than that, it rose to the higher realm of allegory. Brown is proclaiming that work defines lives, while at the same time, in a broader sense, building the infrastructure that defines the history and culture of a society. Every figure in the painting, even the idle intellectuals, work. The politicians and businessmen in the background work to arrange financing. Labors work to make it happen, Street vendors provide services for them, young mothers work struggling to supply the human resources, while even the apparently idle intellectuals labor to provide the inspirational thinking which spurs and guides such social progress. And finally, all benefit from the work, whether being paid directly for doing it, or in using the new sewers, without which there could be no indoor plumbing, no bathrooms, and no improvement in healthful living, which extends lifespans. But still...thirteen years? It didn't take that long to dig the damned sewer!

Take Your Son, Sir, 1851, Ford Madox Brown, the artist's second wife, Emma, with their son. The work is unfinished--too busy painting allegories involving sewers, I guess.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

J.C. Leyendecker

A Leyendecker Arrow shirt collar ad from 1910. More than any other single artist, Leyendecker dictated the dominant popular image of eastern society for the first thirty years of the 20th century.
J.C. Leyendecker, 1895
Artists create images. Take that of Jesus, for instance--a total fabrication by artists. Another example would be death--the grim reaper. Liberty--thank the French artists, Bartholdi and Delacroix. Most of our holiday images have been dictated by artists. Santa Claus is the work of Thomas Nast, J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, and the Coca-Cola Company (among others). And Christmas' next door neighbor, New Years, with it's ever popular naked baby--that was totally the inspiration of J.C. Leyendecker. Moreover, if you take the time to peruse the art of Leyendecker, you'll find he had only a slightly lesser influence on Thanksgiving, Fourth-of-July, and Mother's Day. He singlehandedly made the turkey the symbol of Thanksgiving, flowers the major emphasis for Mother's Day, and had a lot to do with firecrackers on the Fourth-of-July. Few artists can claim that kind of lasting cultural influence.

Leyendecker's jolly man in red.
J. C. Leyendecker was the epitome, and created the epitome image of the early 20th century cultured gentleman--the Great Gatsby type. F. Scott Fitzgerald may have written Gatsby, but Leyendecker drew him. Even the many actors who have portrayed Fitzgerald's dated cultural icon have been lookalikes cast from Leyendecker images. Though I know of no direct connection between Fitzgerald and Leyendecker, there was really no need for one. Cluett Peabody and Company, the maker of Arrow collars (and later shirts) in hiring Leyendecker to sell their product, supplied all the connection needed (top).
The Leyendecker brothers,
Paris, 1896
Born in 1874 in Germany, Joseph Christian Leyendecker's family came to the U.S. in 1882, settling in Chicago where they founded a successful brewing company. J.C. and his younger brother, Frank, studied first at the Chicago Art Institute before moving on to Paris and the Academie Julian in 1896. There they were exposed to the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and the Art Nouveau style. Upon returning home in 1899, the two brothers set up a studio together first in Chicago, then in the commercial art capital of New York. About the same time, the elder Leyendecker got his first Saturday Evening Post cover commission. It was the first of 322, a record which exceeded that of even Norman Rockwell (by one cover). Rockwell was a great admirer of Leyendecker, who was a major influence during the first decades of Rockwell's work.
Bearing only the immodest apparel
of mythology, Leyendecker's 1907
male nude, Speed God, may have 
raised as many eyebrows as it
sold magazines.
In 1914, the Leyendecker brothers bought an impressive home in New Rochelle, New York. Accompanying them was Charles Beach, one of Leyendecker's principal models for Arrow Shirt ads. It's a safe assumption (though difficult to prove) that all three were gay. Other than a sister, there were no female figures in the brothers' lives and one doesn't have to probe far beneath the surface to note considerable homoerotic overtones to Leyendecker's work (right). Their lifestyle, though less openly gay than that of Romaine Brooks (previous article, directly below) was stereotypical of the 1920s Gatsby social whirl of lavish parties and overindulgence in drugs and alcohol. Frank Leyendecker, in fact, died of such overindulgences in 1924.
Leyendecker's final Post cover,
Slashing the Nazis.
After his brother's death at the age of 48, though Leyendecker's work was no less in demand, the artist became more and more reclusive. Beach became his sole link to the advertising world. After that world came crashing down in 1929, commissions became less lucrative. Leyendecker had always lived beyond his means. During the hardscrabble era of the 1930s, work was hard to come by, his style starting to appear dated. Nearly broke, Beach dismissed the household staff. Cluett Peabody dropped him, as did Interwoven Socks, Kellogg, and Gillette. Leyendecker's Saturday Evening Post Covers became few and far between with the 1936 retirement of longtime editor, George Lorimer. Norman Rockwell filled the void. Leyendecker's final New Year's baby cover (above, left) appeared January 2, 1943. During the war he managed to obtain meager work from the military. He was 70 by the time the war ended, his art long since having gone out of style. J.C. Leyendecker died in relative obscurity in 1951. Beach died a few months later.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Romaine Brooks

La Trajet, 1900, Romaine Brooks. The model was Ida Rubenstein.
Romaine Brooks
Self-portrait,1923, perhaps
her most recognized work.
I've never written about a lesbian artist before (not knowingly, at least). I have, however written about several gay male artists such as Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, Leonardo da Vinci, Andy Warhol, and some others. For the majority of these artists, their sexuality was mostly incidental to their work, if not their lives. In writing about such artists I make it a habit not to dwell on gender preferences. That's not the case with the American expatriate painter, Romaine Brooks. Brooks was a lesbian, and her sexuality permeated virtually every aspect of her life and her work. She dressed as a man, she painted portraits of mostly women, she lived with writer, Natalie Barney, for over fifty years, and though she was married briefly to a man, (who was gay) it seems to have been a turbulent marriage of convenience for them both (she was rich, he wasn't). Moreover, had she not been one of the few openly gay female artists of her time, she would probably be little remembered today.
Beatrice Romaine Goddard had a difficult, one might even say tragic, childhood. Born in 1874 in Rome to a wealthy American family, her father deserted his wife, two daughters, and mentally ill son when she was four. She grew up in New York, emotionally abused by her mother, who gave all her attention to her violent son. Eventually, Romaine was put in foster care with a relatively poor family only to have support payments cut off, causing them to sink into poverty. Even though her maternal grandfather was a multi-millionaire, Romaine refused to divulge his name or contact him for fear of being sent back to her mother. Her foster parents eventually located her grandfather on their own. She ended up in an Episcopal boarding school.
Romaine Brooks, ca. 1900,
much more attractive than
seen in her self-portraits.
After graduation, Romaine obtained from her mother money enough to move to Paris where she briefly trained to be a singer, working in a cabaret. Later, moving on to Rome she studied art, the only woman in her life drawing class. Not surprisingly, she was a victim of sexual harassment, which she quickly ended by decking her tormentor with his book of underlined pornographic passages. Constantly battling money problems, Romaine returned to Paris for more art studies, then to the island of Capri where she was to spend much of the rest of her life. With the death of her mother and brother in 1901, Romaine and her sister inherited her grandfather's considerable estate. Now independently wealthy, men suddenly found the struggling young artist quite attractive. In 1903 she married an unsuccessful homosexual pianist, John Ellingham Brooks, who objected vehemently to her masculine mode of dress not to mention her tight control over her wealth. He refused to be seen in public with her. They separated after less than a year, and though they were never divorced, neither were they ever really married in the first place.
The Black Cape, 1907, Romaine Brooks, 
one of her few feminine portraits.
Disposing of her husband (though, for some reason, keeping his name), and dissatisfied with her painting as well (particularly her colorful palette), Romaine Brooks rented a studio in St. Ives on England's Cornish coast where she delved into shades of gray, influenced greatly by the work of another American expatriate, James McNeill Whistler. Having no need to sell her work, she also had no need to pay heed to the swirling modernist movement during the first decades of the 20th century. Her palette was dominated by black, white, and gray, with occasional tints of ochre and umber, all of which caused her to stand out artistically as much as her lifestyle did socially. Moving to Paris, Brooks ignored the avant-garde, her wealth allowing her to mingle among, and paint the upper class social celebrities of the time, several of whom she briefly took at lovers. Recognized by the art dealer, Durand Ruel, who fostered an exhibition of her work in 1910, her reputation as a portrait artist grew along with her high society friendships.
Natalie Barney, 1920, Romaine Brooks,
her companion for more than 50 years.
After a lengthy relationship with actress/dancer Ida Rubenstein (top), whom she painted more often than any other model, Romaine Brooks met the left-bank American writer, Natalie Clifford Barney (right). Today we would call it an open, same-sex marriage, though in pre-WW I France, such arrangements were, of course, unheard of. They built a house with two separate wings joined by a dining room to accommodate their need to be together, yet separate. Though frequently apart, their "arrangement" lasted more than fifty years. Brook's list of paintings from this period might also be termed her list of female lovers as well. Her short hair and masculine attire became fashionable, as seen in many of Brook's portraits at the time (including her own).

The Impeders, 1930, Romaine Brooks.
After 1925, Romaine Brooks quit painting self-portraits. In fact, she quit painting almost entirely. Only four portraits are known to exist from that point on. She was, however the subject of numerous literary portraits by Natalie Barney and her friends. Brooks turned more to drawing, especially complex line drawings. The Impeders, from 1930, is typical of her style in later years. When an artist fails to produce, they sink into oblivion. Even though she lived to the ripe old age of 96, by the 1960s, Romaine Brooks was largely forgotten. Only in recent years, with the advent of the LGBT movement, has Brooks' art come to symbolize the openness and lifestyle freedom of expression that only her independent wealth would allow one-hundred years ago.

Romaine Brooks poses in her studio around 1960. The writer, Truman Capote, termed
her studio, "the all-time ultimate gallery of all the famous dykes from 1880 to 1935, or thereabouts."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Alfred Hitchcock

Legendary storyteller, legendary films.

I've long insisted that modern-day motion pictures are the most viable art form known to man (stretching the definition now to include video). In effect, this one medium encompasses virtually every other art form into one, utilizing the best each has to offer into a single, highly effective, medium of expression. Likewise I've delved into the art and artists marking the best of the best in this endeavor, from my favorite, Steven Spielberg, to perhaps my least favorite, Francis Ford Coppola. Recently in reviewing the AMC (American Movie Channel) listing of the Greatest Directors of All Time, I came face to face with a glaring omission in my coverage. There, at number one, top of the list, was a man, whom I'd mentioned often, but never really written about--Sir Alfred Hitchcock.
 Hitchcock's Rebecca,
his one and only Oscar.
I could list a number of reasons for this oversight, perhaps principle among them being that I've never been a great fan of suspenseful drama. But that's really no excuse and doesn't in any way diminish the influence this groundbreaking producer/director has had on the art of film making. It's a tossup as to which should be the most legendary, the man or his films. As a Hollywood legend he ranks with D.W. Griffith, Orson Wells, David O. Selznick, Stanley Kubrick, and a few others. Like the others, Hitchcock rose to the top of his profession allowing him a great deal of control (if not total control) of his films. Like the others, he still often battled the "damned studio" bosses, not to mention, in Hitchcock's case, his frequent censorship run-ins Joseph Breen of the Motion Picture Production Code office. Yet even the preeminent studio boss and "control freak" David O. Selznick "let Hitchcock be Hitchcock." As a result of this indulgence, in 1940, Selznick Studios received a second "Best Picture" award (marking two years in a row, following GWTW) for Rebecca. Inasmuch as he already had on, Selznick graciously allowed Hitchcock to keep the statuette. Ironically, Hitchcock was competing against himself, his film, Foreign Correspondent was also nominated for "Best Picture" the same year. In what may be the all-time worst sin in AMPAS history, Hitchcock never did win an Oscar as "Best Director."

Hitchcock's first hit, 1927.
Hollywood legends have often been bigger than life, though in Hitchcock's case that might be difficult. Whether discussing his persistent cameo appearances in his films, his ending "twists," his love for shooting action sequences on location at famous landmarks, or his penchant for extremely thorough preproduction planning, Hitchcock was one of a kind. Born in 1899 in a northeast suburb of London, the man literally started at the very bottom of the 1920s British film industry. Trained as a graphic artist, he started by designing silent film title cards, moving up from there to film posters, then to writing suspenseful short stories in the company newsletter, Jesse Lasky's Famous Players Productions (later to become Paramount). Later he worked as a set designer and art director. His career as a director didn't exactly get off to a roaring start. His first two film (now lost) were never completed due to financial difficulties. His third film (Pleasure Garden, 1925) while eventually completed, was a box office dud. Hitchcock's first commercial success came in 1927, with Lodger: a Story of the London Fog (above left), said to be the first truly "Hitchcockian" film with several elements later to become his film trademarks.

Over fifty films, some familiar, some...not so much.
David O. Selznick brought Hitchcock to Hollywood in 1939, turning him loose on Rebecca--one great talent recognizing another. Although Selznick had signed Hitchcock for seven films, he was really more talent than the perennial spendthrift, Selznick, could afford. After Rebecca, they made only one other film together, Spellbound, in 1945. Mostly Selznick "farmed out" Hitchcock to other studios where he directed such classics as Mr. & Mrs. Smith (RKO), Shadow of a Doubt (Universal), Lifeboat (Fox), and Notorious (RKO-Vanguard). However, it was during the 1950s when Hitchcock really came into his own, working intermittently as a free agent for Warner Brothers, Paramount, MGM, and Universal on such instantly recognizable suspense classics as Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much (a remake of his 1934 British film), Vertigo, North by Northwest (below), and finally, in 1960, his biggest hit of all (some would say his best film), Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock was never shy about putting his own persona into his work, whether in
his many cameo appearances or in promoting his pictures.

The scream heard round the world.
If he wasn't already, Psycho made Hitchcock a millionaire--some fifteen times over, in fact--out of a total box office take of $50-million. The budget was a measly $800,000, the shooting was in black and white on a rented, unused set with a television crew. Chocolate syrup stood in for blood in the stabbing scene. The film made Janet Leigh, Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, and John Gavin household names. It also instilled a deathly fear among women of taking showers in motels. Though Hitchcock lived and evolved as a director for another twenty years, making five more outstanding films showcasing his mature style of suspenseful drama, most people are most familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock of 1950s television. Along with Walt Disney, Hitchcock was one of the few 50s film makers to recognize television as a new medium to be embraced rather than a reckless upstart to be feared. Beginning in 1955, Alfred Hitchcock Presents aired on CBS every Sunday night (later on NBC, then back to CBS, and finally back to NBC again) for a total of 361 scary episodes. Though he was executive producer of the series, and introduced each episode with his trademark "Good Evening" over the iconic strains of Funeral March of a Marionette, Hitchcock never directed a single episode.

Hitchcock's dry, macabre sense of humor was always in the forefront.
The video above is long, but fun, perhaps the best part of each night's episode.

Seldom are great directors beloved by those who work for them. Part of that can be accounted for by their perfectionist tendencies. Such masters of their craft "don't suffer fools lightly." In most cases, such film making geniuses are, at best, respected. At worst, they're hated. Tippi Hedren (star of Hitchcock's The Birds) accused Hitchcock of misogyny and of ruining her career when she resisted his sexual advances. Other actors and actresses who have worked with him defend Hitchcock, reasoning that he considered actors as "animated props." As a rising young director in England, Hitchcock is said to have referred to actors as "cattle." Years later, in an interview, when questioned about his bovine reference, Hitchcock claimed to have been misquoted. He said instead, "...actors should be treated like cattle."

Another Alfred Hitchcock cameo appearance, Lifeboat, 1944

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Jules Breton

Vintage at the Chateau Lagrange, 1864, Jules Breton
Jules Breton Self-portrait, 1883
For more than two hundred years, the French have been in love with the countryside. Even as they embraced Classicism, Romanticism, Realism (and numerous other "isms") in the march of art history across their sizable hunk of European real estate, whenever life in their cities became a little too intense, the French fled back to some ancestral home (real or imagined) in the country. Long before the Impressionists "discovered" the French landscape, the Barbizon school painted in the Forests of Fontainebleau. Even before that, the Realists proclaimed the agrarian virtues of the lives of country peasants. The first name to come to mind when we think of such art is that of Jean-Francois Millet and his Gleaners (1857). Though thirteen years younger than Millet, a name that should also come to mind is that of Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton.
The Storm, 1852-53, Jules Breton, probably his earliest surviving work.
Jules Breton (not to be confused with the poet, writer, and founder of the Surrealist movement, Andre Breton) was born in the village of Courrieres located in the far northern region of France in 1827. Raised by his father, an estate overseer, after his mother died when he was four, it's little wonder Breton all his life painted the French countryside and its inhabitants, arguably with even greater insight and instinctive feel for its natural beauty than did Millet. Though Millet is considered one of the founders of the Barbizon School, he was always first and foremost interested in the inhabitants of the land more than the landscape in which they lived. And though Breton's paintings were often heavily peopled with noble peasants (mostly young women and girls), always there was great feeling and attention to the beauty of the land. The man loved his sunsets.
Fire in the Haystack, 1856, Jules Breton--combining his two major
subjects, history and peasants.
Young Jules Breton began studying art in his mid-teens, first from local artists (as was often the case in that day). Then he moved on to Ghent, then Antwerp, and finally, the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, all before he turned twenty. His first works were history paintings (the top of the heap insofar as painted images were concerned at the time). In 1849, he managed to get a painting (Misery and Despair) into the Salon, a sure indication that he was a rising young artist. Good fortune struck again in 1850 with the acceptance of a second work (Hunger). Both paintings have since disappeared, and the suspicion is that Breton himself may have destroyed them.
Return of the Reapers, 1852, Jules Breton
After a brief sojourn to Belgium to display his work, and where he met his future wife, Breton returned to France. Though having had some success as a history painter, his heart was not in it. He decided he was not cut out for such high art. Instead he returned to his childhood roots, that which he knew and loved best. In 1852 he painted Return of the Reapers (above), marking a new direction in his career. Then, in 1854, he left Paris, returning to his place of birth. There he painted The Gleaners (below), which actually predates Millet's iconic The Gleaners by some five years.
The Gleaners, 1854, Jules Breton. Titled the same as Millet's later painting,
the two look nothing alike, although they might both be termed Realism. Breton's
version appears more lively, almost joyful, as compared to Millet's highly spiritual work.
Even as Millet struggled for recognition with his somewhat more "gritty" Realism depicting peasant life, Breton's career prospered during the next forty years bringing him a considerable degree of fame and acceptance both in Europe and America, where his work struck a chord in its romanticized depiction of farm life. Millet died in 1875. Breton lived to be 79, dying in 1906. Subjectively, it would be easy to confuse their work. Their differences come down to style, that of Millet's harsh Realism and Breton's somewhat romantic Realism. Breton was an Academic painter. Millet was not. In fact, he fought with the French academic establishment much of his life. Also, Breton was more a devotee of the French landscape than Millet. Vincent van Gogh was influenced by them both. He admired, and even copied, paintings by Millet, yet it's said he liked Breton's work so much he once walked more than eighty miles to meet the man, then failed to do so. He turned back, intimidated by the high walls surrounding Breton's estate.

The Shepherd, 1905, Jules Breton, one of his final paintings. Though always
depicting the idyllic life of French peasants, the idyllic French landscape
seems frequently to be his main emphasis.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Glasses, 2006, Gilles Tran
I have deliberately titled this item with an abbreviation--CGI. Whether you're an artist or not, if you don't know what that means, in today's world, it's high time you learned. CGI stands for Computer Generated Imagery. Its a broad designation, basically including any graphic image generated from a digital source. The image above is NOT a photo. It's CGI. At its most highly refined, realistic best, in today's world of imaging, CGI not just rivals photographic imagery, in many ways, it surpasses it. If one were to look at a mixture of images, both CGI and photographic, the most telling difference would be that the CGI images might appear too perfect. The other major difference, even allowing for present day, state-of-the art photo editing software, would be that CGI allows artists to easily depict scenes impossible (or economically unfeasible) using any other means.

Gilles Tran
CGI is too broad to be a topic here. There are just too many manifestations, from fractal geometry to CAD (computer assisted design), to computer animation. I've already covered a couple of these areas, Fractal Art, Mathematical Art, and Digital Art in the past. Thus, to simplify, I'm going to highlight only one artist and only his CGI art. His name is Gilles Tran. He lives and works in Paris, and though his work is very much at a professional level, he still classifies himself as an amateur. Actually, his "day job" is that of an agronomist. The image at the top is by Gilles Tran. The image of him at right is not. He's a modest man. The photo did not come from his website but from the one where he works. It's the only photo on this page.

Gilles Tran uses POV-Ray software. That stands for Persistence of Vision Raytracer. This software allows the creation of graphic images based upon a text description. No, you can't just type in "draw a box."  As with all things digital, it's a little more complicated than that, though not much. However, there is a learning curve. Actually, the text looks more like the HTML code used to render this page.

<<<===That will get you this.
Here's a sample:

#declare the_angle = 0;

#while (the_angle < 360)
        box {   <-0.5, -0.5, -0.5>
                <0.5, 0.5, 0.5>
                texture { pigment { color Red }
                          finish  { specular 0.6 }
                          normal  { agate 0.25 scale 1/2 } }
                rotate the_angle }
        #declare the_angle = the_angle + 45;

I pride myself in having a "way with words," but I would be speechless in describing the above figure in plain text. CGI has come a long way fast. Gilles Tran created Brittany Night (below, right) when he began experimenting with CGI in 1993. That was pretty much cutting edge, state-of-the art CGI back then. His Glasses (top) was done just thirteen years later in 2006. In addition to POV-Ray, Tran now also uses even more sophisticated software, Cinema 4D, FinalRender and Poser (among others). The two Gilles Tran images below offer a more concise, side-by-side comparison of CGI art then and now.

Lyon Capitale, (magazine cover),
2009, Gilles Tran

Brittany Night, 1993, Gilles Tran,
Created using a PC 386 with 
MS-DOS, 4 Mb of RAM,
and POV-Ray 1.0

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jan de Bray

The Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra, 1652, Jan de Bray
It's no secret among art historians that great art and artists run in various families. We could probably all cite instances when so and so got his or her art talent from their father or mother, or perhaps an aunt or uncle in cases where such a gifts swing haphazardly from branch to branch in a family tree like rambunctious monkeys (which often happens). As an art instructor in the public schools, I encountered this phenomena several times. Art historians are quite accustomed to seeing this because, in the past, not only was there a genetic component involved in "art clans" but also economic and cultural elements as well. Fathers often trained their sons (sometimes daughters, too) in the family trade. In American art, the Peale extended family of artists, and more recently, the Wyeth family come to mind. In French art, take a look at the Pissarro family tree sometime.
Portrait of Salomon de Bray and
Anna Westerbaen, 1660, Jan de Bray
(the artist's parents)
Because of this cultural tradition of offspring following in their fathers' footsteps, we see in European art history quite a number of family trees full of painters. In Dutch art history, especially during the so-called "Golden Age" (basically the 17th century) I've written about several such painting clans. One of the most interesting is that of Salomon de Bray (right). Salomon was primarily an architect, but one who could also paint portraits. More importantly he and his wife, Anna Westerbaen (who boasted a poet and a painter in her own family tree), had four sons and three daughters. All four sons, Jan, Dirck, Joseph, and Jacob, became painters. Jan de Bray, the eldest (born in 1627), was the most talented. Thus, he was taught to paint portraits and history by his father (and others). Dirck painted flowers (and later joined a monastery), while Joseph and Jacob, the two youngest, were relegated to painting still-lifes. One of Jan de Bray's earliest major works was his 1652 painting, The Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra (top), which, though technically a history painting, is really much more of a family group portrait in which the artist used all his brothers and sisters as models.

The Governors of the Guild of St. Luke, Haarlem, 1675, Jan de Bray.
Typical of de Bray's group portraits, the artist is second from the left.
The Dutch Golden Age was a time of great wealth and prosperity in Holland and the Netherlands. The de Bray family, led by the rising star of Jan de Bray, prospered during this period. Then in 1664, tragedy struck, not just the de Bray family but much of Europe--the plague. England and the Netherlands were especially hard hit, including the city of Haarlem were the de Brays resided. Within a span of a single month, Salomon (his father) and Jan's two youngest brothers succumbed to the epidemic. Seventeen years after his first effort, in 1669, Jan de Bray painted a second version of his earlier Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra (bottom). Once more he depicted family members in the scene. This time, however, the work took on a more somber note. Three of those portrayed had died.

Banquet of Anthony and Cleopatra, 1669, Jan de Bray.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Charles Bulfinch

Massachusetts Statehouse, Boston, Charles Bulfinch

Charles Bulfinch (1763-1845)
One of the things I've consistently tried to do in my efforts here is to bring to light the life and times and creative output of individuals whose work is important enough to be recognized, yet whose lives seems not to have been so. An interesting paradox has to do with these artists' chosen media. For example, filmmakers, are quite often rich and famous, their names very nearly household words. Painters...not so much (especially the rich part). Even so, their name recognition level hovers far above that of sculptors, song writers, poets, and, perhaps at the very bottom of such a list--architects. I guess the moral of this observation is that if you want to be famous in the creative arts, don't become an architect. I recently stumbled upon a lengthy list of several hundred American architects. In scanning the list, I was dismayed to realize I recognized only about one percent (two at most) of the names listed. Worse still, being a student of art, especially art history, and fairly familiar with the art of architecture, if I recognized so few, that means most people would know far fewer. During the coming weeks and months, I hope to do something about that.

Bulfinch's dome, U.S. Capitol, 1823-55.
Boston colonial architect, Charles Bulfinch (above, left), is a good place to start. Insofar as the fame game is concerned, Bulfinch has faired pretty well, probably most famous for his dome--the Bulfinch Dome (above) over the pre-Civil War U.S. Capitol. Ironically, though many of his buildings still stand as models of the best Classical architecture the U.S. has to offer, his dome does not--torn down and replace by the current dome designed by Thomas U. Walter around 1855. Bulfinch's dome was not considered grand enough for the Capitol expansion ongoing at the time. My guess is, if you know little of Bulfinch, you know far less about Thomas Walter, but that's an issue for another time.

The Maine statehouse was modeled after Bulfinch's earlier Massachusetts statehouse.
Maine was originally a part of Massachusetts. The Connecticut statehouse was replaced
by a larger, Gothic Revival structure in 1871.
Bulfinch could well be considered America's leading Capitol architect. Legislatures meet, or have met, in his capitol buildings in the great states of Massachusetts, Maine, and Connecticut (more than any other single architect). Topping off this string of legislative successes, in 1817, he succeeded Benjamin Latrobe as Architect of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (hence the dome). And while Latrobe could reasonably be considered the designer of the Capitol, domes were considered at the time as something of a frivolity, thus they were delayed until all the "important" parts of the building were in place. As domes go, Bulfinch's capitol dome, completed in 1823, though more impressive than William Thornton's original design based on that of the Pantheon in Rome, was still a masterpiece of architectural understatement (which probably accounts for why it existed for little more than thirty years. It was an unadorned, modest hemisphere resting on a low drum. Walter's design (the one we now know and love) seems downright extravagant by comparison.

The First Church of Christ Unitarian, Lancaster, Mass, 1817, Charles Bulfinch,
one of the architects most beloved works.
Charles Bulfinch did not live by capitols alone (even having done three of them). His works also include a number of stately homes of all sizes, in and around Boston, as well a major buildings for Harvard University, the remodeling of the city's landmark Faneuil Hall, the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boylston Market, the Boston Commons, and the India Wharf. Despite all these projects and being fully employed all his professional life, Bulfinch is said to have suffered repeated bouts with insolvency. In July, 1811, he was to spend a month in the Massachusetts State Prison for non-payment of debts. It was a building he'd designed himself some years earlier.

Massachusetts State Prison, 1803, Charles Bulfinch.
Thirty days for being a deadbeat.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marie Bracquemond

Under the Lamp, 1886, Marie Bracquemond.
Her husband, Felix, peers (or sneers) at her from across the dinner table.
Marie Bracquemond Self-portrait, 1870
As the 20th century dawned in Europe, Impressionism had matured. If no longer avant-garde, (cutting edge in today's parlance), it certainly remained chic and trendy insofar as stylish collectors were concerned. It was "modern." By that time there were literally thousands of impressionist artists, mostly centered in France, but also in most of the other countries on the continent, each displaying their own nationalist brand of Impressionism. By the early 1900s, there was even a vibrant school of American Impressionism. As might be expected, most of these thousands were men. "Most" means more than half. In this case, way more than half, but having said that, there were still a significant number of female impressionist painters. It was a style which appealed to women, and by that time, sex bias, while still holding strong, was, nonetheless, beginning to show some cracks--especially in the fine arts.

Self-portraits by two of but a handful
 of well-remembered female
Why is it, then, that only two names come to mind when we discuss female impressionist--Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot (left)? Certainly Eva Gonzales, Edouard Manet's favorite pupil, stands out as being well above most male impressionists. The same can be said for Marie Bracquemond. To rephrase the question, why do the names of these two exceptional painting ladies not "ring a bell?" In the case of Eva Gonzales, the answer is simple--she died (age 34). For any artist, that tends to hurt their career. Ironically, her death, in giving birth, occurred just six days after that of her teacher. The reasoning with regard to Marie Bracquemond's relative obscurity is not so simple.
Pierre Bracquemond Painting a Bouquet, 1897, Marie Bracquemond
Marie Bracquemond was born in the Brittany area of northern France in 1840. Her father, a sea captain, died shortly after her birth. Her childhood was spent moving all about Europe with her mother and stepfather. As a teen, she studied under a succession of aging, unimportant local artists, honing her skills to the point she had a painting accepted in the 1857 Salon (and several others thereafter). As a result, she met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, just about the most important painter in France at the time. This association enabled her to set up her easel in the Louvre where she might copy great works of art from the past. Perhaps more important however, this privilege allowed her to meet her future husband, Felix Bracquemond, who was artistic director for Havilland Studios, the forerunner of today's Haviland China. After a two-year engagement they were married. Their only child, Pierre (above), was born in 1870. As any Francophile would tell you, that was a bad time to get born (the Franco-Prussian War). Unlike Eva Gonzales, Marie Bracquemond did not die in childbirth. But already being of frail health, giving birth amid the privation and chaos of war; neither did the blessed event do her any good.
Marie Bracquemond at her easel.
Marie's new husband was "old school." It might be expected that her marriage would have been a boon to here career--and for a time, it was. Felix attempted, with only modest success, to teach her etching while introducing her to all his artistic establishment friends and the work of past artists such as Jean-Simone Chardin, whom he admired greatly. He even got her a job where he worked. However, Marie found designing dinner plates "constraining." She came to admire the work of the Belgian painter, Alfred Stevens. And from there, it was just a short hop and a short time before she made friends with the likes of Monet and Renoir. From that point, she was "hooked" on Impressionism and her husband was outraged. He hated the style and everything about it.

Felix Bracquemond became resentful of his wife's new painting methods, her large, loosely handled canvases, her brash use of color, not to mention her insistence upon painting out-of-doors. Perhaps most of all, he hated the fact that she was having some degree of success with them, displaying with other Impressionists and actually selling her work. In a word, he did everything he could to scuttle her career. Today, such a personal and professional marital conflict would likely end in divorce. In the 1890s, it was quite the opposite. When she could no longer take her husband's outrageous outrage, she gave up her palette and brushes. From that point on, she painted little, and mostly only small works for herself of family members. One of Marie's final large-scale efforts was The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden of Sevres, (bottom) dating from 1890. She died in 1916. And if you've never heard of Marie Bracquemond, blame her husband.
The Artist's Son and Sister in the Garden at Sevres, 1890, Marie Bracquemond.