Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Anyone in northern California, or it’s Central Valley, in the foreseeable future should make a detour to see the Leyendecker room at the Haggin Museum in Stockton. The Haggin is one of the few (possibly the only) American museum to recognize Leyendecker’s work as being artistically valuable, so it’s not surprising that they also have the largest collection by the artist.

Leyendecker, like his later colleague Norman Rockwell, is typically dismissed as a mere illustrator by modern hackademics and artless critics. An oft repeated criticism of these two men is that their work was commercially commissioned (as opposed to being their innermost expressive gestures of the soul untainted by the rot of avarice) and therefore not art. If we follow that flawed logic to it’s absurd conclusion, the Louvre should deposit the Mona Lisa in a trash bin since the painting was (unfortunately for it) a commissioned portrait — just like nearly everything by Titian and Rubens.

I don’t have the time in a single post to cover the full history or merits of J C Leyendecker, or America’s golden age of illustration. However, for the purposes of this blog it is relevant to point out that it was Leyendecker who gave us the iconic Arrow Collar Man. His stylized renderings of form and fabric are wonderful, at times even fetishistic, and celebratory of an ideal form of beauty for the era.

Note: the paintings which became magazine covers are medium sized easel paintings, oil on canvas; also on display are the series of lifesize children’s faces for Kellogg’s cereal ads.



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It hardly needs mentioning that not only did artists paint better 85 years ago, they also dressed better. English artist Albert Ludovici jr, pictured here, certainly had style, maybe even more than his paintings, depending on your taste. From the artiste’s bow under his wing collar to the shark fin fold of his pocket square, he knew how to take dashing photograph. Let’s not overlook the perfectly rakish tilt of his hat.

And it won’t surprise you to know that he was close with another artist of discriminating fashion taste — Whistler, of whom Ludovici had this to say:

[Whistler] was always neatly dressed, in black in the winter and white in the summer, and his hair, with the white lock which grew near the centre of his forehead, carefully arraigned. He always changed for dinner, and used to appear at the [Society of British Artists] meetings in evening dress

Apparently some of the other members of the Society found this pretentious, whereas I would venture to say he was showing the proceedings, and some of the pusillanimous attendees, more respect than they may have deserved. But Whistler was a gentleman about most things, despite what Ruskin, and an entire generation of critics, said about him. Whistler was most definitely controversial in both art and life… as if there’s a difference.

Below Whistler’s portrait by William Merritt Chase, now in the Met.

Whistler could be a fashion critic as well; for example, when asked by a notable society lady what he thought of her new and expensive frock, he adjusted his monocle and replied:

“There is only one thing…” and paused.

“…Tell me what is wrong!”

“Only that it covers you, madam,”

The picture of Ludovici and anecdotes are from his autobiography An Artist’s Life in London and Paris 1870-1925, published by T Fisher Unwin, London, 1926. Image of Chase’s Whistler nabbed from Wikipedia.

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A Rainy Afternoon

A rainy afternoon is good cover if anyone might wonder why I’m indoors again ignoring the world. Yeah, sure, it’s the weather. Which can be, often enough, very true. The cigar smoke keeps away most pests, both buzzing and biped, though Baroness’ and felines are always welcome.

In a semi-literate-push-button (or is it tablet-tapping) society actual reading can be seen as an indulgent and guilty pleasure. Though, from what I can tell, most contemporary writing of any kind is neither interestingly guilty nor much of a pleasure. There are exceptions, obviously, and among exceptional periodicals ranks the Art Newspaper out of London. A far superior cultural broadsheet than what passes for art news in the States. A startled guffaw has escaped at reports of Dubai’s “international” art fair that exhibited figurative paintings facing the wall (for reasons of religious modesty, of course), I’ve slapped a knee at columns mentioning any piece of modernist trash that scores another multi-million dollar swindle at auction, and scratched my chin at the book review of the latest doctoral thesis-cum-publishing deal. Where else is all that between the same covers? I mean besides on the internet.

The slab next to it is a raisonn√© of Carracci prints who, though I suppose are technically the anti-mannerist of the mannerists, are too “retro” and “old master,” so that smug art hipsters and hack cultural historians, to their own detriment, ignore them. Good. I’d rather have them all to myself. And if I’m feeling inspired I might transpose a Madonna or saint into my sketchbook. After all Picasso taught us Good artists copy, great artists steal. (including soundbytes)

Later, if there’s a break in the downpour, and the rest of the world is inside drying to the glow of lcd and plasma screens, the Baroness and I might amble out and take in the sodden perfume of a freshly watered Golden Gate Park. The afterward might involve a bite at the neighborhood bistro. Or maybe just their wine. Depends on the mood.

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“Painters write well. They do most things, except choosing their clothes, better than other people; they can sail boats and prune fruit trees and bandage cut fingers and work out sums in their heads. The truth is that far higher gifts are needed to paint even a bad picture than to write a good book.”

Evelyn Waugh, from a book review, 1937

I’m willing to assume that the artists of Waugh’s era, both of brush and prose, fit his observation. Both callings then still had some cachet. Things today are much more dire; few writers seem to be able to read, let alone write, and even fewer painters can draw, let alone paint. For me the more curious part of the quote is the bit about painters not choosing their clothes well. Remember that Waugh was considered a type of fashion plate himself (even if, as he aged, a progressively cracked one); even more revealing, he exited college and entered adulthood flirting with the arts before seriously taking up writing. Possibly like his fabled Charles Ryder, a painter, who grows into the storyteller of Brideshead. I don’t blame Waugh for approaching writing with caution; his father was a known author who ran a large publishing house, and his older brother, Alec, was a famous novelist at the age of 17. His brother is even credited with inventing the pre-dinner cocktail party in the ’20s. Who wants to compete with all that?

But if there is any truth to the idea of painters being sartorially challenged, then it might begin to explain my current closet a little better, as well as my disheveled history. As for other artists (keep in mind that the repro vintage sneaker/skinny jeans/ironic t-shirt hipster, though poorly dressed, is unlikely an artist, or even knows one), the idea that a real visual artist, the one person who should be most in tune with optical harmonies, would be unable to co-ordinate shirt and and pair of pants is rather alarming. Years back I had a playful email exchange with art writer and historian James Elkins* wherein I gently mocked the clashing shirt and tie of his author photo. He was kind enough not only to politely respond, but to not involve the police.

In ’29 Waugh wrote a piece about mens clothes, Beau Brummells on ¬£60 a Year, for the Daily Mail, excerpted below from a 1983 Penguin collection: (more…)

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