Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Cabela's Sculptures

Cabela's bronze Bear Versus Eagle, Wheeling, West Virginia
When we think of Cabela's, we seldom think of art. In fact, when we call to mind the nationwide chain of outfitters, and sporting goods stores, it might be safe to say the last thing we think about would be art. That should not be the case. True, you're not going to find them selling Monet reproductions or images from the ateliers of De Kooning or John Singer Sargent. Cabela's is a man's store if there ever was one, though they do feature a number of items for the wives of their primary clientele. Inside, one gets the feeling that the store drinking fountain may be spouting pure testosterone. At the same time, they are big on exactly one type of art--wildlife. You see it neatly matted and framed behind glass on their walls, in the form of bronze lamps, tabletop sculptures, and dozens of examples of the taxidermist's art arranged in pseudo-natural settings like targets in a shooting gallery. It is art, I guess, though not unquestionably so.

Unfortunately, the names of Cabela sculptors are not as
widely available as their images. I could find only two.
Cabela's Pony Express Rider
outside their Sidney, Nebraska,
headquarters store.
Although the company handles a smattering of art-related items, the real art is outside, between the store and the parking lot in the form of independently com-missioned monumental bronze sculptures of (you guessed it) wildlife. Although the company has made its fortune facilitating the killing of wildlife, they are to be congratulated for their support of talented sculptors whose work is aimed at the preservation of the spirit of animals in the wild. Each store has a different bronze sculpture, some quite dramatic, some even including the human element from the past such as that outside the company's larg-est store in Hamburg, Pennsyl-vania (above), and their Pony Express Rider on the grounds of their headquarters complex in Sidney, Nebraska (above, right).

A broad sampling of Cabela's corporate tastes in art.
Mike Hamby's bronze sculpture, Fierce Encounter (above), can be found in front of Cabela's Dundee, Michigan, store. This sculpture is one of the largest bronze wildlife sculptures ever created. Born and raised in Lehi, Utah, Mike Hamby has always had a fascination for Native American culture. Much of his childhood was spent exploring the canyons and history of his home state, experiencing firsthand its timeless wonders. The effect is evident in his work, as seen in the remarkable flair for the richness of the past. His work is flavored with the soul of the desert, the mountains, and the determination of the people who live there. His aggressive style and intense focus gives each piece a distinct history all its own. Mike has been blessed with a unique combination of talents, as an artist, musician, illustrator, and retired pro football player.

Outside the Cabela's store, Mitchell, South Dakota.
Beverly Paddleford's Corn Stalkin' (above), is just outside the Cabela's in Mitchell, South Dakota. Beverly is co-owner of Eagle Bronze, Inc. of Lander, Wyoming. She and her husband, Monte, have been producing bronze sculptures ranging in size from miniature to monumental in their foundry since 1985. They now operate one of the largest foundries in the United States, and second to none in monument production. Raised in an atmosphere of creativity by her father, sculptor Bud Boller, Beverly was not able to devote extensive time to her art until Eagle Bronze and her husband and four daughters could afford her the time. Finally, in 1995 she was able to work on her first bronze monument, The Lineman, for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's Headquarters in Washington, D. C. In 1998 she was commissioned by Cabela’s to create a bronze monument for their new store in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The result was a larger-than-life monument of two sparring bull moose titled Northern Challenge. That was followed by a monument for the new Cabela’s store in Mitchell, South Dakota. Placed there in 1999, Corn Stalkin’ (above)is a three-times life-size monument of a fox flushing out three pheasants.

Cabela's, Verdi, Nevada


Friday, January 20, 2017

Video Editing

Sony Vegas Movie Studio. I've used this one. It's one of
the best, also one of the more advanced (complicated)
as to features.

I thought long and hard before tackling this topic. The reason being that it's about the most difficult form of creative endeavor commonly seen today. Painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, everything except possibly moviemaking pales in comparison in terms of their technical complexity, effectiveness as communicative media, and in their creative potential. In the past, this complexity, not to mention the cost of the equipment involved, put this art form far beyond the reach of virtually every independent artist without a million-dollar bank account. Today, with home computers, and a plethora of editing software at the amateur video artists fingertips, one would think that many of the inherent difficulties of creative video production would be a thing of the past. Not true.
A sampling of editing interfaces. Some are better than others. Filmora I have and use, but I'm not about to recommend any of them, they're too diverse.
Certainly, the cost of the hardware and software involved is a very small fraction of what it has been in the past (some software is even touted as being "free"). But that doesn't make video editing much easier. In fact, the sheer number of software programs available erects a formidable wall the amateur artist must first surmount before even getting started. From that point on, come the basics--how to draw (shoot), paint (choose), and refine (improve) images using electronic media tools. And finally, the video artist comes face to face with a broadside selection of "decorative" items which, in one sense, add fun and games to the creative endeavor, but also lay out yet another layer of technical complexity not to mention a whole minefield of pitfalls. In some ways, video editing is related to the much older art of storytelling with film, yet with a virtual encyclopedia of subtle differences. Thus in tackling this topic, my primary purpose is not to expound upon it, but to simplify, which as always, may be the most difficult art and science known to man.

Typical editing interface features. The preview window
is controlled from the timeline much like a VCR.
As you may have noticed in looking over the various editing interfaces, they all have certain features in common (above). Each has a library window (where raw content clips are stored). There's also a selection window (showing a larger key image chosen for use), a preview window for viewing your production in progress, and a timeline window (at the bottom) upon which the various video segments, captions, visual effects, and audio tracks are assembled and manipulated in their order of appearance). These features will vary in size and arrangement with various software. For instance, the library window and selection window are sometimes combined.

Each raw video segment, as it is inserted into the timeline, is
represented by a "key" (or first) frame to simplify visual continuity in editing. Overlapping with other segments the first few seconds at the beginning and end of a segment creates a "dissolve" transition.
In painterly terms, the library window is the video editor's palette. The timeline corresponds to the painter's canvas in conjunction with the preview window. Keep in mind that the video editor deals with the standard two dimensions of the painter plus a third dimensional element of time as well as the element of synchronized sound. The typical timeline on most video editor may have as many as three video tracks (the main image track, a caption trace, and a third track for transitions and special effects). Often there are four separate audio tracks, one for audio synchronized with the video, a second for added music, a third for added sound effects, and a fourth for a narration (usually added last). Thus the final video production is built up from the raw video and audio tracks much like the multiple layers of a painting.

A video editor in transition menu mode.
Very often the Selection Window may also be used to display a menu of transitions and other special effects which can be inserted in the timeline (often through "click and drag") for artistic effects, though one must be careful such elements do not attract undue attention from the content of the video. Likewise, captions should only be used when no other means is available to aid continuity or impart needed information. In general, captions are valuable as titles at the beginning and credits at the end of the video much as in movie editing. Many of the same basic storytelling techniques applicable to moviemaking apply to video as well, such as beginning each new segment with a general view, followed by a more detailed, medium shot, and finally close-ups as needed. Then, once the editing artist is satisfied with his or her video masterpiece, the "composition" is turned over to the software for "rendering" into a chosen format (avi, mov, MP3, or MP4, etc.) to be played back on any number of computer video players, or archived either on a hard drive, a "thumb" drive, a social media site, or "burned" onto a DVD for replay on TV.

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One of my own editing projects:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Verdict of the People

The Verdict of the People, 1854-55, George Caleb Bingham
About noon tomorrow, January 20, 2017, Donald J. Trump will become the forty-fifth President of the United States of America. Regardless of your political affiliation (or my own), President Trump will become a fact of life for at least the next four years. Of course, if the past year or so has shown us anything, it's that there are no certainties in American politics. in a broader sense, One might even go so far as to say the same applies to American history in general. Around 1852-55, the American frontier artist, George Caleb Bingham, painted a series of large-scale depictions of the American political system as it existed on the western frontier of the United States at the time (basically west of the Alleghenies to the area bordering both sides of the Mississippi River. One of those paintings, The Verdict of the People, will hang on the wall of the Capitol's Statuary Hall (the old House of Representatives chamber) as it presides over tomorrow's traditional inaugural luncheon. To the surprise and dismay of the St. Louis Museum of Art, which owns the painting, its presence at such an august event has become controversial.
George Caleb Bingham
Self-Portrait, ca. 1834
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the Joint Congressional Com-mittee on Inaugural Ceremonies, thought Bingham's painting would add a nice touch to the celebratory proceedings. Ilene Berman, an art student at St. Louis University, and art his-torian, Ivy Cooper, who teaches at Southern Illinois University, think otherwise. They started a petition which, at last count, had been signed by over two-thousand people who agree with them. Why the big ado? First of all, it has little to do with the painting itself and much to do with the title. The petitioning group disputes the fact that Trump's election, in which he trailed his opponent by nearly three-million votes, does not reflect the "Verdict of the People." It reflects the constitutional verdict of the Electoral College. Thus, under the circumstances, the largely academic pet-itioners see the painting's title (if not the painting itself) as being inappropriate.

Stump Speaking,  1853-54, George Caleb Bingham
When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, the founding fathers did not trust the white, male, landowning, voting citizens of their country with the all-important responsibility of electing their leaders, specifically Senators, the President, and the Vice president. The system of governing, of, for, and by the people was so new to the existing realm of political thought as to be considered a highly dangerous experiment. The institution of an Electoral College, elected by the people, but free to act on its own, was considered a prudent buffer between ignorance and governmental wisdom. And, if the nature of most of the voting individuals Bingham depicts in his Stump Speaking (above) and his Verdict of the People (top) is any indication, such a move was likely a wise one. They are far from the embodiment of democracy at its best. Instead, they are democracy as a hectic undertaking in which those who take politics seriously are inseparable from those who view politics as a spectacle. (Notice the man at far right wearing three hats, which he has likely won in wagering on the election outcome.) Bingham also makes a point of depicting the disenfranchised in the form of the shadowy African-American figure in the far lower-left corner (with the bandana around his head) pushing a wheelbarrow. Bingham became an Abolitionist and later a Lincoln Republican.

The County Election, 1852,  George Caleb Bingham
(probably the first in the series).
As seen by Bingham, during the 19th-century, voting was, indeed, something of a public spectacle, only a little more dignified than a public hanging. It's difficult to say at precisely what point in American history the Electoral College became antiquated, and later detrimental to the whole political process. If one were to venture a guess, it might be at the same time that high school attendance became mandatory, thus providing some semblance of a politically astute electorate. Another possible date might be April 8, 1913, and the passage of the 17th Amendment mandating the direct election of U.S. senators (as opposed to their being selected by state legislatures). The reasoning being that if the electorate was considered sufficiently trustworthy in directly electing their senators, the same should be true as to their President and Vice president.

Canvassing for a Vote, 1852, George Caleb Bingham
Much has changed in the American political system, as underlined by Bingham's 1852 Canvassing for a Vote (above). The politician has a familiarly "shady" look, but otherwise, virtually nothing is the same. Nothing, that is, but the constitutional relic from more than two-hundred years ago by which twice in recent American history (five times altogether) a president has been elected having lost the popular vote. The artsy petitioners out in the Midwest should not be protesting a painting underlining the political changes of the past two centuries; but instead, fighting to repeal the one remaining constitutional anachronism it represents, which so distorts and abuses the will of the American people.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Samuel Colman Jr., American Painter

Picturesque Landscape with Rainbow, Samuel Colman
A little over three years ago, I began to write a piece on the American painter, Samuel Colman. In the process I began to encounter paintings which, for all the world, looked to have been done by two different artists, though all were attributed to Samuel Colman (not Coleman). It took me several perplexing minutes to come to the realization that they were, in fact, painted by two different painters. Both had the same first and last names with the strange spelling of the family name, and both painted landscapes. There any similarities ended. One Samuel Colman was British, born in 1780, and whom died in 1845. The other was an American landscape painter born in New York City in 1832. This left me with the quandary as to which one to pursue. I chose the British painter in that his life and work seemed far more interesting than his American counterpart (an opinion I've not changed, by the way).
By the 1860s, the Hudson River was no longer picturesque.
Ships Unloading, New York,
 Samuel Colman
However, on the theory that everyone de-serves a second chance, in once again coming across the work of the American Samuel Colman Jr. today, I've decided to take a closer look at this belated Hudson River School artist from a fresh perspective, not in comparing his work to that of the British artist, but letting it stand on its own merits. In doing so, if we make comparisons, it should be an "apples to apples" judgement, his works compared to other Amer-ican landscape painters. It doesn't take long to see that Samuel Colman Jr. is no Albert Bier-stadt, no Edwin Church, no Thomas Cole, nor Thomas Moran. He does compare favorably with Asher B. Durand whom he's believed to have studied under for a brief period. In act-uality, Colman was second generation Hudson River School at a time when the cutting edge of American landscape painting was moving in-exorably westward along with the American frontier. The fact that we see in his paintings early steamboats on the Hudson (above) indicates that the river had become "civilized" and on the verge of being industrialized.

Ausable River, Samuel Colman
Samuel Colman was born in Portland, Maine. His family moved to New York when he was a young child. His father, a well-known bookseller and an established dealer of fine engravings, had a clientele of artists and authors that provided an early exposure to the New York City art scene which sparked Colman’s interest in painting. At the age of eighteen, the aspiring artist began to develop his technique (probably under the instruction of Durand). Colman gained an appreciation for the natural beauty of the American landscape as his artistic approach advanced so quickly he was elected an associate of the National Academy of Design in 1854. The Hudson River, Lake George and the White Mountains were all sources of inspiration for the artist during the 1850s.

Colman in the 1860s and shortly before his death in 1920.
To his credit, Colman recognized the migrating trend in landscape art as it moved westward (though perhaps belatedly). After the Civil War, the art of watercolor became popular. Colman mastered this highly portable medium then took it westward, using it to create studies for later works in oil, though in many cases, his watercolors hold up quite well as works of art in their own right. His Late November in a Santa Barbara Canyon, California (above), has a spontaneous vigor found in the work of few western artists at the time, demonstrating a sensitivity for the minutiae of the west alongside the rugged grandeur seen in his Solomon's Temple, Colorado (upper image), painted during a later trip west in 1888.

American landscape art and artists moved westward after the Civil War.
In 1860, Colman left the country to participate in an important rite of passage for many 19th-century American painters: the Grand Tour. Although his wanderlust first led him to France, he was later drawn to less-frequented areas throughout Spain and Morocco, becoming one of the first American artists to visit these exotic locales. In the years that followed, Colman became an inveterate traveler, many of his works depicting scenes from foreign cities and ports. After he made his first trip abroad to France and Spain in 1860–1861, he returned for a more extensive four-year European tour in the early 1870s in which he spent much time in Mediterranean locales. Colman depicted the architectural features he encountered on his travels: cityscapes, castles, bridges, arches, and aqueducts feature prominently in his paintings of foreign scenes.

Colman found the exotic Mediterranean area even
more enticing than the American west.
Colman's art became more diverse late in his life. By the 1880s he was working extensively as an interior designer, collaborating with his friend, Louis Comfort Tiffany on the design of Mark Twain's Hartford home, and later on numerous Fifth Avenue beaux-arts and Victorian mansions. Colman also became a major collector of Asian decorative objects, while also writing two books on geometry and art focusing primarily on art theory. His, Nature’s Harmonic Unity: a Treatise on its Relation to Proportional Form, was published in 1912, while the second book, Proportional Form, was released five days before his death in 1920. Colman’s obituary in the New York Times describes him as a “foremost American landscape painter and noted etcher."

Along the Arno, Florence, Italy
ca. 1875, Samuel Colman


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jacob Collins

Jacob Collins Teaching a Class
We talk a lot about art, everything from how to draw a head without first starting with a circle, to the existentialism of "art for art's sake." However, once we get past the first few formative years when art instruction is deemed to be so critical that parents and teachers alike tiptoe about as if afraid to step on the young art student's fragile egos, lest we destroy their creative impulses for life; we tend not to give much thought to "what" and "how" art is taught in the upper level classrooms of high schools and colleges. It's as if all that had been settled more than a hundred years ago when such instruction became commonplace in public institutions of higher learning. In any case, we often simply consider such advanced pedagogic philosophy as of little importance in the training of young, college-level students and post-graduates. Educators tend to think of such individuals as too "set in their ways" to absorb such instructional influences.
Alumni of New York's Art Students League, ca. 1950.
Yet our branch of history is full of young artists (above)whose style, content, and thought processes have been radically altered by outstanding teachers with exceptional influence over their protégés, whose pondering minds are much more open than we might think. Along the same line, another factor in upper-level art education which we don't often consider is that, just as in politics, we find both conservatives and progressives. Also, as in politics, there is a pedagogic spectrum binding these two extremes. Perhaps that's why colleges reward graduates with "degrees." To oversimplify somewhat, conservative art schools place heavy emphasis on skill development in working with live models, plein-air painting, and three-dimensional sources. Progressive schools emphasize the creative thought processes, and virtually unlimited sources, in producing art designed to move minds, assuming that any necessary art skills have developed or will develop individually as needed. This extreme is message oriented, utilizing often radical new ideas and controversial images to capture the highly limited social attention span. If the results are attractive, even beautiful to behold, so much the better, but that element is usually secondary. Progressives deem beauty to be a fortunate byproduct of creativity. Their art is forward-looking, while conservative art instruction is oriented toward creating art of great beauty at the expense of novelty. Akin to the Pre-Raphaelites of the late 19th-century British art, such instructional philosophy holds the Renaissance as the epitome of man's artistic achievement. Beauty forms an integral part of their definition of art.
The "learn to draw and paint" school of art where ancient beauty
rules and creative genius hopefully evolves as a logical result.
The New York artist, Jacob Collins, might easily be considered the foremost proponent of conservative art instructional philosophy. In fact, he has founded his own art academy (several times), the most recent being the present day Grand Central Atelier (GCA) dating from the 1990s. Although Collins and others might not admit it, conservative art instruction has as its basis a rejection of all that we've come to call Modern Art, which, by inference, is a whole-hearted, exclusionary embrace of Realism. Moreover, that's not just Realism as defined by the work of Corot, Courbet, Millais, and other Frenchmen during the mid-19th-century, but what they term "Classical Realism," as defined by the 16th century masters. As with politics, it's "wishful thinking" in fear of "innovative thinking."

Painting the classically posed nude figure makes up
the bulk of Jacob Collins' work.
Jacob Collins was born in New York City in 1964. Since receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia College in 1986, he has studied at the New York Academy of Art, the École Albert Defois, and the Art Students League. He was the founder and director of the Water Street Atelier in Manhattan and has become an extraordinarily respected artist, teacher, and role model in the field of contemporary realism. Admirers credit him with combining a technique reminiscent of the nineteenth-century American realists with a freshness of vision scarcely encountered among today's traditional painters. Collins' works are praised for a rare unions of classic beauty and striking originality, meeting as harmonious equals.

The traditional still-life as seen by Collins
--perfection at the expense of meaning.
Collins studied art at a time when the Modern Art establishment held the reins, relegating representational artists to careers in illustration, or simply to produce their work in the shadows. Critics contend that Collins expresses the idea that art is painting something beautifully. In other words, art is little more than accurate representation. It's not interpretation, and its purpose is not to express feelings, emotions or meanings. Collins' Grand Central Atelier has sought to revive or follow, Renaissance ideals, which means the imitation of reality. So, when he talks about beauty, he doesn't mean the painting of a beautiful subject, but only a beautifully well-painted representation. Problems immediately arise with thise GCA definition and practice of art. GCA artists know how to paint, but they don't know what to paint. They have been taught to accepted the idea that art is anything you paint, any object, or slice of reality, as long as it is beautifully well-painted. Since this is obviously not what art is, and certainly never was for the Old Masters, accepting this view of art does not allow the artist to produce great works of art.

Collins' "Classsical Realism" reduces art to
an assortment of pretty pictures.
For most representational artists, the process of artistic creation begins with a source of inspiration, a photo, or something in the field of vision. It might be an idea that provides an expressive purpose and the source of meaning. Selectivity is thus an important part of the process. The artists selects the elements from whatever source that best satisfy their expressive purpose, then organizes and composes the picture plane to implement that purpose. The better the artist, the more the work of art is a recreation and an interpretation of reality, not a mere copy, as it is for GCA artists. Collins' work reflects this copyist mindset as does, unfortunately, that of his students in their attempt to short-circuit the whole creative process by minimizing the importance of selectivity, eliminating the need for expression, meaning, and interpretation. The result is a banal, mediocre realism that never aspires to anything better. It expresses nothing, means nothing, and reflects nothing.

Mere faces by formula, or sensitive portraits?

Father and son in the studio--
an apt subject ignored.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Thomas Hart Benton's Home

Just the way he left it when he died in 1975
(except for the sign in the front yard).
The street address, 3616 Belleview Avenue, in Kansas City, Missouri, might easily be mistaken for any upper-middle-class home in the city. The house is approximately 7800 square feet on three floors, containing 24 rooms, four fireplaces and a fully finished basement. The Benton family purchased the one-third acre property in 1939 for six-thousand dollars. Today the historic site is owned and managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Tours are provided that show the furnished house and studio as Benton left it when he died on January 19, 1975. (His wife, Rita, died eleven weeks later.)

Though slightly dated after some forty years, the Benton house kitchen
still appears modern and quite functional. (The photographic distortion is due to my having stitched together two somewhat incompatible images.)
As with Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, and several other 20th-century artists, we tend to think of them in terms of the distant past, born in the 19th-century and therefore living in a manner quite antique by today's standards. True, there's no fifty-inch TV hanging on their wall in their living room, and no attached garage with an electric door opener, no Jacuzzi in the master bath, nor an iphone next to the easel. But neither do we find an icebox in the kitchen, a coal stove in the living room, or a dozen candles burning in the dining room chandelier. Let's face it, any famous artist from the recent past, living and working in America during the 20th century, even by today's standards, would likely be considered wealthy, living a comfortable, if not lavish, lifestyle in accordance with the so-called "American dream." That would pretty accurately describe the American painting icon Thomas Hart Benton and his Kansas City home of forty years.

Self-portraits, 1970 and with his wife, 1922.
Finding the home of Thomas Hart Benton in Kansas City (Missouri, not Kansas) is far from easy. There are no billboards and the house is located in a residential area so restrictive zoning applies. Similarly, there are few maps featuring the historic site. Some city promotional materials don't even take note of its presence or location. I had to make up my own map (below).

The location indicated is, at best, approximate.
Finding the place is made all the more difficult in that, architecturally, the house is in no way exceptional. And, while not unattractive, with its stone and frame exterior, neither would it elicit even a passing glance as one drives by along Belleview Avenue. Built in 1903 for an electric utility executive, and sitting atop a small hill, the house has a somewhat fortress-like ambience little changed by the Benton family during their time in residence. Given the fact that the artist and his family first moved there during the war years of the 1940s, even today, in it's 1970s incarnation, there is still a restrained, conservative element in the décor. Although Benton, his wife, and children (a son and a daughter) endured difficult times during the depression when the American Regionalist painter was still struggling to make a name for himself, by the time they moved to Kansas City they could be said to have been reasonably well-off. Their home reflects this.
Inside, the word "comfortable" comes to mind.
(Ignore the tourist-gray floor protectors.)
As usual, when one sees an artists' abode, it's only when upon entering that artist's custom crafted, personal workspace that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The studio of Thomas Hart Benton is no exception. First of all it's large. Benton worked large, his mural-like canvases often measuring in feet rather than inches. Add to that his penchant for history painting and live models, the result is barnlike, light and airy, but not inviting. Here we do find an antique coal stove. With their often high ceilings and huge, north-facing windows, artists' studios are notoriously hard to heat. And as unpleasant as such a drafty environment may have been for the artist, consider the plight of Benton's often nude models. Benton is said to have commented: "Development of my art skills stopped in the second grade when a teacher couldn’t recognize a watermelon in my drawing. However, I would have definitely applied more effort if I knew that a career in art allows for unlimited hours alone with nude women, who will not complain if their features will not look so flattering on the painting. It’s art, you know."

A reflection of the man and the artist, probably in a
much neater, more organized state than when he was alive.

Thomas Hart Benton in his studio, painting one of his most famous works, The Rape of Persephone, done about the time he moved into his new home. Dating from the late 1930s, Benton's allegorical nude was considered scandalous by the Kansas City Art Institute. However, it was borrowed by the showman, Billy Rose, who hung it in his New York City nightclub, the Diamond Horseshoe. It is now owned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Karal Ann Marling, the museum's art historian, calls it, " of the great works of American pornography."


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Raphaël Collin

Morning, 1884, Louis Joseph Raphael Collin, one of
the few works in which his model was not nude.
Sometimes artists have the misfortune of being born at the wrong time. Most often this involves a period some twenty to forty years before a major war in which they find themselves either as combatants or victims, and in either case prone to dying young. However, there are wars and then there are "wars." Perhaps we use the word in a figurative sense too frequently and too lightly. Whatever the case, whether the conflict is military or philosophical, artists have and do get caught up in the resulting disturbances. The French painter, Louis-Joseph-Raphael Collin was one such artist. He was born in 1850, which would make him of military age during the Franco-Prussian war and the five-month siege of Paris in 1870-71. However, that was such a stupid, pretentious, little dustup as to be easily avoidable by any artist with half a mind to do so.
Collin struggled to adapt as Academicism fell into
disfavor during the later years of his career.
Portrait of Paul Victor
1880s, Raphaël Collin
No, the "war" Raphael Collin found himself in the midst of had to do with art, and particularly the conflict between French Academic art and the various avant-garde movements developing during the final decades of the 19th-century. Collin studied first at the school of Saint-Louis, then moved on to Verdun. From there he journeyed to Paris about 1867 where he studied in the atelier of Bouguereau and later that of Alexandre Cabanel. Collin painted still-lives, nudes, portraits, and genre pieces; thus he became thoroughly indoctrinated with Academic values, content, and painting styles. During his early years as a painter, Collin found himself on the "right" side of this art conflict--the winning side--as he developed a modest following and a comfortable lifestyle. However, he was also bright enough to realize that what and how he painted was gradually falling out of favor, seen as old-fashioned, trite, and tiresome.
Summer, 1884, Raphael Collin.
The postcard version is in black and white.
It began with Impressionism. Collin adopted some of the major color tenets into his work as his palette lightened and brightened. His style, and more importantly, his academic infatuation with the female nude however, did not change. His tastefully chaste paintings of lovely naked ladies, long the staple of the Paris salons, became the subject matter for the infamous "French postcards"--in no way obscene--but certainly salacious by 19th-century standards. They appeared especially erotic printed in monochromatic hues and passed around between "gentlemen" of all ages like baseball trading cards. In due time, Collin found himself illustrating erotic works, such as Maurice Ravel's "symphonie ballet," Daphnis and Chloe around 1890 (bottom), and later the lesbian poetry of Pierre Louÿs' Chansons de Bilitis (1906).
This painting has been known by two titles.
The postcard title, Florial, is probably the one preferred.
Collin figured prominently in artistic exchanges between Paris and Tokyo during the late 19th-century as Kuroda Seiki, Kume Keiichirō, Okada Saburōsuke, and others, studied in his studio and at the Académie Colarossi where Collin was associated. Kuroda and Kume, who subsequently assumed professorships at the Tokyo Fine Arts School, were especially instrumental in introducing to Japan Collin's academic teaching methods as well as the lighter palette, brushwork, and the plein air approach he espoused. This mentorship of the first generation of Japanese oil painters contributed to the special respect he continues to enjoy in Japan. Raphael Collins died in Paris in 1916 at the age of sixty-six.

The influence of Impressionism as well as the flowing
composition of Japanese painting can be seen above in
Collin's painting and preliminary drawing.

A Couple Embrace Tenderly Moments
after Making Love Together Forever,
an illustration from Daphnis and Chloe