This Week’s Book Review – Painting War

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) After my review appears on Sunday, I post the previous week’s review here on Sunday.

Book Review

‘Painting War’ a fascinating, meticulously researched work

By MARK LARDAS

May 25, 2019

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” by Kathleen Broome Williams, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 312 pages, $29.95

George Plante was a commercial artist before World War II. From Scotland, he was in London illustrating advertisements when World War II started. He wanted to serve his country.

“Painting War: George Plante’s Combat Art in World War II,” a biography by Kathleen Broome Williams, tells what happened next.

Plante discovers that the RAF, the Navy and even the Army were uninterested in him in the spring of 1940. A navy recruiter suggested Plante volunteer for service as a radio operator aboard merchant ships. Wartime requirement tripled the needed number of radio operators. Plante applied, went through training, and served from 1941 through 1943 as a radio operator in the North Atlantic.

It was the most dangerous period of the war to serve in the Merchant Marine. Plante’s ships, tankers, were twice torpedoed and sunk (the second sinking occurred while he was on leave awaiting the birth of a child). Plante spent his spare time between watches painting. His artwork came to the attention of the British Information Service. The BIS’s role was shaping American public opinion in Britain’s favor before American entry into World War II. The BIS wanted Plante’s artwork and Plante for propaganda purposes. The America-loving Plante made a great interview subject.

After Plante’s second tanker sank, Ian Fleming recruited Plante into the Political Warfare Executive. Plante finished the war in the Mediterranean illustrating propaganda leaflets and newsletters. The material was parachuted into the Balkans and Occupied Italy. Plante’s activities remained classified for years.

Once the war ended he returned to life as an adman, enjoying a successful career. He retired to the United States, settling in Hilton Head.

Kathleen Williams, a professional historian, was also Plante’s stepdaughter. She grew up entertained by her stepfather’s amusing stories of his wartime experiences, but in the universal manner of children, thought them just stories. After his death, realizing their significance, she set about writing a serious biography of his life. The result, “Painting War,” is both a fascinating and meticulously researched work. It also shows that sometimes the best history comes from the stories you grew up hearing.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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I. M. Pei 102 RIP

(H/T instapundit.com and althouse.blogspot.com)
The famous architect I. M. Pei has died. I think his most famous building now is the Pyramid at the Louvre. In the following video I. M. Pei talks about instead of prejudice many professors and college students helped him in the pre-WWII Northeastern America. This was well before diversity training and safe spaces. I like architecture and therefore architects so his passing especially saddens me.

Have been to some of his buildings? What are your thoughts on his passing?

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Analyzing an Illustration

I’ve been looking through the illustrations of Arthur Getz, one of my favorite New Yorker cover artists. Getz painted 213 covers for the iconic magazine between 1938 and 1988. In addition to illustration work, he painted cityscapes and landscapes – ‘fine art’ sold through galleries – although he sometimes signed them with his middle name, Kimmig, because at the time a fine artist was not supposed to cross the line into commercial art.

A particular favorite of mine is his cover from 1957:

Art by Arthur Getz. Prints available through https://condenaststore.com/art/arthur+getz

The moment it captures is utterly American, isn’t it? To the left, the bustling, spangly city with silhouetted crowds in frenetic motion, and in the foreground the relaxed parking attendant, contentedly oblivious to the high life a few blocks behind.

The skill and techniques of this artist make the painting especially appealing to me. The blazing city lights in the distance are warm, but it’s cold moonlight fluorescing down on the garage attendant – that’s the opposite of what you’re taught in painting class! Warm colors are supposed to come forward and cools recede – but Mr. Getz makes this inversion work beautifully. The covers of the magazine our fellow’s reading are slightly bright with the reflected light bouncing off the pavement – reflected light is a detail that a  master’s eye notes, and novices often omit. The splashes of neon red far off in the city are balanced by that rusty red wall to our guy’s left; there’s even the faintest red haze in the air above the cars in the garage, a delicate touch but it offsets all that chill October air.

And our attendant’s pose, balancing on the chair – another master stroke.  Let me explain: when you draw a standing figure and you want it to look steady, not tipping over, you draw it so the supersternal notch – that’s the central notch between your left & right collarbone – is directly over the inner ankle of the leg bearing the weight of the body – this makes the figure looks solid.  Well, Mr. Getz has this gent perfectly balanced: if you imagine where his supersternal notch is, and draw a line straight down, it’s directly over the spot where the chair leg bearing the man’s weight touches the pavement. This young acrobat is not going to tip over!

The contrasts in tone all around our nonchalant hero seal the deal for me. After your eyes take in the whole scene, where does your attention go? To the crisp cold page edges of that magazine and that tiny cusp of face and finger illuminated by the October moon. That’s intentional – they are painted with a razor edge and surrounded by blacks and neutral grays to draw your gaze like a pinpoint. The same goes for the swatch of city on the left, the contrast is so high between the yellows and blacks that you can’t not look at them – but even though those marks are skillful, they are vague, to give an impression of buildings and lights. The painting strokes in and around our parked friend’s figure, instead, are descriptive, deliberate and masterful.

There’s sometimes a bit of friction between illustrators and fine artists, over whether illustrations deserve the same esteem that framed paintings are given.  If you ask me, this garage scene by Arthur Getz could hang in a museum next to Hopper’s Nighthawks any day.

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Ex Libris: Comforts, Adventures, and Creatures

Could there be a better bookplate for January?

It has taken several months, but I’ve now checked most of the books around here for good bookplates.  This one takes the prize.

Fred and Emilie were “my kind of folk;” I want to be in that rocker by that fire, with them for company, whoever they are or were.  I like the brick apron in front of the fireplace, too; the small fire-place that surely is a Rumford that throws the heat out into the room; the massive chimney that stores the heat; the brass dogs and set of tools.

Who built the house?  Who picked out, dragged home, split, fit, and finished that log for the mantel? Just think: you could grab ahold of one of those home-fashioned corbels while leaning over to stir the fire and at the same time enjoy the classical-Roman look of that big finial, or cap, on the fire-box.  That finial looks slotted, as though designed to let more warmth into the room from the back of the fire-box.  Think that’s what it is?

And is that a globe on the mantel? It bears a design that might be North and South America.  It looks a bit smushy, though, up there in the shadows. Think that is an artifact of the woodcut technique?

The bookshelves sag to one side, and Fred and Em would certainly have more volumes spilling out all over, including lying horizontally on top of the others, not just to keep them off the floor but also to keep things organized by subject.  And they would want them handy to the fireplace and the rocker.  What are they reading tonight?

This 1904 true-life thriller has for complete title Pathfinders of the West,  Being the Thrilling Story of the Adventures of the Men Who Discovered the Great Northwest:   Radisson, La Vérendrye, Lewis and Clark.  So of course it starts off with the fur country:  trees, wolf-howls through crystal skies, sleds and sled dogs, and lots of snow and ice!  We need blankets for our rocking chairs.  You just sit right there, honey, I’ll throw on another log.

I don’t know who Roger Hirsch is or was, but I love him just the same.  Look at the bookplate he chose for his copy of the Modern Library’s Sixteen Famous British Plays!  I hope he read plays aloud at home, and with friends.

The spectacular hat of this dwarf I suspect has two horns, like a jester hat.  What think you? The book under his arm has those plates at the corners, bison leather or metal, and a cover that looks like deeply-embossed leather or maybe wood.  What is he reading?  Every thing about him is just as gnomish as it ought to be, with pebbles underfoot, mushrooms sprouting up, gnarled trees; patches on his clothes, – and reading glasses!?!

And then the frame has the most wonderful creatures all haloed about with vines!  Up top we have Chuck and Nancy, then a bear, a rooster, a reindeer or some such, a giraffe, some kind of bird (those who can see birds, please identify it,) a superlative ram, another bird (mayhap a heron?) a leaping rabbit, and a woodpecker.  Our cares amount to nothing when there are such books to be read and such friends to be met.

This is not a bookplate at all, but a painting by Heinrich Schlitt (fl. 1870s.)  It is Gnom mit Zeitung und Tabakspfeife (Gnome with Newspaper and Tobacco Pipe.)  The gnome is sitting under a mushroom and looking up at a jar, and in the jar is a frog.  What this means I leave for you to determine.  Stare into the lovely warming flames of the fire and figure it out.

Those blue flowers on the left we have around here; we call them Bluebells of Scotland.  If spring comes, they will start up again at the front of the house.

Christmas 1898 – Aunt Rimmie to Leon H. Teitenberg.  Why, thank you, Aunt Rimmie!  The Treasure of the Seas is the perfect gift for a lion-hearted lad in 1893.  Check the first part of the Table of Contents:

A Mast in Mid-ocean!  Buccaneers!  Spanish Galleon!  Leon, your friends will want to borrow this book.  You had better put a bookplate in it.  Oh, look, so he did:

Previous posts on bookplates are here and then again here.  Are there more favorite specimens out there in Ratburgia?

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The Grimshaw Formula Works for Me

English painter John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-1893) had a good thing going in his landscape themes (urban, suburban, dockside, moorland; London and West Yorkshire) and comfortingly reliable set of items for subject: the winding road, the lone human being making a way down it, gloaming coming on.  He cranked out quite a few of these, apparently, and every time I discover one I am, you might say, ensorcelled. Who could fail to be caught? Who hasn’t at some time journeyed alone to an uncertain future, with no particular welcoming place to be seen on either hand?

Autumn Evening, above, is sometimes called Autumn Evening at Ritson. The only “Ritson” I can find is a Ritson Road in London. Grimshaw freely recombobulated setting, buildings, walls, and other structures to show what he imagined in the kinds of light that he obviously found fascinating.  So who knows exactly where this is?  It is likely no exact place, so we go along for the walk or the ride, to enjoy the light and the aesthetic harmony of all the man-made objects.

Late October, above, is available at Sotheby’s for anybody who wants to buy me a Christmas present.  Oops, never mind; it has been sold.  But we can still read the catalogue note:

“John Atkinson Grimshaw painted a series of views of suburban streets in London and Yorkshire from the 1870s onwards and in the 1880s he painted some of his most beautiful pictures of this subject. The pictures of a solitary female figure, a maid dressed in a cap and shawl and carrying a basket of provisions or laundry, making her way down a leaf and puddle strewn road, are the most emotive and typical of the artist, who was unrivalled in his depiction of the evening gloaming and the dawning morn. . .

Late October depicts an unidentified view and is probably an amalgam of views in North Yorkshire, rather than a specific identifiable location. As Alexander Robinson states, ‘Just as myth and legend were to be plundered for subjects, so actual and historical houses could be put together to form an archetypical mansion’.”

In November Moonlight, Apollo is putting his chariot in the garage; Artemis is taking over the controls of the world. Her silver light makes those moon shadows, while firelight from cozy rooms indoors rivals hers.  Have we an invitation to that house?

Above is Moonlight Wharfdale. At first all I can think of is Jane Eyre, wandering around Yorkshire moors, against my advice, with no money and no plan.  No person in village or farmstead giving her work or assistance, after intercepting a pig’s second breakfast she abandons civilization altogether to scrabble around on the moorland.  Cold, wet, famished, and losing it, she sees a small light in the darkness:

“My eye still roved over the sullen swell and along the moor-edge, vanishing amidst the wildest scenery, when at one dim point, far in among the marshes and the ridges, a light sprang up.  ‘That is an ignis fatuus’ was my first thought; and I expected it would soon vanish.  It burnt on, however, quite steadily, neither receding nor advancing. . . ‘It may be a candle in a house’ . . . “

But never mind Jane as she goes to peep in the window; just look at that moon and her light!  Whistler said of Grimshaw:

“I considered myself the inventor of nocturnes until I saw Grimmy’s moonlit pictures.”

And, yikes, what are those dark things appearing to whirl around the moon’s disk? Hypotheses:

1.  Grimshaw had cataracts, and is here projecting, or perhaps issuing a cry for medical help;

2.  There really are witches, and they hang out in the north of England or Scotland a lot, loving it on those evenings when they can mount broomsticks and whirl around the moonlight;

3.  There really are clouds like that sometimes. Anybody know what they are called?

Many thanks to the people at the Art Renewal Center in New Jersey, for promoting realism in painting.  To do that is to preserve our culture and save individual sanity, objectives of real import in comparison with provision of this opportunity for piffle.

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Boy with “Snopek”

Now here is something you don’t see every day.  Or do you?

This is “Chłopiec niosący snop” – “Boy Carrying a Sheaf.”

snop is a sheaf, of wheat or barley originally, in Europe.  At harvest, the peasants glebae adscripti walked along in a line, each with a scythe, cutting the stalks and binding them into sheaves. If they were smaller ones they would be stacked three or four together, upright, so that the rain would mostly drain off.

Below are stooks of barley sheaves in Somerset, England. (Thanks, Bdk, for the upload to Wiki.)

After a few good drying days they would be brought into the barn. In the quaint and far-off times, this was done by taking the biggest snop each child could carry, and sticking it on his head.

Aleksander Gierymski painted “Chłopiec niosący snop” in 1893 in a Polish village called Bronowic. Looks like a good dry day, doesn’t it? By the shadow I would say it is late morning, which it would have to be for the dew to have burned off. The field is otherwise empty as much as we can see, so maybe they have been doing this for a few days, planning their harvest festival all the while.

Leszek Lubicki maintains a fascinating blog, Obrazowo rzecz ujmując,(“Figuratively Speaking”) for his discussions of Polish paintings of late C19 and early C20.  Lubicki includes in what I call his Snopek post, his essay on this one painting of Gierymski, a photo of the painting as displayed at the National Museum in Wrocław.

I hope they all got their harvest in on time. Around here we have gotten our corn into the silos for another year without any human injuries due to accidents.  Those do occur from time to time, as people work long hours with powerful machines.

Americans continue this activity for decorative purposes, and use American cornstalks, as they would.  These sheaves turn up this time of year in the oddest places:

It is good to have things snug before fall hits. I just learned a new jingle about that:

Na Edwarda
jesień twarda.

“From St. Edward’s Day [October 13th]
the fall is hard.”

After working it out with both hands, I construe that at the mid northern lattitudes, about 120 days after the summer solstice, the atmosphere has cooled down enough to notice, especially when the wind picks up. Why does it happen so suddenly?

As Mr. Bennet says in Pride and Prejudice, “I leave that for you to determine.”  Stay snug.

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Ex Libris: Bookplates Maritime

A book about bookplates inspired me to look around home for interesting specimens I’d not noted properly. The yield so far has been low, especially compared to the yield of “Discard” stamps and scrawls. But we set such thoughts aside for now, and look at a few bookplates with seafaring theme.

Fielding’s The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews, published in reassuring solidity of hardcover in just the right proportions about 120 years ago by John W. Lovell, reveals this prize on the inside front cover.

Endpaper color looks teal like that indoors and through the scanner; in sunlight it is hunter green. Why is that? It’s beautiful but mysterious.  And see how the bookplate was cut unevenly?  The edges, though straight, are not parallel. The owner wisely set the plate in the book with the edges of the engraving parallel to the edges of the book cover.

The engraving border is all oak leaves and piled-up fruits and nuts. I like the way the two images are bound to each other and to the border with those fantastical bindings; they appear suspended from the border like signs on the frame of some signpost.

Was Harry Kent White a horseman? Who invented that font with its bits in the Hs and spur on the A?

That ship is a prize-winner of imagination!  The sails are shaped to match the hull. An inner hull, white, appears to bear a row of shields as though somebody is going a-Viking. But the nets are out above them, which is nice if a man goes overboard, but what if the call comes to Up Shields and the silly net is in the way?  But I am not the proper critic. Let us have Jane Austen’s Admiral Croft, issuing judgment on a ship in a painting in a Bath shop-window:

But what a thing here is, by way of a boat!  Do look at it.  Did you ever see the like?  What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockle-shell as that?  And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be.  I wonder where that boat was built? (laughing heartily) I would not venture over a horsepond in it.

The tall ship, below, looks less scornworthy; would you agree?  With luck some Ratburgian expert will name all the sails for us. I like the tall rectangular bookplate for the tall ship; I like the shimmering water reflecting the hull; I like the friendly stars on display between the fat ribbon  and the lower bunting.

Guy Kelsay was our friend. A Midwest Quaker lad, he suffered asthma badly, and so after his second year at college in the 1930s signed on to an oil tanker to chip paint and scrub decks.  As they left harbor, and pollen, behind, he felt his lungs free of the grip of asthma for the first time in his life.

He set ashore and returned to campus only to be told that he would not be allowed to return, the sensibilities of the young people at his Quaker college needing protection from the undoubted coarseness of his soul acquired out in the rude world.  He became a landsman then, a nurseryman, but never ended his romance with things maritime, and collected many books on seafaring and adventuring.

My 1966 Little, Brown hardcover copy of Hornblower During the Crisis was evidently owned by a proper reader.  I salute the Verplaetse family for the notations of book in series (#4) and time setting of the action of the novel.

Nice bookends depicted on reading table, there!  The little seated reader on the right appears to be nodding off.  Who does that?

That was the one single maritime-themed bookplate in the entire Hornblower collection. As a consolation prize, Commodore Hornblower offered up this prize, bestowed on it by a woman after my own heart. Blessings on Ruth M. Hill, whoever she is.

So, shall we be treated to a peek at some other people’s bookplates?  I hope so. It’s your turn. In any event, I do recommend looking through books with a bookplate search in mind; something good is bound to turn up.

Next time we will see some landscapes that came up in the search.

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The Weight of Sacrifice

NY sculptor Sabin Howard describes the WWI memorial sculpture he is commissioned to create for Pershing Park in Washington, DC.  This video is 12 minutes long but he walks you through the maquette of the sculpture in the first 6 minutes, and even if you just watch that much, you will see it’s breathtaking and classically beautiful. It will be 65 feet long when completed, and a magnificent memorial to our soldiers of the Great War; it’s title is “The Weight of Sacrifice.”.

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Shameless Blog Self-promotion

Last month, Ray and I took a two-week cruise to Hawaii, round trip from San Francisco, with Hillsdale College.  Over at my personal blog, RushBabe49.com, I am documenting that trip with  pictures and commentary, in 1-2 day bites.  You are all invited to drop by and read my posts.  The latest describes our day in Lahaina, Maui (day 9 of the 15-day cruise).  Scroll down for earlier posts, starting with Day One when we left San Francisco.  Sea days were spent in lectures given by some people you are sure to be familiar with.  Each post starts with the image below.  Please visit and comment!

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Book Mention: Ex Libris, The Art of Bookplates

The British Museum and Martin Hopkinson put together this 2011 coffee-table book that is lightweight and small enough to read in bed. Miniature engravings reproduced in near-original size are pleasing to study, especially in their chronological arrangement. The art-historical trends become apparent as the reader makes little imaginary visits to new friends of days gone by and is invited into their libraries. Because the themes are personal, the invitation extends to their homes, workshops, studios, professions, livestock, countryside, and sailboats.

When printed books were cutting-edge technology, the wealthy owned the books, discovered a need for marking their valuable property, and commissioned their artist friends to design bookplates for them. Dürer’s 1524 bookplate for “the leading Nuremberg humanist” Willibald Pirckheimer covers the entire front inside cover of his 1516 copy of Cicero’s De Rerum Natura. This is apparent because the author chose to illustrate with a photograph of the bookplate printed in the little book; in Hopkinson’s book the leather edge of the Cicero cover is nicely visible all around. Why, it’s almost as good as being there, holding it, and taking a direct squint at the thing.

Zooming along to the 19th century, we see puns and cultural fads. For this William Harcourt Hooper bookplate I’ve scanned the page to highlight the page design, which is consistent throughout the volume. The book owner’s name was John Cargill Brough. The bird in the image is a jay. So the pun is
” ‘jay sea be rough’ “, in case anyone here likes puns. Also, the author makes reference to “the Japoniste style”. Who knew? It must have been a strong trend, seeing as The Mikado opened in London in 1885.

At the turn of the 20th century, Paul Türoff ran up this etching for his friend the Doctor’s bookplates.

By the 1930s, many of the images are often spare and clean-lined (Starting from Zero! ).  Thomas W. Nason designed this for his friend who made “voyages to Europe to etch cathedrals”.

This book is plumb full of treasures of this kind. Image search on an artist’s name often turns up more examples; it’s nice to have an author and curators show the way like this.

By the 1920s, inexpensive commercial bookplates had become readily available; book owners filled in the blank with their names instead of commissioning special printings.

Do any Ratburgers have favorite bookplates? I’m going to while away some time looking around here to see what I’ve got. Should anything interesting turn up, it will appear in a later post.

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TOTD 2018-3-28: Modern Art

I don’t know about you but sometimes it is hard to understand why people like certain art objects. I wonder what do you think of this?

Please give your opinions in comments and click below.

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