Bright Light at Russell's Corners
Born: Cleveland, Ohio 1891
Died: Woodstock, New York 1948
oil on canvas
19 5/8 x 25 in. (49.9 x 63.4 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Lawrence
Smithsonian American Art Museum
1st Floor, West Wing
This 1944 artwork “Cut the Line” shows the launch of a Tank Landing Ship (LST). Mr. Benton is considered by many art critics to be the quintessential American artist of the 20th Century, and during World War II was commissioned by Abbott Laboratories to produce artworks about the Navy.
Stephan Lackner writes:
"The rhythm and sparkle of this picture are reminiscent of a Stravinsky tango. There is sarcasm, but also fun and fascination. Sharp dissonances are held together by an exhilarating "beat. "
"The colors are iridescent like an oil film on a puddle, subtly indicating Beckmann's social criticism of the "upper crust." Changeable hues form an almost poisonous harmony evocative of the life-style of those years. The paillettes on the women's dresses are typical of the early twenties, as are the flawlessly white shirts that give their shady escorts the appearance of high respectability. The people depicted here are the profiteers riding the crest of the economic upheaval in Germany. Something is rotten in this state, but the painter's impartial eye sees beauty even in decomposition. The soap bubble of a phony boom can be beautifully tinted before it bursts.
"In his drypoints and lithographs Beckmann criticized the nouveaux riches more savagely; painting in oil made him diverge from the harsh black-and-white simplification. The people who gathered in a hotel bar in Baden-Baden in 1923 impressed Beckmann with their haughty elegance, although he looked through their smooth facades and saw the cold brutality at their cores. He saw them as caricatures, certainly, but there is an admixture of admiration, too. He liked grand style wherever he found it.
"Social criticism was practically a required course for an honest artist during those postwar years. George Grosz, Otto Dix, and other painters of the New Objectivity were, for a while, Beckmann's comrades-in-arms in the unpleasant but necessary activity of muckraking. Beckmann never quite managed the vitriolic treatment that Grosz dished out to the "Face of the Ruling Class." To Beckmann, the arrogant and ruthless bankers, politicians, officers, and robber barons always remained human. He even chose to paint them dancing, which was probably the most harmless of all their activities. And he gave them strongly individuated personalities.
"The composition is beautifully organized. The ripple of the dance movement is indicated by the visual rhythm of the parallel arms, indicating the direction of the dancing couples. Seven hands point diagonally to the lower right. This strict pictorial vector, which makes the dancers swirl before our eyes, is counteracted by one hand in the lower left corner, and another in the upper right pointing upward at a right angle to the general motion. In this way the dynamic scheme becomes balanced.
"There are so many figures in the limited space that the dance floor and the back wall are hardly visible. This crowd clings together, but not from mutual sympathy. Paradoxically, these men and women are unified by their utter egotism. They know exactly what they want to squeeze out of each other-the men want sex, the women money-but they enjoy the squeeze."
McSorley's Old Ale House
15 E. Seventh St., New York, N.Y,
McSorley's earned its reputation as America's most famous bar by the 1940s, when Life magazine ran a picture story about a day in the life of the alehouse. Artist John Sloan helped push McSorley's toward celebrity with a series of paintings completed between 1912 and 1930, and whenever there was a public exhibition of Sloan paintings, business boomed in the bar - and more artists came to make more paintings. Joseph Mitchell immortalized the bar in The New Yorker, and his essays were later compiled in the book McSorley's Wonderful Saloon.
First John and then Bill McSorley used to gather the patrons at night and buy the final round before closing.
The saloon looks much today as it did 50 years ago in the pages of Life, except the walls are more cluttered with pictures, and those pictures have grown even browner with age. John McSorley founded the bar in 1854, patterning it after a public house in Ireland and calling it the Old House at Home. He changed the name in 1908, after his old signboard blew down. John McSorley, who died in 1910 at the age of 87, put his son, Bill, in charge of the bar about 1890. Bill guided it in the years it became famous, finally selling it in 1936 (he died in 1938).
First John and then Bill McSorley personally opened the bar each morning and closed it at night. It was their custom to gather patrons at closing time and buy the final round. Bill McSorley didn't drink at all; and after imbibing steadily from the time he was 20 until he was 55, John McSorley gave up drink at 55. He remained a trencherman, however, late in life forming a organization of gluttons called the Honorable John McSorley Pickle, Beefsteak, Baseball Nine and Chowder Club.
Many politicians were among the regulars, which is one of the reasons that Bill McSorley paid no attention to Prohibition, not even bothering with a peephole as he continued to serve beer. But John McSorley's eye for memorabilia and pictures of famous people gave the impression that more historical figures passed through the doors than actually did. Still there were plenty who did; for instance, Woody Guthrie sat at a table with regulars shortly before he headed off to the Merchant Marines. In 1969, McSorley's returned to the headlines when NOW attorney Faith Seidenberg filed suit to end the bar's century-old policy against serving women.
McSorley's ale came from a local brewery, and in 1934 Bill McSorley sold the Fidelio Brewery the right to brew and sell McSorley's Cream Stock Ale. Today, the Stroh Brewing Co. makes the McSorley's Ale sold at the bar and throughout the mid-Atlantic states. The beer is not the real reason to visit the bar, and we wouldn't advocate waiting in the long lines that sometimes appear on weekend nights. Then, it's nearly impossible to get a good look at the place. But on a weekday afternoon, McSorley's remains what we think a saloon is supposed to be.
We sat at a table by the front window, ceramic mugs in front of us, not long ago, each reading books. Imagine our surprise when a cat that had been lazing on the other side of the shutters bounded onto the table and then onto the floor, leaving footprints in the sawdust.
At least he didn't knock over the beers.
Art Deco: 1920-1930
Art Deco obtained its name from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes, which was held in Paris to celebrate contemporary life. The movement concentrated on an assortment of modern and decorative artistic styles throughout the 1920s and 1930s, following a discipline introduced by the numerous avant-garde paintings of the early twentieth century.
The artists that have contributed to the Art Deco movement have demonstrated varying influences in their works – from Cubism, to Russian Constructivism, to Italian Futurism. Particularly popular was the desire to illustrate the ever-increasing authority of the machine, and with it, the rise of trade, speed and technology. This was manifested in displays of geometric shapes, distortion and abstraction, infused with bright, simplified colours, as well as streamlined contours that mirrored the principles of aerodynamics.
Above all, Art Deco was perceived to be both a symbol of suave elegance in architecture and art.
Andrew Wyeth along with Norman Rockwell both got a rap from the painting world as being too much an illustrator. I don't know if it's valid or not. Their paintings are different, but I admire both their works. If you get a chance to visit Pennsylvanis, go to Chadds Ford and see the Wyeth gallery.
Alfred Stieglitz and several other prominent photographers appeared in a combined photographer/painter showing, the first of which ranked them equally in rank. Painters up to that time were thought preminent over photographers.
Stieglitz was married to Georgia O'Keefe until his death.
Jan Vermeer might have been a slow painter because he did not produce many painting in his lifetime. Experts think it was less than a hundred, more likely around sixty. He was well thought of in his lifetime, but he left a wife and eleven children in debt at his death.
Lewis Hines made this photograph in 1920. He had spent most of the early twentieth century fighting child labor by taking photographs inside the factories. He made little money, lost his home and died in extreme poverty soon after taking the picture.
I read an account about this painting that says John Singer Sargent was quite good at flattery. This person had seen a postcard photograph of Mrs. Fiske Warren and said Sargent painted her to a tee, but said the daughter was quite homely. Whatever, he was a salesman as well as a great painter.
THE POWER OF ART AND THE MIND
By Jim Kittelberger
When I have the opportunity to view paintings, rather in person, or in various media, books or the internet, I throughly enjoy it. One thought that occurs to me if I am taken by a painting and look at it deeply is that it’s not merely because it is enjoyable to my eyes, and touches something that I can’t explain inside of me, but I also am thinking or wishing I suppose is closer, that I would have had a modicum of the talent needed to be able to create something out of nothing on a white blank space that could move the viewer to an extent they would talk about it, or write about it, perhaps years or centuries later. And then sometimes I run across a painting that I can’t stop looking at. It digs further into my brain and I become part of the painting or want to know what happened to the subjects. In this painting by Mervin Jules 1912-1994 painted in 1937, it caused a flutter of anxiety to occur. What did these poor people do? The title of the painting is DISPOSSESSED, so it is obvious that they have entered the world of the homeless in a large city. It is also important to note the age of the subjects, and to realize that in 1937, there were no shelters that would take them in. Perhaps they have children that would take them in, but judging by their meager belongings, they were receiving no assistance from any children they may have had, so that would seem to be out. The depression was still going on at that time and President Roosevelt had not created any programs yet that would help them. The artist Mr. Jules has gone on to his reward in heaven, so we can’t explore his mind about his creations. What then do we do in situations like this where we become empathetic, but cannot reach in to help. Our minds will have to protract their dilemma onward and just hope that all turned out well. This is the power of putting a little paint on a canvas. It can move people in ways you never think about.
So What's Wrong with Norman Rockwell?
I have never understood why the art community looked down their respective noses at illustrators. Just a few that I recall quickly are Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, J. Leyendecker and the son of N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth. I suspect illustrators, the really good ones, take home some handy amount of change if they are still in the work-a-day work routine. But I suspect that it was and maybe still is a class thing. I ran across this in an Art for Dummies book recently, and a person of no less qualifications than Thomas Hoving, an elite art historian wrote what follows.
by Thomas Hoving, eminent art historian
In addition to an acceptance of all styles and modes of expression today there's a refreshing gradual disappearance of art critism based purely on ideology. Critics and historians are beginning to recognize that styles are simply languages with one no inherently better than another. There are fewer and fewer art critic fights and tantrums defending one style against another. There's also a forgiving, permissive mood currently gaining ground in the art world.
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), who only a decade ago was considered by most art critics to be a hopelessly mawkish illustrator of little talent and no energy, has recently been touted, even by the curator of 20th century art at New York's Guggenheim Museum (which has the subtitle of The Museum For Non-Objective Art hardly Norman's forte), as a major artistic force and potent communicator in America from the 1930's through the 1960's. I agree.
The sun is hot and vivid, and an exact time in the morning is marked by the angle of the shadows, which are deep and purplish and mellow. The waves seen close-up, appear to be nothing but dabs and slaps of the paint brush. When you move back, that signature, impressionistic optical mixture comes into play, and you see real waves whitecap in the breeze. At the correct distance, these and all the painterly elements become nature intself. These are the words of Thomas Hoving who bought this painting in the early 1970's for 1.4 million dollars for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and today that painting would fetch 20 times that amount.
STUMP SPEAKING 1854 GEORGE CALEB BINGHAM.
Stump speeches on the frontier in the 1800's were lively events. Hard spirits flowed liberally amongst the spectators. Stories were I am sure swapped along with jokes as the pols tried to woo their votes. Not unlike today when our pols fill us with far-fetched stories and promises that are as believeable as Dr. Seuss, but not nearly as entertaining.
I have written before that I think illustrators get a bad rap sometimes, amongst the 'artists' in the art world. The picture above which appeared obviously in American Heritage magazine is a great picture. It is a treat for the eyes and it is evocative which is just exactly what it was supposed to do. I wish I knew who did it, but whomever it is, I for one like it a lot.
Rene Magritte 1898-1967. Time Transfixed. I've read some definitions of what Magritte was thinking when he painted what he did. I'm not educated enough to understand what they're saying or what Magritte was painting. What I do understand is that I smile when I look at his works. That's good enough for me.