Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stripes, Checked Suits and Camouflage La Bohème

Anon, cover photograph of The Sketch (1919)
Above This photograph (attributed to the Western Newspaper Union) was published on the front cover of The Sketch magazine in London on Wednesday, June 18, 1919 (No 1377 Vol CVL). The headline beneath it reads DISPLAYING HER 'STRIPES," BUT HIDING HER HEAD: ZEBRA EFFECTS IN HOSIERY AND PARASOL. A clarifying caption states—

The vogue of the stripe—which has affinities, perhaps, with the new "dazzle" designs born of naval camouflage—is very prevalent among the votaries of summer fashions. Here is an example, which was carried out in blue and white, from the other side of the Atlantic. It would turn a tiger or a zebra green with envy.

While it is tempting to say that stripes and other high contrast optical patterns were caused by the adoption of dazzle ship camouflage during World War I, there are also reasons to conclude that the practice is quite a bit older than that. There is a section related to this in Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939 (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), pp. 151-152—

[If one were on the lookout for Bohemian artists, a telltale attribute would be] an ostentatious pair of checked trousers or a checked suit, which cropped up like the measles wherever artists gathered together. These dazzling checkerboards of Op art squares danced down the legs of poets, painters and poseurs from Chelsea to Paris. Paul Nash dashed off an illustration to [Dora] Carrington, showing himself squared up like a bistro tablecloth. "I have just got a check suit that will stagger humanity. My word it is a check suit." They were really very loud—the point being, that nobody could mistake you in a crowd. The Punch cartoonist who wanted to depict a Bohemian artist invariably tricked out his legs in check. When he became more confident, [Mark] Gertler wore them instead of evening clothes, while the painter Michael Wickham teamed his with an orange-sprigged waistcoat. [Walter] Sickert got himself to look like a bookie in checks and a bowler. Evelyn Waugh overdrew at the bank to purchase a pair of checked trousers in 1925, and Dylan Thomas dressed in loud check suits because the thought they made him look like a successful scriptwriter. My father, Quentin Bell [of Bloomsbury Group fame], used to wear blue and white checked trousers bought from a cooks' outfitters in Old Compton Street, but the pattern gradually disappeared beneath incrustations of plaster.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Camouflage Through Purposeful Shadow Disruption

Paul Strand, Porch Shadows (1916)
Above Photograph by Paul Strand, titled Porch Shadows (1916)•. Courtesy Library of Congress. Public domain.

Strand was one of a number of photographers before and after World War I who relied on a well-known shadow effect that resembles the patterns of venetian blinds. Other examples are easily found, notably in the photographs of Max Dupain••, Harold Cazneaux, Alexander Rodchenko, and Laszlo Moholy Nagy.

As mentioned in an earlier post, disruptive shadow effects are also frequently found in paintings in the latter part of the 19th century, especially Impressionist. Among the most compelling is John Singer Sargent's masterful Breakfast in the Loggia (1910), which is reproduced below.

John Singer Sargent, Breakfast in the Loggia (1910)

In the early years of World War I, military camoufleurs began to apply disruptive patterns to vehicles and other equipment, to purposely break up their shapes. Soon after (probably as a consequence of a proposal by British painter and camouflage officer Solomon J. Solomon), it became evident that disruptive patterns can also result from the shadow effects of the overhead sun. Nets suspended overhead, garnished with scraps of fabric, could break up any components below, without applying any paint. We've talked about this earlier as umbrella camouflage.

Of course, this was nothing new. Today the same effect is seen on a tennis court, when the shadows of the chain link fence break up the shape of a lost ball in the grass. In an issue of the Illustrated London News (August 31, 1918, p. 233), this disruptive shadow effect was demonstrated in a photograph (shown below) of a group of soldiers inspecting a supply of ammunition, stored beneath a garnished net.

At the end of the war, non-military examples of shadow disruption were published in an issue of The Sketch (May 22, 1919, p. 209), with the headline: SUN PICTURES! LIGHT EFFECTS IN A FEZ BAZAAR: A Picturesque Network Effect of Light and Shade: Interesting French Photographs of a Covered Market at Fez. One example is shown below.

Finally, it is only fitting to conclude with one of the best-known photographs of shadow distruption (below) by the Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko, titled Girl with a Leica (c1933).

There is some disagreement about the proper orientation of Paul Strand's photograph. Should it be in vertical format, as shown here, or should it be horizontal instead, with the circular table in the upper right corner? It is most commonly reproduced as a vertical.
•• Australian art historian Ann Elias has written extensively on Max Dupain and the purposeful use of shadows in photography and camouflage.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scandalous Dazzle Camouflage Swimsuits 1919

Above As we've discussed in earlier posts, much fun was had by pundits and the public in 1919 when young British women began to appear on the beach in Margate, in swimsuits based on wartime dazzle camouflage schemes. We've published news photographs of a few of these before, but of late have located clearer, more detailed examples. The one shown above and two versions of another one (below) were widely published at the time by various European, Australian and American news sources, Le Modes, The Sketch and New York Tribune among them.

We also discovered a wonderful pen and ink drawing (artist unknown, with credit to the Daily Paper) that appeared in a mid-1919 issue of The Sketch, as reproduced below. It shows a well-fed beach custodian, looking in amazement at three women in dazzle camouflage swimsuits. Beneath the headline of "DAZZLE" DAYS is the following caption—

Even the bathing costume has been reborn by the war, and camouflage is the order of the day. 


Godawful Poesy and Sorolla Ship Camouflage Plan

Above This is the cover of the printed sheet music for a World War I-era song titled The Camouflage March (1918). The words and music are by Horace B. Blan (a New York attorney). There is an online version of the original at the Library of Congress website here that can be downloaded as a public domain pdf. We would reprint the lyrics were they not so poorly written.

Note the dedication to the employees of the Standard Shipbuilding Corporation. Not surprisingly, in the background at the bottom is a drawing of a dazzle-camouflaged merchant ship.


Below A hypothetical dazzle-camouflage plan, in the style of Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923).

Dazzle scheme ala Sorolla

Monday, September 5, 2016

Futurist Views: Nevinson, Bertram Park and Dazzle

C.R.W. Nevinson (1919)
Above Of the World War I British war artists (assigned not as combatants, but as eyewitness artistic observers) undoubtedly one of the finest was a so-called Futurist painter and printmaker named Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, who is nearly always listed as C.R.W. Nevinson (1889-1946). His dramatic portrayals of aerial flights are especially compelling, as in the colored lithograph above. Titled Banking at 4000 Feet, it was initially published as a colorplate in J.E. Crawford Flitch, The Great War: Fourth Year: Paintings by C.R.W. Nevinson (London: Grant Richards, 1918).

As striking as Nevinson's work may be, neither it nor he were ever immune to being satirized in the public press, who always had trouble accepting the use of disruption, distortion and abstraction in styles of Modernism (Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism). This attitude persisted (and still persists, to large extent) even after art defenders claimed that those were precisely the methods employed in the design of disruptive wartime camouflage, called dazzle-painting.

For example, reproduced below is an innovative photographic portrait of Nevinson, which appeared in The Sketch (May 21, 1919, p. 143), on a page that bears the headline A "CUBIST" CUBED—BY THE CAMERA. Beneath the photograph, there is a smaller heading that reads Nevinson—Reduced to His Own Artistic Formula.

Portrait of C.R.W. Nevinson by Bertram Park (1919)

As it turns out, this experimental photograph was made by none other than Bertram Park, a well-known British society photographer (somewhat avant-garde himself), whom we have previously blogged about in relation to his photographs of the outlandish costumes at the Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball. Below the Park photograph, we are provided with the following caption—

Before the war, Mr. C.W.R. Nevinson was associated with the Futurist movement in art, but his peculiar style of cubism and realism combined was not developed until 1916, when he held his first War Exhibition, and was appointed an official war artist. He has painted pictures for the Canadian War Memorial, and many of his works have been bought by museums—at home and abroad. The above photograph of the Cubist artist by a camera converted to Cubist convention was taken recently, before Mr. Nevinson sailed for America. It is, to say the least, unconventional.


That same year, in the August issue of Current Opinion, Park's photographic portrait of Nevinson was reprinted (as shown below) in a two-page feature on Nevinson's assertion that Cubists and Futurists Had a Presentiment of the Coming Conflicts. Appearing in the magazine's section on Literature and Art, the headline for the article was HOW THE WAR VINDICATED "MODERN" METHODS IN ART

As quoted from an interview in the Times, here is part of what Nevinson said—

This war did not take the modern artist by surprise—it only knocked the old fellows, who were tied up to old ideals of art, off their feet. I think it can be said that modern artists have been at war since 1912. Everything in art was a turmoil—everything was bursting—the whole talk among artists was of war. They were turning their attention to boxing and fighting of various sorts. They were in love with the glory of violence. There were dynamic, Bolshevistic, chaotic.

…Everything was being destroyed; canons of art were everywhere sacrificed. And when the war actually came, it found the modern artist equipped with a technique perfectly able to express war.

…Now that art has had its orgy of violence there has been an abrupt reaction. The effect of the war has been to create among artists an extraordinary longing to get static again. Having been dynamic ever since 1912, they are now utterly tired of chaos. Having lived among scrap heaps, having seen miles of destruction day after day, month after month, year and after year, they are longing for a complete change.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dazzle-Painted Lilies of the Field—and Pajamas

A view of camouflaged ships in dock by R. Guy Kortright (1919)
Above A painting of dazzle-painted British ships, by (Reginald) Guy Kortright (1877-1934), a Canadian-born British painter who served as a navy lieutenant in World War I. With John Everett and (Lawrence) Campbell Taylor, he was assigned not to design ship camouflage schemes, but to record his observations of such ships, through various onsite paintings. As evidenced by the one above, the results were inevitably striking.

Other sources of full-color reproductions are cited in an earlier post. The image shown here was published (along with two others by L. Campbell Taylor) in a page of full-color images in The Sphere on March 22, 1919, p. 259, with a heading on the page that reads WHEN THE DOCKS PUT ON RAIMENT AS THE LILIES OF THE FIELD. On the page before is an unsigned half-page article on DAZZLE-PAINTING AND ITS PURPOSE.


Unsigned, "Other People's Troubles: A Paris Letter" in The Sketch (October 13, 1920, p. 412)—

Paris is dazzle-mad. I think that every woman who has the courage to wear these dazzle furs that I see deserves the Legion of Honor. They are striped with great slashing streaks of white on black. Hats are dazzle hats. Dresses are dazzle dresses. Pajamas are dazzle pajamas. Everywhere are to be seen these angular lighting effects. The decorations most in favor in the very private and particular room are dazzle decorations. I seem to be existing in a weird Futurist dream.

Below A cartoon also from The Sketch (May 21, 1919, p. 226), attributed to the Daily Paper, for which the accompanying caption reads—

A Futurist friend of mine is designing his own coffin. He means it to be some funeral.

Anon, A Futurist Coffin (1919)

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball 1919

The Sketch (March 19, 1919)
Among artists, designers and architects, there is a long tradition of sponsoring annual costume balls, fancy dress balls, or Beaux-Arts balls (not unlike the Mardi Gras), often amusingly raucous events, for the purpose of fundraising. At a Beaux-Arts ball in New York in 1931, for example, some of the city's most famous architects came dressed in costumes that were modeled after their own famous buildings. Among artists, given their fabled Bohemian bent, these parties typically turned into riotous fests of uninhibited and inebriated revelers, dressed in astonishing costumes (or, sometimes, barely dressed at all).

One of these events was the annual Chelsea Arts Ball in England, which the Chelsea Arts Club (founded in 1891) had sponsored at the Royal Albert Hall. The annual celebration was interrupted by World War I, which began in 1914, and only near the end of the war, in 1919, was it decided that the Chelsea Arts Ball could resume. This time however the theme chosen was the disruptive crazy-quilt patterns that had been applied to wartime dazzle-painted ships, intermixed with the public's bewilderment toward emerging styles of Modern Art: Cubism, Futurism, Vorticism, Surrealism and Dada. As a result, the 1919 fancy dress ball (held on the evening of March 12, 1919) became known as the Chelsea Arts Club's Dazzle Ball.

The event was widely covered by newspaper and magazine articles, as had been an earlier American "camoufleurs' ball" that took place in the winter of 1917 at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC, and a camoufleurs' "carnival ball" (sponsored by the League of American Penwomen) that was also held in Washington in February 1919. We've discussed these events in earlier blogposts, including an account of a comparable dazzle ball (modeled after the Chelsea Arts Club festival) that took place in Sydney AU on October 7, 1919.

In its March 22 issue, the Illustrated London News featured a spread of illustrations of the costumes and the dancing that had taken place at the Chelsea Arts Club's Dazzle Ball. A few days earlier, in its March 19 issue, The Sketch included on its front cover photographs of costumes that premiered that night (see cover reproduced above). At the bottom of the cover is a headline that reads THE GREAT "DAZZLE" BALL OF THE CHELSEA ARTS CLUB; HUMAN CAMOUFLAGE, and below that is this paragraph—

After an interval of five years, the Chelsea Arts Club once more gave a great fancy dress ball, last Wednesday, March 12. The Albert Hall was decorated for the occasion with a wonderful scheme of "Dazzle," as used in naval camouflage during the war, and a great many of the costumes were designed on similar lines. A good example is seen in the left-hand lower photograph, showing Mrs. Bertram Park (neé Yvonne Gregory), who is well-known as a painter of miniatures.

That portrait of Yvonne Gregory Park (she herself was also a photographer), which was taken by her husband British photographer Bertram Park, is easily the best-known photograph of a costume from the Dazzle Ball. Equally wonderful is the photograph at the bottom right of the cover, showing two women, one draped in the American flag, the other in the Union Jack.

In the same issue of The Sketch (listed by HathiTrust Digital Library as in public domain in the US) is another full page of costumes, on page 353 (as shown below), this time with the page headline ON THE RAZZLE DAZZLE: COSTUMES AT THE CHELSEA ARTS and then at the bottom of the page, a smaller second headline reads: THE "DAZZLE" BALL OF THE CHELSEA ARTS CLUB, AT THE ALBERT HALL: SOME NOTABLE FIGURES, followed by this paragraph—

The Sketch (March 19, 1919)

As already mentioned, the Chelsea Arts Ball on March 12 was a wonderful success. The Albert Hall presented literally a "Dazzling" spectacle. Our central photograph shows Miss Margot Kelly, who recently left "Oh, Joy," at the Kingsway, to appear shortly in a new American comedy. She is wearing a Columbine dress of her own design. To the left of her is Mrs. Barribal, wife of a well-known artist whose work is familiar to our readers, in a costume which she made from an armchair cover.

On page 355 of that same magazine, there is a brief article (attributed to "The Worldling") that is titled The Chelsea Arts Ball and reads as follows—

It was a case of "dazzle-dazzle, joy and jazzle" at the Albert Hall last Wednesday night, when the long-heralded folic of the Chelsea Arts Club came off. As all the world knows, the scheme of decoration was based on the art of "Dazzle," as applied during the war to the disguising of ships and the discomfiture of U-boats. The same artists who did that work for the Admiralty—Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, Lieutenant Cecil King, [American] Captain Burnell Poole, and Sergeant [Walter E.] Webster—had undertaken to camouflage the Albert Hall in similar style for the great occasion. The background was a "dazzle" battleship, with a "dazzle" sunset, and all the boxes were hung with muslin draperies in "disruptive" colors. The "dazzling" of the dancers themselves was left, of course, to their own individual ingenuity, and many artists had designed costumes for the camouflage of the human form. The effect was a whirling scene that delighted the hearts of the Vorticists.

In advance of the Dazzle Ball, The Sketch had published a page of preparatory drawings of four of the anticipated costumes, on page 292, on March 5 (in those drawings, Yvonne Gregory Bertram's striped costume is referred to as the "jazzle"). Following the event, a further, briefer note (underscoring the contributions of Cecil King and Walter E. Webster by name) appeared on page xii of the March 26 issue of The Sketch.

Apparently, The Sketch was enjoying a lively reader response to its features on the Dazzle Ball, and indeed it returned to the subject again in a cartoon (attributed to Thorpe) on p. 427 of the June 25 issue. Reproduced below, the headline of the cartoon reads: THE EVE OF THE FANCY-DRESS BALL, while the caption beneath it is worded IT'S A WISE CHILD THAT KNOWS ITS OWN MOTHER.

The Sketch (June 25, 1919)

There's much more to this—but we'll save it for a future post.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dazzle-Painting A Model Ship in Liverpool

Above On the National Museums Liverpool blog, there is a wonderful article on the construction and painting of two wooden dazzle-painted ship models. They were made in 2015 by ship and model conservators Chris Moseley and David Parsons, who reproduced two dazzle designs that originated with Norman Wilkinson in 1917. The site is all the more interesting because at the bottom it links to further photographs in a Flickr album called Making model dazzle ships.