Saturday, April 19, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Thomas Hart Benton

Benton camouflage kiosk at the National WWI Museum (Kansas City)
Well, maybe it's stretching it slightly to say that American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was a camouflage artist, because he didn't actually design ship camouflage during World War I. Nor was he responsible, like so many other artists, for actually applying the paint to the ships. But he was very much involved in ship camouflage while serving in the US Navy, because it was his assignment to travel around the bay at Norfolk VA, and to make visual records of the camouflage designs of any ships that he observed, including those of other countries.

Benton's service as a camouflage artist is being acknowledged, from April 19 through October 12, 2014, by a small kiosk exhibition on the lower level Research Center area at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City MO. The display was initiated by a non-profit organization called the Friends of the Benton Home, and designed and produced by Joe Boeckholt, a Kansas City graphic designer. This year is Benton's 125th birthday anniversary. We were pleased to contribute by providing a few of the image files. The installation looks wonderful, judging from the on-site photographs above. Below on this post is an announcement of the event on the museum website.

In a letter to a friend, here's what Benton had to say about his wartime experience (as quoted in Henry Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original NY: Knopf, 1989)—

I am now officially listed as [a] "camoufleur" and I have a nice quiet room in Norfolk and an office in which to work. There are two more 'camoufleurs' in the office with me, a photographer and a young would-be artist [possibly Louis Bouché, who had the same assignment]. Twice a week I leave the office at Norfolk with the fellow who takes the photographs. We go on board a 40-foot motor boat and cruise around the bay making sketches and photographs of newly arrived camouflaged ships. The sketches are finished back at the office (the colors of the camouflage are put in) and along with reports giving name, type, tonnage, etc., of each ship are sent to Washington to be filed. This is done so that if the ship should be torpedoed or lost in any way all the facts concerning her appearance etc. can easily be found.

Scans of two of Benton's ship documentation reports (including his colored renderings of ships) are included in the current display.

RISD Camouflage | SS Matilda Weems

In October 2013, we posted two views of a World War I dazzle-camouflaged Matilda Weems, as photographed on 23 August 1918. Recently, we were delighted to learn from Claudia Covert, scholar and librarian at the Rhode Island School of Design, that the library at RISD has (in its extensive camouflage collection) prints of the original dazzle-painting scheme that was applied to that ship. Above is a photograph of the starboard side of the painted ship, with the starboard plan below it. Similarly, below on this page is the photograph of the port side, and the matching port side plan. It's interesting to notice the differences (especially on the port side) between the diagram and the painted ship. What a wonderful discovery. Ship diagrams are reproduced by courtesy of Special Collections, Fleet Library at RISD, Providence RI.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Thayer in Relation to Conservation & Wildlife

Above Title slide for an illustrated lecture on Abbott Handerson Thayer in relation to nature, conservation, and wildlife preservation, presented on March 28, 2014, at a conference titled SUSTAIN: Nourishing Practices in Art and Design at St. Ambrose University in Davenport IA.


Anon, from a brief news article titled "Competent Critic" in the Pittsburgh Press, July 13, 1912—

An art student was copying one of Abbott H. Thayer's paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one day when a plainly dressed man, who looked as if he might be a mechanic, approached and, posting himself  at the young man's elbow, watched him as he labored over his subject.

"You've got the angle of the mouth wrong, and the left eye too oblique," remarked the man decidedly.

The student took no notice of the unsolicited criticism.

"There is too much yellow in your flesh tint," continued the man.

Still no reply from the student, who ostentatiously slapped on more yellow in the highlight on the nose.

"Did you hear what I said?" questioned the man.

"Yes, I heard," responded the student, turning and frowning at his modest looking critic. "What do you know about it anyway?"

"I ought to know something about it," was the smiling response. "It was I who painted the picture."

Friday, March 21, 2014

Abbott Handerson Thayer | His Life and Work

Abbott H. Thayer Camouflage Experiments (c1915)
Above Detail from an index page for a newly posted website on American artist, naturalist and pioneering camoufleur Abbott Handerson Thayer. Concurrent with the opening of a new exhibition of Thayer's camouflage-related work at the Army and Navy Club in Washington DC, a full-color catalog is now available online.


Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) was an important American artist in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and his paintings were commissioned by some of the foremost art collectors in the United States. He was also a lifelong wildlife advocate whose artistic focus never strayed far from his personal fascination with the natural world. In the 1890s, he began to publish articles in scientific journals on his developing theory of protective coloration. Through observing wildlife, he discovered that the coats of many animals employ color patterns that conceal them in their natural environments. He noticed, for instance, that the flecked coloring of woodland birds resembles the dappled effect of sunlight seen through branches and leaves. Plumage, according to Thayer, “is a sort of patchwork of pictures, subtly intermingled, each an epitome of some particular type or detail of woodland scenery.”  He called this phenomenon a “beautiful law of nature.” >>more>>

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Intrepid Museum Camouflage Exhibit | NYC

Above Promotional panel for Masters of Disguise: The World of Camouflage, on view at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in NYC through August 24, 2014.


From Mark Yost, "Review of 'Masters of Disguise,' at the Intrepid: An exhibition of camouflage in nature and in wartime" in the Wall Street Journal (March 18, 2014)—

The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, the historic aircraft carrier moored on Manhattan's West Side, could have taken the easy way out for its latest exhibit on camouflage. It could have pulled photos out of the archives showing ship camouflage in World War I and II—something most people are familiar with—found a nook on the main hangar deck to display them, and been done with it. 

What Eric Boehm, the museum's curator of aviation and aircraft restoration, did instead was give visitors a thorough and engaging history of camouflage in both the natural and the man-made world. >>more>>

Saturday, March 1, 2014

More WW1 Camouflage Sheet Music

Sheet music cover for Camouflage (1917)
In earlier posts, we've talked about camouflage-related sheet music from World War I. Above is the cover (artist unknown) of yet another (awful) song called Camouflage: Nut Song No. 2 by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Anatol Friedland (1917). The lyrics read as follows— 

This war has brought us trouble,
And lots of humor too,
For life is just a bubble,
I'll prove that fact to you;
Our friends abroad have coined a word
that probably we've never heard,
It sounds so funny and absurd,
It surely is a bird.
Oh, Dan, Oh, Dan,
you dictionary man.

Camouflage, Camouflage, that's the latest dodge,
Camouflage, Camouflage, it's not a cheese or lodge,
We'll say a Yankee trench is here,
The artist paints a keg of beer,
That's bound to bring the Germans near—
that's Camouflage.

Camouflage, Camouflage, that's the latest dodge,
Camouflage, Camouflage, it's not a cheese or lodge,
You buy a Ford that's second-hand,
You paint it red, it looks so grand.
And near a "Stutz" you let it stand—
that's Camouflage.

Camouflage, Camouflage, that's the latest dodge,
Camouflage, Camouflage, it's not a cheese or lodge,
Now Missus Cohn is fifty-six,
With all the young boys she likes to mix,
She dyes her hair and paints her cheeks—
that's Camouflage.

Camouflage, Camouflage, that's the latest dodge,
Camouflage, Camouflage, it's not a cheese or lodge,
Now La Follette he talks too much,
To me he's funny as a crutch,
They say he got himself in dutch—
that's Camouflage.

Friday, February 28, 2014

General Pershing and WW1 Army Camouflage

Pershing Inspecting Artillery Camouflage (c1918)
You may remember an earlier post in which we recalled the day when US President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of War Newton Baker, Commanding General John J. Pershing, and even (by happenstance) the painter John Singer Sargent were among those who witnessed a demonstration of camouflage trickery. That took place in late 1917 at Camp American University, on the outskirts of Washington DC.

Reproduced above is a somewhat later photograph, in which Pershing and Baker are again inspecting camouflage, this time in the form of a large artillery piece that has been painted in abstract high contrast disruptive designs. The photograph may have been taken in France, where it was published in Le Miroir on April 7, 1918.

It was an order from Pershing in 1917 (widely published at the time in American newspapers) that called for volunteers to enlist as camouflage experts, called camoufleurs. But later, when camouflage units were actually formed, he appears to have grown less convinced of their worth. In particular, there is the following story about Pershing and camouflage in a World War 1 memoir by artist-writer and US Army camoufleur Henry Berry, in Make the Kaiser Dance (Garden City: Double Day, 1978), pp. 210-211—

[Arriving unannounced to inspect the troops, US Commanding General John J. Pershing] goes up and down our lines, shaking his head. I guess we weren't military enough for him. When he reached me [the company's camouflage expert], he really seemed appalled, particularly when he saw the sketchbook. "What do you have there, Corporal?" "Oh, it's just my sketchbook." "Sketchbook, sketchbook," he thundered, "what the hell do you think this is, an art school? You're in the United States Army, soldier. Give me that sketchbook." Then he handed it over to the lieutenant. I never saw it again.

In fairness to Pershing, Corporal Berry also says, a few pages earlier (p. 206)—

None of us, including the captain, knew a goddamn thing about camouflage, but it got us out of all the drilling and what have you.

On a separate occasion, another US Army officer said in a moment of utter frustration—

Oh god, as if we didn't have enough trouble! They send us artists!

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

WW1 Ship Camouflage as Hughesual

Above Photograph by Steve Ibbitson of British artist Patrick Hughes, holding an Ames rotating trapezoid window. From John Slyce, Patrick Hughes: Perverspective (London: Momentum, 1998).


In 2011, when British artist-writer Patrick Hughes published a book of his artwork, word play and related contrivances, called Paradoxymoron: Foolish Wisdom in Words and Pictures (London: Reverspective Ltd, 2011), we blogged about his paradoxes, both visual and verbal.

Still amazingly productive, now he's come out with a wonderful documentary film, produced by Jake West, a rich engaging memoir called Hughesually: The Art of Patrick Hughes.

At a certain point in the film, Hughes begins to talk about the rotating trapezoid window of American artist and optical physiologist Adelbert Ames II, and its relevance to his own perspective-related research. It was Hughes who devised an ingenious means (which he calls "reverspective") of painting perspective scenes on odd-shaped inverse surfaces, which causes the painting to visually bend as the viewer's point of view is moved.

In that previous post, I  talked about the link between Hughes' paintings, Ames' illusory window, and the adoption in World War I of a variety of ship camouflage called dazzle painting.

Last August, at an international conference at the Sydney College of the Arts, titled Camouflage Cultures: Surveillance, Communities, Aesthetics and Animals, I suggested an analogical link between the participant-observer's view of the various Ames demonstrations [see news pictorial below] (looking through a monocular peephole from a fixed point of view) and the periscopic point of view of a German U-boat commander (as shown in the slide illustration below).

News feature in Herald-Journal, Logan UT, July 4, 1954

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Baseball's Outlawed Camouflaged Bat

Goose Goslin with his camouflaged baseball bat
Above A news photograph (c1932) of Leon Allen "Goose" Goslin, who played left field for the St. Louis Browns, holding what was said to be a "camouflaged bat." In the midst of a terrible year, he began using it as a means of raising his batting average. Designed by Willis Johnson, the team's secretary, it was simply a standard baseball bat with green and white lengthwise stripes. We have no idea what it was supposed to accomplish, but according to news reports, Johnson was planning to design comparable bats "decorated with cross-rings, blocks and triangles," for use by other team members—until the use of so-called "zebra bats" was forbidden.


Anon, from USING CAMOUFLAGE (reprinted from Collier's magazine) in the Milwaukee Journal on January 11, 1918—

Seldom has an exotic word been so suddenly assimilated into our daily American speech as has the French camouflage. It was only a few months ago that we fist saw it mentioned in our more erudite publications. Then some newspaper man found out what it meant, and used it in a story. Sporting writers, always scratching about for news with which to bolster up the epics of a slow season, were among the first recognize its adaptability and soon it appeared in every well-ordered baseball story. From there it spread to the funny pages, where the artists, in spite of considerable trouble with the spelling, found it a boon. It is now a recognized expression in all walks of life, from the scholar, who uses it roguishly and with precise accent—as if it were something of his coined for the occasion—to the man who calls it "camooflag" and who throws it in to add color to an account of how he pused a policeman into the river.

What is the explanation of the mushroom rise into popularity of this soft-sounding word borrowed from the French? Cynical as it sounds, may it not fairly be said that the word "camouflage" epitomizes the majority of our personal actions throughout the day, and that by electing it to readily to membership in our language we are unconsciously hailing it as the expression of a common expedient? Not that we are all leering hypocrites. But for the man who hides behind is paper in his car seat on the way to his job—a job which he lose in short order if it were ever to be discovered how really little he knows about it (and this applies equally to his boss and his boss' boss), as well as for the woman who smiles as she sends her man to France, is not camouflage, to borrow another phrase from the same prolific source, le mot juste? Some of our camouflage is criminal; some of it is noble, but for the most part, it is a weak little piece of acting, trying to pass ourselves off for all kinds of things which we are not, affecting poses or affecting lack of pose, and playing, day in and day out, the great universal game of bluff in a harmless sort of way. Try checking up for one forenoon your actions and speech with what you are really thinking.

Town & Country Car Camouflage

Town and country camouflage (1940)
The following news article, titled CAMOUFLAGE OF CARS: Must Be Different from Services, appeared in the Glasgow Herald (Scotland) on August 12, 1940—

The Minister of Transport has made an Order prohibiting as from August 25 the use on any highway by an unauthorized person of any vehicle so painted or otherwise treated as to cause it to resemble a camouflaged vehicle in the service of the Armed Forces.

The Ministry advise the use of any neutral color other than the grays and khaki adopted by the Services. Glossy surfaces and light colors should be avoided.

A method advocated by the British Industrial Design Group, which may appeal to car owners of an artistic temperament is that one half of the car, divided longitudinally, should be painted to harmonize with the country and the other half with the town.

In an air attack the car, if it is in the country, can then be driven up against a hedge or bushes with the town camouflage screened, or, if in town, close to a building or wall with the country background hidden.

A photograph of this town and country camouflage scheme (shown above) was published, with the headline TOWN AND COUNTRY CAMOUFLAGE FOR BRITISH AUTOS, in the Pittsburgh Press on September 15 of the same year. The caption for the photo reads—

As a war effort contribution the British industrial designers have worked out a method for camouflaging private autos. One side of the car is painted to blend with "town" backgrounds, the other with country. In the picture a "town" merges into a building background.


Car camouflage has not always proven successful. The October 11, 1943 issue of the Deseret News (Salt Lake City UT) featured the following story, with the heading CAMOUFLAGE GOOD TO CERTAIN POINT

DENVER— Pvt. [John Doe] was preparing today to return to the the army's camouflage school at Camp Maxey TX for some more lessons.

Pvt. [Doe], masquerading as a bed, was arrested in Denver for questioning in connection with the possession of a weirdly painted automobile, reported stolen from an officer at Camp Maxey.

Officers of the auto theft division said they trailed [Doe] to his room, but on searching the premises they could find no trace of the soldier. The police then sat down on a bed to ponder the whereabouts of [Doe], and suddenly the bed collapsed and out scrambled the soldier.

[Doe] said he had utilized his army training and "protective screened" himself when he heard them enter his room. 

Prior to the failure of his bed disguise, Pvt. [Doe] had had quite some success as a camouflage artist. He told police that he had "tired of army life" last August, stepped unnoticed into an army officer's car, and drove, still unnoticed, out the camp gates.

Hearing a radio broadcast, in Liberal KS, that he was wanted. [Doe] decided to paint his car according to army camouflage standards. However, the strangely painted car was noticed by police and led to his arrest.


Here's yet another example, titled CAMOUFLAGE JAILS HIM, from the Milwaukee Sentinel on August 23, 1960—

NEW YORK—Police said a gunman who robbed two cars knew nothing about camouflage.

He had blond hair, wore a yellow shirt and drove away from the holdups in a bright yellow car. Two patrolmen spotted the car and arrested [John Hancock] 30, on charges of robbery and illegal possession of a weapon.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Camouflage Artist | Jan Gordon

Jan Gordon (1888-1944), née Godfrey Jervis Gordon, was a British author, artist, musician and lecturer. With his wife Cora (Turner) Gordon, he toured various countries, observing, writing, drawing and collecting folk music, in the course of which they called themselves "vagabond artists." There is a website about them called the Jan and Cora Gordon Pages.  There is also an online pdf biography, and a photo gallery.

In 1917, Jan Gordon served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), during which he worked at the Royal Academy with a small unit of camouflage designers, headed by Norman Wilkinson, on the development of "dazzle-painting" or dazzle ship camouflage. In 1918, he described all this in detail in an illustrated two-page article titled "The Art of Dazzle-Painting" in Land & Water (December 12, 1918), pp. 10-11 (see reduced page images above and below). The first page includes an illustration of a British ship, the Industry, which was purportedly the first ship to which camouflage was applied under Wilkinson's supervision. The second includes a photograph of a model of the dazzle-painted RMS Olympic.

The Gordons first visited the US in 1927, and, as part of an extensive tour, spoke on December 3 about "modern art" at the Carnegie Lecture Hall, at the invitation of the  University of Pittsburgh. The talk was reported the following day in the Pittsburgh Press (December 4, 1927) in an article titled SHOCKS IN MODERN ART USED UP, PAINTER SAYS: Nothing Left to Stir Public, Declares Noted Briton, Designer of Camouflage in World War. Gordon is quoted as saying—

The public may expect no new shocks for a long time. It can't shock. There is nothing left.

The Gordons are described in the article as "dyed-in-the-wool rovers…known for their wanderings as well as their art." They travel around the world, "acquiring something from each country," and can "now speak fluently eight languages." In addition, "they can play all the queer guitars of all the countries of their travels. They go about the country collecting native tunes."

Later, when Jan Gordon died in London in 1944, at the age of 61, an obituary in the Glasgow Herald (February 4, 1944) described him as having "used his combined knowledge of science and aesthetics to make important contributions to the design of dazzle painting on ships [during WW1]."

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USS Cambria | Camouflaged Ship Model

USS Cambria ship model
Above As of this posting, there is an online listing by Skinner Auctioneers of a scale model of the World War II Attack Transport USS Cambria (Sale Number 2652M, Lot Number 166), painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme. The description reads as follows—

Scale Model of the Attack Transport USS Cambria, c. late 20th century, 1/8 scale model painted gray with black camouflage, in an inlaid wooden case on wooden stand with a glass and brass bonnet, built by modeler Stephen W. Henninger as a private commission, ht 60, lg 70 1/2, wd 19 1/4 in.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Abbott Thayer Camouflage Exhibit

New Abbott Thayer exhibit in Washington DC
Above The Army and Navy Club Library Trust Committee, with support from the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art, is sponsoring an event of unique and corresponding interest to both the fine art and the military communities.

Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921) was a renowned artist and naturalist, who is also widely considered to be the "Father of Camouflage." One of the country's preeminent American painters at the turn of the 20th century, Thayer was a lifelong wildlife advocate whose artistic focus never strayed from his personal fascination with the natural world. His 1909 publication, Concealing Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, is still to this day considered among the most innovative and thought-provoking treatises on animal camouflage. It is also due in large part to this writings that American, French and British camouflage units were formed during World War I for the first time in history.

Opening March 15 and continuing for six weeks, an exhibit of Thayer's paintings and drawings will showcase rarely exhibited early camouflage studies for naval vessels and military uniforms, as well as Thayer's landscape and wildlife studies from which his concepts were born.

The Army and Navy Club will mark the exhibit opening with a special reception for members and invited guests, featuring a panel discussion on Thayer's interdisciplinary influence on art, science, and the military, and the controversial aspects of military camouflage in the 21th century.

Special Guest Speakers Lee Glazer, Associate Curator of American Art, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Roy R. Behrens, Professor of Art and Distinguished Scholar of Camouflage History, University of Northern Iowa. Martin Stevens, Evolutionary Biologist, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter. Simon Stephens, Curator of the Ship Model and Boat Collections, National Maritime Museum, London. Richard Meryman, Author of Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life, and American art scholar.

Exhibition, Evening Lecture and Roundtable Discussion Saturday, March 15, 2014 at The Army Navy Club, 901 Seventeenth Street Northwest, Washington DC. 

Reservations Required Contact Megan McCarthy, Director of Membership for reservations and information at MMcCarthy [at] ArmyNavyClub or call (202) 721-2091.

Dress Code for this event is Jacket and Tie, comparable attire for women.

The Army and Navy Club Library Trust works to display, collect and restore military artwork and books in order to enrich public understanding of the many historical treasures and artifacts that are in its possession. This event is the first in a series planned by the Library Trust Committee to fuse Art, Science and Military subjects. In lieu of an event fee, please consider a tax-deductible gift to the trust.

Exhibit on view through April 14, 2014.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

BBC | World War 1 Dazzle Camouflage

BBC website on WW1 ship camouflage
From a new informative blog post on dazzle ship camouflage at the BBC's iWonder World War One Centenary site—

In 1917, on a patrol ship in the dangerous waters around Britain, the artist and illustrator Norman Wilkinson had a brainwave. As a Royal Navy volunteer in World War One, he had become all too aware of the threat from Germany's u-boats.

Wilkinson decided he could use his artistic skills to protect Allied ships. He realized that it was impossible to paint a ship in camouflage that would hide it from the sights of a submarine commander. Instead, he proposed that the "extreme opposite" was the answer.

Rather than trying to make a ship vanish on the ocean waves, he developed a radical camouflage scheme that used bold shapes and violent contrasts of color. His purpose was to confuse rather than conceal. more>>>

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Truly Dazzling WW1 Ship Camouflage

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Above There are countless examples of astonishing dazzle camouflage schemes from World War I (as well as World War II, despite spurious internet claims that deny it), but this must be one of the finest. It's a photograph of the starboard side of the SS Australglen, a British Commonwealth cargo ship (c1918-19). Below on this page is a close-up view of the wonderfully elaborate pattern on the ship's bow. The original photograph, made by Allan C. Green, is in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.

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Anon, from CAMOUFLAGE BLAMED FOR AUTO ACCIDENT in the Toledo Blade (Toledo OH) on February 17, 1943—

An unintentional camouflage resulted in injuries to Alberta Scharf…she changed in a suit filed in Common Pleas Court yesterday. She asks $10,000 from the Motor Express…as the result of a collision [on] Fitchland Avenue, February 22, 1942.

"The color, shape, construction and height of the truck, with the contour and topography of Fitchland Avenue, blended with the roadway, foliage, trees and shrubbery to make the unlighted truck almost invisible," she charged.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Dazzle Painter | John Everett Revisited

John Everett (c1918), Lepanto
Above We've talked about British painter John Everett before. Last month, we featured the poster that advertised an exhibition of his Paintings and Drawings of the Camouflage of Ships that was held at the Goupil Gallery in London in 1919. Prior to that, we also reproduced his painting of the SS Sardinian in a dazzle-painting scheme.

We've now been fortunate to find two issues of a contemporaneous British weekly magazine in which a number of the paintings in that exhibit were reproduced in color. They were published in a magazine called Land & Water in the first two issues of February 1919. One, titled Lepanto, is reproduced above, while others are included below in this posting. They are interwoven with the text of a brief article in the same magazine (February 6, 1919, p. 31) by Haldane Macfall* titled "The Dazzle-Painter." Here is the article in its entirety—

The exhibition of paintings by Mr. John Everett at the Goupil Galleries will bring the camouflaging of our ships home to land-lubbers in a way that nothing but the reality could surpass; and they will in many ways be a surprise to such as see them. But the problem of disguise in color has been compelled upon us in pretty severe fashion by this shattering war; and it was a wise move on the part of the artist or his directorate to have a preface written for the catalog of the display by a sailor-man to explain the intention. Yet, even so, and before we wholly grasp the skill with which Mr. Everett has put the thing before us in his paintings, it is just as well to try to get at the "meaning of the act."

John Everett (c1918), Oil Tanker Off Greenwich
Of course, the whole idea of escaping notice or detection from enemy or quarry is seen throughout nature. The stripes or spots of snakes or cats, or the cat tribe, would seem, when seen individually and torn out of their natural surroundings, to be almost a willful act of nature to assist detection and give warning rather than to disguise. And precisely this same impression is given on first view of these gorgeously decorated camouflaged ships. Practice and theory, however, are as often not in the same boat; are, indeed, poles apart. As a matter of fact, camouflage is as remarkable in its paradoxes as fear. And its paradoxes were not wholly hidden even from Napoleon's day; for we know that, with his consummate grasp of things, he experimented in the visibility of color for uniforms, and discovered black to be one of the most vulnerable hues.

John Everett (c1918), Coronada
John Everett (c1918), A Bit of Black and White Dazzle
John Everett (c1918), Evening at Greenland Docks
 More recent experiments, before camouflage was compelled upon us by modern warfare, had already revealed some very extraordinary facts—especially to those of us who had to train men in musketry. For instance, it was found that if a man in a scarlet tunic were without the white straps of his accoutrements, he made a more solid target for the "bead" of the sharpshooter's rifle than if the scarlet were broken up with the stripes and crossings of the white straps. I think it may be stated almost as a law that a solid color comes nearest to the most deadly target—a dark silhouette. As a grim old musketry sergeant used to put it, it is "more restful to the shooter's eye."

John Everett (c1918), American Transports Coming to England
Johgn Everett (c1918), SS Onward in Dock
Now, whilst the guns, for instance, on land were best fogged from observation by camouflage, this problem was not quite so easy for the sea-folk. The sea-going camouflage artist had to wash out all land laws and discover the whole business anew. First of all, the main object of true camouflage, invisibility, had to go by the board. The light made invisibility pretty questionable; a light sky behind any ship converts it into a silhouette. The painter soon found this out; but his endeavor discovered to him a fact almost as important, and on that fact the camouflaging of ships was largely developed. Nothing could reveal this to the landsman better than the art of John Everett in these paintings, in which he has displayed the beauty that camouflage has wrought upon modern shipping in an age that we are wont to look upon as lacking in color and romance. The fact may perhaps be most simply stated somewhat thus: The painting of a ship upon the sea in stripes, or violently contrasted masses employed with skill, curiously enough makes it prodigiously difficult to make out her movement and intention of movement, to make out exactly how she is steering. As Lieutenant [Jan] Gordon neatly puts it, "Dazzle-painting attains its object, not by eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing his judgment." It perplexes the submarine as to the ship's course, its range, and its size. Everett has deliberately treated these dazzle-painted ships with realism and set down his impressions without qualification; and the result is a convincingness that is untainted by any suggestion of trickery or special pleading.

John Everett (c1918), Russian Steamer
* Haldane Macfall (1860-1928) was a British military officer, who, oddly enough, was also an artist, book designer, art critic, historian and novelist.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

SS Durham Dazzle Camouflage c1919

Above Port side (top) and starboard side of the SS Durham, an American cargo ship, painted in a dazzle camouflage scheme. The designs on the two sides of the ship are purposely different from one another, in the hope of increasing the enemy gunner's confusion, when observed through a U-boat periscope. The original photographs, made c1919 by Allan C. Green, are in the collection of the Victoria State Library AU.


Anon, from LITERARY NOTES in the Evening Post (Wellington NZ), Saturday, May 31, 1919, p. 16—

People who cannot imagine what practical advantage could be derived from camouflaging ships should read Sir Henry Newbolt's description, in Submarine and Anti-Submarine, of the extraordinarily confusing effect it has when seen through the periscope of a submerged submarine. "You look long and hard at this dazzle ship. She doesn't give you any sensation of being dazzled; but she is, in some queer way, all wrong—her proportions are wrong, she is somehow not herself, not what she ought to be. If you fix your attention on one end of her, she seems to point one way—if you look away at her other end, she is doing something different. You can't see the height of her funnels clearly, or their relative positions. But, with care, you decide she is coming about southeast, and will therefore be your bird in two minutes' time…The bird ends by getting well away to the northeast. Your error covered ninety degrees, and the camouflage had beaten you completely…But this ship is nothing of a dazzle, the commander tells you—he can show you one whose cut-water seems always to be moving at a right angle to her stern!"

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Everett L. Warner Aerial View of NYC

Everett L. Warner, New York From a Sea Plane (c1919)
Above Everett Longley Warner, New York From a Sea Plane (c1919). Pastel on paper, 14 x 11 inches. As of this posting, this artwork is available for purchase at MME Fine Art in New York.


About the Warner pastel sketch above, we were surprised and delighted to find it online. We'd seen it reproduced before, but had never seen it framed. When I showed the frame to William Adair at Gold Leaf Studios in Washington DC, he replied that it is typical of a Boston-area "Murphy-style frame," so-named because of the work of American artist and frame designer Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867-1945). As a painter, Murphy was primarily known for his portraits and landscapes, but he also did some wonderful floral still lifes. His papers are in the Archives of American Art.

When I saw Murphy's name, I realized I had heard it before, and that he was somehow connected to wartime camouflage. Indeed, that seems to be the case. In an online biographical note at the National Academy Museum website, it states that "during World War I he worked as inspector of camouflage for the US Shipping Board." During the war, ships in the Boston Navy Yard were being painted with various camouflage schemes by artists and others. Artist Philip Little from Salem MA (whom we've posted on before) was prominent in that group and was surely well-acquainted with Murphy. Little (and probably Murphy as well) was in direct contact with Everett Longley Warner, who was serving in Washington DC at time, as head of the US Navy's team of artists who designed the camouflage patterns required of all merchant ships, as regulated by the US Shipping Board.

Now back to the wonderful Warner pastel on this blog page. Here's what Helen K. Fusscas wrote in an exhibition catalog titled A World Observed: The Art of Everett Longley Warner 1877-1963. Old Lyme CT: Florence Griswold Museum, 1992—

In June 1919, although the war was over and his skills in camouflage were no longer needed, Warner had still not been discharged. He conceived a scheme whereby his last few weeks in the service would be helpful to him as an artist…As a result Warner spent three or four weeks being flown daily in US Navy seaplanes over New York City and the Eastern seaboard painting small sketches in oils from the air to be enlarged later in his studio…He completed several dozen fairly complete sketches, perhaps the first paintings ever done during actual flight.

Warner was soon discharged from the service. His first thought as a civilian was to enlarge enough pictures of flight to make an exhibition.…In a burst of enthusiasm he quickly completed three large paintings from the sketches…New York From a Sea Plane [is] the only one of this series known to have survived even as a sketch…

Warner exhibited his aerial paintings frequently, but the excitement that he had hoped to stir up never materialized. He discovered that few people new or cared what the land looked like from the air. Totally discouraged by the indifference with which his excursions into this new field were received, Warner gave up the idea of painting aerial views…[He] finally painted two out and burned the other.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Abbott Thayer, Zebras and Ship Camouflage

Source Wikimedia Commons
Above Photograph of zebras on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania in 2005.

Rudolf Arnheim (Parables of Sun Light, 1989)—

Nothing is more humbling than to look with a strong magnifying glass at an insect so tiny that the naked eye sees only the barest speck and to discover that nevertheless it is sculpted and articulated and striped with the same care and imagination as a zebra. Apparently it does not matter to nature whether or not a creature is within our range of vision, and the suspicion arises that even the zebra was not designed for our benefit.

Zebra Swallowtail | Megan McCarty Wikimedia Commons


Anon, from WIRTH BROTHERS' CIRCUS in the Sydney Morning Herald on April 5, 1922—

Wirth Brothers expect to have their finest menagerie to date for their forthcoming reopening at the Hippodrome, and several new arrivals were exhibited yesterday to pressmen. The new arrivals include three lion cubs born at Melbourne six weeks ago. A young lion directly from Zululand, where it was captured in the jungle, and a beautifully marked leopard, 9 months old. There are several African baboons, some velvet monkeys, and two young zebras, whose regular stripes are strikingly reminiscent of naval camouflage. But the most interesting newcomer is a wart hog, the first, it is claimed, to be shown in Australia. This peculiar animal has a hippopotamus-like head, quite out of proportion with the size of its body, and a long mane which stands upright when the wart hog is enraged. The menagerie will include four elephants, four lionesses, one lion, two pumas, one leopard, three bears, and one tiger.


USS Patterson (n.d.) in dazzle camouflage during WW1

Below is a news article found recently that claims that Abbott Handerson Thayer had received permission in 1915 to design a camouflage scheme for the USS Patterson. Really? Even if he had permission, did he himself actually carry it out? Not to our knowledge. On the other hand, as evidenced by the photograph above, someone applied a camouflage scheme to the Patterson perhaps at some point later (since the US did not declare war until 1917). Besides, it doesn't look much like a zebra to me.

This brief article (a news filler) is puzzling in another way. It implies that Thayer preferred plain gray ships, instead of painting them totally white. But in 1916, he published a lengthy article in the New York Tribune, passionately recommending white as the best color for ship camouflage. After all, he argued, the Titanic collided with an iceberg precisely because white is hard to see at night.

Anyway, here's the article from THE ZEBRA IS EXPLAINED in the Milwaukee Journal on December 19, 1915 (reprinted from Popular Science)—

Abbott Thayer, a prominent American artist, has devoted many years to a study of the colors of animals. He claims that each animal is colored by nature to protect itself against its own particular enemy. The zebra's coat is designed to confuse the enemy most dangerous to the zebra.

Working on these same lines, Mr. Thayer says that it is a great mistake to paint our battleships a plain gray. Although the war paint is much more suitable than the white paint used before the Spanish-American war, even the gray color is visible at a great distance. To prove his point the artist obtained permission to paint the torpedo boat destroyer Patterson according to his ideas. Long, wavy lines on the gray war paint attract much attention when the slim ship is close at hand, but when she steams away from the observer she suddenly seems to disappear, as the wavy lines blend perfectly with the ripples and waves on the surface of the ocean.

Friday, January 31, 2014

New Book on Military Deception

Above The cover of one of the latest books on the subject, a wide-ranging massive anthology (586 pp.) of important essays, articles and book chapters on camouflage and other aspects of military deception: Hy Rothstein and Barton Whaley, eds., The Art and Science of Military Deception. Boston: Artech House, 2013.


The book includes a chapter from our own FALSE COLORS: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002), with the title "Now You See It, Now You Don't: Camoufleurs, Conjurers and Pickpockets." In introducing it, this is what the editors say about FALSE COLORS—

Simply the best all-round introductory book on camouflage. A brilliant fulfillment of the promise of the author's previous 1981 book on the subject. The book not only gives us the theory that ties deception to art, design and war, but extends its reach to encompass con games, magic, and perceptual illusions in general. Consequently, it is perfect for beginners and a finishing school for veteran camoufleurs.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

WW1 Commonwealth Ship Camouflage

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Above Dazzle-camouflaged British Commonwealth transport ship SS Australford as photographed by Allan C. Green (c1918). Digitally adjusted. Original in collection of Victoria State Library AU.


American artist Thomas Hart Benton, quoted in Richard Cork, A Bitter Truth: Avant-Garde and the Great War. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1994, p. 193—

[Working as a camoufleur during WW1] was the most important thing that, so far, I had ever done for myself as an artist. The mechanical contrivances of buildings, the new airplanes, the blimps, the dredges, the ships of the base, because they were so interesting in themselves, tore me away from all my grooved habits, from my play with colored cubes and classic attenuations, from my aesthetic drivelings and morbid self-concerns.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Camouflage Paintings | Pia Dehne

© Pia Dehne 2011
In the late 1960s, when we first began to write about art and camouflage, there wasn't much interest. But in recent years, the subject's popularity has grown phenomenally, and now it seems a commonplace for artists or academic scholars to be engaged, in one way or another, in camouflage-related research. Some of the results are fascinating, while, not surprisingly, a lot of what is being done is neither interesting nor innovative.

Among those whose art pertains to camouflage, I find of particular interest a series of paintings (oil on canvas) by German-born American artist Pia Dehne. One of those works (titled Red Leaf Hunter, 2011) is above, with a second below (F-16 Jet, 2011). She has an artist's website that includes a subsection on Camo Vision, which houses the series of paintings that I find of particular value. Her gallery representation is with Salomon Contemporary in NYC and with AJLART in Berlin.

© Pia Dehn 2011
books on art and camouflage

WW1 Norwegian Ship Camouflage

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Above Dazzle-camouflaged Norwegian tanker SS Ranella as photographed by Allan C. Green (c1918). Digitally adjusted. Original in collection of Victoria State Library AU.


J.M. Daiger, CAMOUFLAGE MAKES WARSHIP INTO "TUB;" ENEMY IS DECEIVED: Painters So Disguise Craft That Brand New Torpedo Boat Looks Like Old Tub or Leaves Landscape Vacant; OLDER NAVAL OFFICERS LIKE NAVY GRAY THE BEST in Ludington Daily News (Ludington MI), December 17, 1917—

NORFOLK, Va., Dec 17—…naval camouflage—the painting of ships to look at a short distance like what they are not and at a long distance like nothing at all.

Impossible as it might seem to make super dreadnoughts appear anything but the monsters they are, there are nevertheless processes of camouflage for them. It is obvious that details as to what designs are being used on various types of ships are not for publication, especially in view of the fact that experimental schemes for having ships sail in false colors—not under them—are constantly being tried out.


I saw one of the largest of the naval colliers, which has several times crossed the Atlantic since America's entry into the war, that had a very simple scheme of camouflage in which only grays were used. Simple in conception and execution apparently, but it had an amazing effect on the appearance of the ship a short distance at sea, and from what happened at that short distance I have no doubt the collier was lost to the eye when it got much farther away.

The older naval officers incline to the opinion that the regulation navy gray by itself is better than any camouflage that the artists have invented, and they are frankly skeptical about these riots of color and freak designs that the scientific application of one of the fine arts is smearing over their ships.

The camouflage used by a great many merchantmen is familiar to every one who has observed the shipping in the harbors along the Atlantic coast. These vessels close by look like scrambled rainbows or like the palette of an artist in his cups. The weather has much to do with the power of these gay colors to create optical illusions.