Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Mary (Mittie) Taylor Brush

George de Forest Brush, Mrs. Brush, c1888
Above George de Forest Brush and Mary Taylor Whelpley eloped (to the dismay of her parents) and married on January 11, 1886, on the bride's twentieth birthday. They were both artists, and for the rest of their married lives, he made beautiful portraits of her, most often holding one or more of their nine children (one died in infancy). This (my favorite) is his first portrait of her, dated c1888.

Having given birth to and raised so many children, how could Mary (better known as Mittie Taylor Brush) have the time and energy to do anything else? But she accomplished quite a lot. As is now currently featured in the August 2016 newsstand issue of the Smithsonian's AIR&SPACE Magazine (pp. 28-31), she was one of the country's first female aviators (as was her friend and sometime neighbor, Amelia Earhart), and the inventor of several attempts at airplane camouflage, by reducing its visibility (see her patent drawings below). As we have noted in earlier posts, her husband (a friend of Abbott H. Thayer) and their son (Gerome Brush) were also important contributors to World War I-era camouflage.

US Patent 1619100

Written by aerospace engineer Nick D'Alto, the title of the AIR&SPACE article is "Inventing the Invisible Airplane: When Camouflage Was Fine Art." It's a fascinating article, accurate and richly illustrated (although, oddly, her name is misspelled as "Mitty" throughout), and reveals (to great surprise) that parts of her airplane have survived. Discovered in a New Hampshire barn in 2011, its remains are currently on display at the Eagles Mere Air Museum in Pennsylvania.

US Patent 1293688

For a wealth of memorable stories about the Brushes and their married life, see their daughter's wonderful biography, George de Forest Brush: Recollections of a Joyous Painter (Peterborough NH: William L. Bauhan, 1970). See also Brush family articles and related info in CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Theatrical Stage Lighting and WWI Camouflage

Abbott H. Thayer's stage lighting effects: Before and After
Above In earlier posts, we've featured American artist Abbott H. Thayer's ideas about countershading, a method by which volumetric forms appear insubstantial, less thing-like. Using hand-painted wooden duck decoys, Thayer was one of the first to demonstrate the ease with which a viewer can be deceived by the calculated interplay of light and shade.

Less well-known are Thayer's theatrical lighting effects. In the pair of photographs above, he documented a full-body skin-tight leotard which he had skillfully colored with gradations of light and dark. On the left (with light from below), the human figure is clearly visible, while on the right (light source from above) the same figure has all but disappeared, simply by switching the lights.

Thayer applied countershading to other objects as well. Notably, he once countershaded a small cast of the Venus de Milo, which he installed in a display case in the town hall of Dublin NH. He precisely lit the statue with alternating light sources, so that "it was the delight of the school children to press the buttons and [by that] to make her come and go."


Theatre set designers have long experimented with visual effects, especially stage illusions that make use of forced perspective. As noted elsewhere, theatre and film set designers made critical contributions to World War I camouflage. Thereafter, there was an increase of interest in duplicitous stage lighting. In the early 1920s, a number of news articles described the lighting experiments of a Russian-born theatre designer named Adrian V. Samoiloff, who devised a theatrical setting in which he could change the appearance not only of the scenery but also the props and costumes. All this was done in an instant, by a switch of backstage lights (100 different switches in all). The curtain remained fully open, and as the audience observes—

…behind the scenes, somebody does something and everything is altered in a flash. The grim mountains [the prior stage setting] become a Hindu temple, the frowning rocks melt into sands and palms, and the tall, slender young woman becomes a stout Indian maiden.

Variations on this technique were soon widely adopted and are generally known today as the Samoiloff Effect. When asked at the time if these methods were new, Samoiloff replied—

Well, all the elements of it have been known for years; I have merely brought them together and worked them out scientifically and systematically. Do you remember, for instance, the postcards we had as children, which showed one inscription in one light and another in another? Well, that's part of it. Then during the war [WWI] we heard a lot about "dazzle" and camouflage, and how a few apparently random lines of paint would alter to the distant observer the shape of the outline of a vessel. That's part of it, too. I have merely worked along these and similar lines until I got the results I wanted.

Samoiloff's indebtedness to military camouflage is tacitly supported by another article (Variety, October 1921), in which he is said to have worked as "a designer of scenery for the Imperial theatre in Petrograd" who "was loaned to the British Navy during the war." Later, while living in London, the first theatrical production in which Samoiloff used his lighting effects was "The Valley of Echoes" at the Hippodrome in 1921. To accomplish this, he used a mechanism that "resembles a small traveling crane, operated from a table, and it runs on a system of tiny railway lines."

In the same year, a comparable effect was achieved by another designer named Nicholas de Lipsky (purportedly a Russian prince and a protege of ballerina Anna Pavlova), who introduced it in New York at the Shubert Theatre for a dream sequence in "The Greenwich Village Follies." It seems likely that Samoiliff and de Lipsky were associated, and as implied by articles that note that "Samoiloff and de Lipsky appear to have come from the same Russian school," and that both had somehow been involved in wartime camouflage. Both may also have been allied with the Hippodrome in London.

Through the Hippodrome, de Lipsky had become friends with an American set designer named Roy Pomeroy (in the US, he was the first recipient of an Academy Award for special effects) who had invented special cameras for the British during the war, including one that "could be used to render camouflaged objects detectable." (A source that contradicts this claims that Pomeroy conducted photo experiments for the US, not the British.) After the war, Pomeroy and de Lipsky apparently worked together on a scene-altering lighting system (different from that of Samoiloff) that was partly based on this photographic process for deciphering camouflage. In de Lipsky's case, there are surviving photographs (see below) that show two views of the same stage production and its costumed cast. The performers have not changed costumes, but are simply illuminated by two different sets of lights.

de Lipsky's stage set transformation (1921)

Oddly enough, there was another invention announced in 1921 that used alternating light sources to make objects disappear or to change appearance. Did one predate the other, or were they discovered concurrently but independently?

We've talked about some of these before because they were developed by an American artist-scientist named Charles Bittinger.  It was interesting to learn that his stepbrother was the painter Marsden Hartley. But it's even more interesting that, during both World Wars, Bittinger was a prominent civilian participant in the US Navy's camouflage research unit.

Judging from an article by Henry Chapin called "Two Pictures on Single Canvas" in the New York Evening Post (October 7, 1920), Bittinger's experiments may have predated the efforts of Samoiloff, de Lipsky and Pomeroy. Another article with much the same content (and a nearly identical title, "Two Paintings on the Same Canvas"), written by M(argaret) Fitzhugh Browne, was published in the following year in Popular Science Monthly (Vol 98, 1921, p. 30). The article shows two images that were painted by the artist on a single canvas—one is a portrait of a women, while the other shows a man and a horse. When viewed in ordinary light, only the portrait is visible; but when viewed under red light (aided by using a filter), the portrait vanishes and only the man and the horse can be seen.

In considering applications for Bittinger's discovery, the author writes—

The stage, with its demands for instantaneous and mystifying transformations, furnishes a very fertile field for this new art. In Mr. Bittinger's New York studio is a miniature stage set with a scene on the Riviera, which immediately changes to Madison Square in winter when the red light is switched on. Costumes, too, can be handled in endless effective ways by applying the principle to the dyes used and to the patterns in which the colors are put on. A chorus might come dancing on in dresses with horizontal stripes. The light changes—and instantly the stripes are vertical; and so on in infinite variety.

She then turns to potential applications in advertising and interior design—

Advertising, also, with its demands for "before and after using," or similar illustrations, is a sphere in which some striking results can be obtained; and there are even possibilities of house decoration—a frieze that would appear of one color and pattern by daylight, and of an entirely different design by artificial light.

In subsequent years, Bittinger went on to other related innovations. In 1929, he painted three murals for the Franklin Institute, depicting various stages in the life of Benjamin Franklin. The images in each painting changed, depending on its illumination. In 1935, he completed a painting of Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, which, viewed under different conditions, was changed into an image of the Mona Lisa.

By coincidence, recently we ran across three US government photographs of Charles Bittinger, from the digital archives of the NARA, one of which is shown below.

Charles Bittinger (WWII era)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Roland Penrose | Cubism, Illusion and Camouflage

Roger Penrose, Impossible Triangle
Above The uncle of British mathematician Roger Penrose was the surrealist artist and art collector Roland Penrose. The former is commonly credited with the design of an illusionistic three-dimensional shape called the "impossible triangle" also called the Penrose triangle. A gif animation of that initially puzzling shape is available online. It has much in common with certain aspects of the Ames Demonstrations in psychology, as well as perspective-based illusions used for ground and naval camouflage during both World Wars. See our earlier posts on those subjects here and here.

Roland Penrose was an early important biographer of Pablo Picasso. He was greatly interested in cubism, which is frequently said to resemble disruptive, dazzle or "high difference" camouflage. Perhaps not surprisingly, he was also involved in wartime civilian camouflage. During WWII, he teamed up with other artists (notably Stanley William Hayter, John Buckland Wright, and Julian Trevelyan) in founding a company that provided questionable camouflage for industrial landmarks. Later, he taught camouflage and compiled an instructional guidebook, titled Home Guard Manual of Camouflage (October 1941), the cover of which is shown below.

Related to this, there is a passage from Penrose's notebooks, published in Elizabeth Cowling, ed., Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2006, pp. 245-246, in which he talks about Picasso's reaction when he first saw (Penrose's nephew's) the impossible triangle in 1962—

Showed P[icasso] the impossible triangle. He looked at it, puzzled for some minutes, then started making other versions of it. "Your brother [sic] should have been a cubist," he said. "It's an attempt to catch the 4th dimension. They always say the cubists were trying to catch the truth—they were really trying to make a deception—just like this—cubism was full of deception. Your brother [sic] should have worked with us; we would have found a lot in common."

Roland Penrose book cover (1941)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dazzle | Wilkinson, Kerr and Archibald Phillips

Above This is the wonderful cover of the 4th issue of a UK publication called Stages, an online journal produced in connection with the Liverpool Biennial 2016.

Go here to find the website, where the entire issue (except the introduction, which is only on the site) can be downloaded as a pdf. It offers seven articles, with full-color illustrations, on various aspects of historic British ship camouflage (which originated in World War I), beginning with the story of how vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth became one of the ten dock officers who supervised the painting of the actual ships. Following the war, Wadsworth created the well-known painting that is featured on the cover, in addition to a series of black and white woodcut prints.

There are also several accounts of UK-based commissions to apply dazzle-paint camouflage schemes to a small number of ships today, as one way of observing the centenary of the war. They've been good tourist attractions for sure, even if the new designs haven't much resemblance to genuine WWI dazzle-painting.

It is heartening to see the attention that this publication affords to two important contributions to the development of dazzle-painting (although they didn't call it that), both of whom came up with comparable methods two or more years in advance of its officially sanctioned proposal by Norman Wilkinson in 1917. They were Scottish zoologist John Graham Kerr and a Liverpool art dealer named Archibald E. Phillips. The latter, who submitted a number of ship camouflage proposals to the War Office in May 1915, actually described his designs as having a "dazzle effect" and "dazzling the eyes of the gunners of enemy submarines."

For a detailed and persuasive account of Kerr's dazzle-like proposals, see Hugh Murphy and Martin Bellamy's "The Dazzling Zoologist: John Graham Kerr and the Early Development of Ship Camouflage," which is available online here.

Of the many illustrations in the issue, among the most inviting is an oblique installation view of a camouflage exhibition at Riverside Museum, titled Nowhere to Hide: Camouflage at Sea (as shown below).


"Edward Wadsworth" in The Glasgow Herald (February 2, 1951)—

[Wadsworth's influences] can be traced, of course, here and there, Cubism and Vorticists, the portrait drawings of Wyndham Lewis, later on the flat, polished, cheerfully dreary patterns of Léger; much more important, probably, the engineer's training, the work on dazzle camouflage during the First World War, and everything else, from a first acquaintance with the high, cold light of the Aberdeen coast to the decorating of the Queen Mary, that had to do with ships and the sea.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Roster of World War I British Ship Camouflage Artists

Dazzle-painted ship models being tested (c1919)
Above This historic photograph was presumably taken in London at the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House, where a British Dazzle Section was set up by artist Norman Wilkinson in June 1917. It was published at the end of the war, such as, for example, in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (February 1, 1919 issue).

There is also a print of it in the online collection in the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA 165-WW-70C-009) where it is listed as having been obtained on February 17, 1919, and as having been provided by the Western Newspaper Union.

According to various accounts, (among them Nicholas Rankin's A Genius for Deception) there were four teams involved in the design, testing and application of British dazzle camouflage schemes: At Burlington House, there were three modelers who constructed foot-long models of merchant ships; there were five RNVR lieutenants who made colored diagrams of potentially effective schemes; and there were eleven women art students who painted those schemes on the models.

The photograph above records the subsequent testing stage, in which one of the lieutenants (on the right) is peering through an instrument that simulates a German U-boat gunner's view through a periscope. On the left is one of the women assistants, who is standing beside a small turntable, on which a ship model can be rotated in any direction to any degree. (Nearer, in the center foreground and on the table on the right, are apparently larger striped ship models; while in the center background, behind the woman, are other finished models on shelves.) If estimates of the ship model's course, as assessed by experts, were substantially inaccurate, its design might then be applied to an actual ship in the harbor. In the harbors, there were ten RNVR dock officers (usually artists) who supervised the painting of the dazzle designs onto actual full-scale ships.

Recently, through the dutiful detective work of British historian James Taylor (whose new book DAZZLE: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art, will be released this fall), there may now be a complete list of those artists who fulfilled the roles described above. Here is the list he's provided (not in particular order, my links added)—

Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971). Cecil George Charles King (1881-1942). Leonard Campbell Taylor (1874-1969). Jan Gordon [Godfrey Jervis Gordon] (1882-1944). Charles William Wyllie (1853-1923). (Reginald) Guy Kortright (1876-1948). Bryan Hook (1856-1925). Charles Johnson Payne [called Snaffles] (1884-1967). Julius Olsson (1864-1942). Frank Henry Algernon Mason (1875-1965). Montague Dawson (1890-1973). Christopher Clark (1875-1942). Steven Spurrier (1878-1961). Edward Alexander Wadsworth (1889-1949). Hubert Alington Yockney (1888-1969). (Robert) Oswald Moser (1874-1953). Nigel Bruce Severn (1871-1946). Montague Smyth (1863-1965).

Were there others?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Camouflaged Hollywood Special Effects WWI

Above In accounts of World War I US Army camouflage, most credit is given to artists, usually painters and sculptors. But in fact, recruits who served as camoufleurs came from a wide range of career backgrounds, with calls for volunteers among architects, house painters, sign painters, carpenters and theatrical set designers. As these photos confirm, even Hollywood film set designers contributed to the development of duplicitous battlefield special effects. (This is not a genuine functioning cannon—it's a dummy theatre prop. The firing of the gun is simulated, and the buildings are scenery settings.) National Archives and Records Administration (c1918).


C.C. Lyon, PERSHING NEEDS ARTISTS TO MAKE SOLDIERS LOOK LIKE TREES AND ROCKS in Waterloo Times-Tribune (Waterloo IA), June 13, 1918, p, 6—

The "Camouflage" section of our army has been developed until it is now a most important adjunct.

We need men who can create costumes that will make soldiers look like straw stacks; snipers look like old tree trunks; and railroad trains like babbling books.

…The other day I met a famous American sculptor dressed in the uniform of an American private.

"I've joined the camouflage section," he laughed. "…it was about time I turned my talents to the good of my country.

I put in my days making odd things that will fool the Germans. The easiest things to make with clay and plaster are huge shells that, when properly painted and treated with substances resembling moss, will look like old rocks embedded in the hillsides. Our snipers can get inside and spot German heads when they show over the tops of their trenches."…

"The other day," he said, "another sculptor in the camouflage section completed a figure of a soldier and dressed it in an American uniform. At the front, the figure was used to draw the enemy's fire and thereby locate the positions of his snipers.

"He laid the figure in a dark corner of our workshop, and it looked like one of our camouflagers had sneaked off to take a little nap.

"Pretty soon the captain came along and discovered this soldier snoozing in the corner. He shook him none too gently. 'Get out of here and get to work; what do you think this is, a hotel?' he bellowed.

"When the sleeper refused to move, the captain took him my the collar and assisted him to his feet—and looked him squarely in the eye.

"Then he laid him gently down again and looked around to see if anybody had witnessed the performance."…

[These camoufleurs] are adept in figuring out costumes that will fool the Germans.

With them, hay, straw, grass, moss and mud are much used materials. They're able to make a covering for a sniper that will make him look like a pile of muddy rocks along the roadside. And it's a good idea for all concerned—allied as well as the Germans—to carefully examine hay and straw stacks, wheat shocks and even wood piles, because in the world of camouflage nothing is what it seems to be.

I saw an ordinary looking woodpile one day last winter, and lamented the fact that so much valuable fuel should be going to waste with the thermometer below zero. On closer inspection it proved to be a bullet-proof barricade behind which allied machine gunners could command a very important road.


There is more information on the contribution to wartime camouflage of theatrical designers in an earlier post.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dazzle Ship Camouflage Continued in WWII

USS Vestal (1944)
Above Nearly everywhere on the internet, whether in online articles or blog discussions, it is claimed over and over again (as if that would make it true) that the use of dazzle designs for ship camouflage was discontinued after World War I. But that's not the case at all. While the styles of camouflage evolved (as happened in WWI as well)—and while the term for such patterns was changed from "dazzle" (in part because that term was British) to "disruptive" or "pattern" camouflage"—the use of high difference camouflage schemes continued on both sides of the conflict until the end of WWII. In the US, this was no doubt partly due to the fact that the same American Impressionist artist (Everett Longley Warner) oversaw the production of dazzle designs in both World Wars. 

The photograph above, for example, is not from WWI. It's a camouflaged American ship (the USS Vestal), photographed on September 8, 1944, near the end of WWII. True, this particular design is not typical of US ship camouflage at the time—not because it's disruptively patterned but rather because it's so "squiggly" and non-geometric. In fact, in the overwhelming density of its disruption, it seems more reminiscent of certain German camouflage for minesweepers from the same time period.

The USS Vestal was used in both World Wars (in fact it was one of the ships that was damaged during the attack on Pearl Harbor). As a result, we have the opportunity to compare this ship's WWII camouflage (above) with its earlier camouflage scheme from WWI (below).

USS Vestal (1918)

Postscript As of 10Aug2016, we have received this information from Aryeh Wetherhorn—

The WWII pattern was called Measure LC. It was a random pattern of Black, Brown, and 3 shades of Green. It was used primarily for amphibious ships, but also for support ships that might be viewed against a jungle island background.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 16

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the styles" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Gene Fowler, "Camouflage" in Our Paper (Massachusetts Reformatory, Concord Junction MA). November 10, 1917, p. 533, as reprinted from the Denver Labor Bulletin

The shades of night were falling fast
As through a busy street there passed
A dame dressed up like seventeen,
But fifty years, at least, she'd seen—

An old sport, with a foxy vest,
Wears one huge diamond on his chest.
His friends admire him for his taste.
They do not know it is of paste—

The actress with the Titian hair
Makes hearts beat hard and fond eyes stare.
Ah! Those rare tints of auburn locks
Rise deftly from some drug store box;

The bunk man seeketh him a hick
And slippeth him a neat gold brick.
The sucker thinks he's bought in snug.
Ho, Warden, ho! another bug—

The girl you woo is small and sweet,
You lay your love there at her feet
A year you're married. Ring, bells, ring,
Ah! tell me. Death, where is thy sting?

And so, in every vale of life.
(Look out, you're eating with your knife.)
You find the things that are, just ain't!
(Get out another coat of paint)—

Answers (top to bottom) Ford Madox Brown, Patrick Henry Bruce, George Washington Lambert, and Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten.

Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art

Above The wonderfully appropriate cover of a forthcoming book by British historian James Taylor (former curator of paintings at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich UK), featuring one of the woodcuts of dazzle-painted ships by Vorticist Edward Wadsworth. The book, titled Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art, won't be available until mid-September 2016, but it can be pre-ordered now on Amazon, on both US and UK sites. Unprecedented in its detail, it is a significant new account of the development of dazzle ship camouflage in World World War I. The following is the publisher's note on its contents—

While it is a constant throughout history that conflict has inspired and engendered great art, it is a much rarer event for art to impact directly upon the vicissitudes of war. Yet, in the course of the First World War, a collision of naval strategy and the nascent modern art movement, led to some two thousand British ships going to sea as the largest painted modernist “canvases” in the world covered in abstract, clashing, decorative, and geometric designs in a myriad of colors. Dazzle camouflage had arrived.

Heavily inspired by the Cubism and British Vorticism art movements, dazzle was conceived and developed by celebrated artist and then naval commander Norman Wilkinson. Dazzle camouflage rejects concealment in favor of disruption. It seeks to break up a ship’s silhouette with brightly contrasting geometric designs to make a vessel’s speed and direction incredibly difficult to discern. False painted bow-waves and sterns were used to confuse and throw off the deadly U-boat captains. The high contrast shapes and colors further made it very difficult to match up a ship in the two halves of an optical naval rangefinder. This new book traces the development of the dazzle aesthetic from theory into practice and beyond.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Jean-Louis Forain

Camouflage artist Jean-Louis Forain (left), c1914-15
Above At the beginning of World War I, Jean-Louis Forain was a well-known and immensely popular French artist, who in his youth had been close friends with Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, Edgar Dégas, and Édouard Monet. Known chiefly as a caricaturist, he had been strongly influenced by Honoré Daumier.

When the war began, Forain was already in his sixties. Nevertheless, he volunteered for the French Army’s camouflage section. In the photograph shown here, he is on the left, applying disruptive camouflage shapes to a field cannon, c1914-15.

A comparable image is reproduced in Cécile Coutin, Tromper ‘ennemi (p. 27), where it is credited to the Musée de l’Armée, Paris. As a side dish, below is a passage we recently found in which a prominent British nurse recalls her wartime meeting with Forain.


Kathleen Burke, The White Road to Verdun. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1916—

We lunched with General [Philippe] Pétain and his État Major. A charming and most interesting addition to the party was M. [Jean-Louis] Forain, the famous French caricaturist, and now one of the Chief Instructors of the French Army in the art of camouflage—the art of making a thing look like anything in the world except what it is! He has established a series of schools all along the French Front, where the Poilus [French infantry] learn to bedeck their guns and thoroughly disguise them under delicate shades of green and yellow, with odd pink spots, in order to relieve the monotony. Certainly the appearance of the guns of the present time would rejoice the heart and soul of the "Futurists." It was most interesting to hear him describe the work in detail and the rapidity with which his pupils learned the new art. For one real battery there are probably three or four false ones, beautiful wooden guns, etc., etc., and he told us of the Poilus' new version of the song Rien n'est plus beau que notre Patrie ("Nothing is more beautiful than our country"). They now sing Rien n'est plus faux que notre batterie ("Nothing is more false than our battery").

Kathleen Burke

More Horse Carcasses & Phony Observation Trees

Steel-Lined Dead Tree Observation Post
Above During the trench warfare of World War I, both sides of the conflict "test drove" the idea of clandestinely replacing familiar large dead tree trunks with steel-lined replicas of the same trees. Equipped inside with a ladder and a telephone, these were used as observation posts. Given the skill and effort required to construct one of these, not to mention the challenge of putting it in place (at night, in total darkness), there can only have been a few of these.

As noted in an earlier post, British painter Solomon J. Solomon (initially in charge of the Camouflage Section of the Royal Engineers) is thought to have been responsible for erecting the first British observation tree in March 1916, a task that he later depicted in a well-known painting.

In this wartime photograph, we see a British soldier apparently inspecting a faux tree made by German camoufleurs. There are a few eyewitness accounts of how these were constructed, and at least one British observation tree has survived and is in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.


E. Alexander Powell, Italy at War and the Allies in the West. [The War on All Fronts series. Vol IV] New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1919.

At a certain very important point on the French front there long stood, in an exposed and commanding position, a large and solitary tree, or rather the trunk of a tree, for it had been shorn of its branches by shell fire. A landmark in that flat and devastated region, every detail of this gaunt sentinel had long since become familiar to the keen eyed observers in the German trenches, a few hundred yards away. Were a man to climb to its top—and live—he would be able to command a comprehensive view of the surrounding terrain. The German sharpshooters saw to it, however, that no one climbed it. But one day the resourceful French took the measurements of that tree and photographed it. These measurements and photographs were sent to Paris. A few weeks later there arrived at the French front by railway an imitation tree, made of steel, which was an exact duplicate in every respect, even to the splintered branches and the bark, of the original. Under cover of darkness the real tree was cut down and the fake tree erected in its place, so that, when daylight came, there was no change in the landscape to arouse the Germans' suspicions. The lone tree-trunk to which they had grown so accustomed still reared itself skyward. But the "tree" at which the Germans were now looking was of hollow steel, and concealed in its interior in a sort of conning tower, forty feet above the ground, a French observing officer, field glasses at his eyes and a telephone at his lips, was peering through a cleverly concealed peep-hole, spotting the bursts of the French shells and regulating the fire of the French batteries.


Of course there were other kinds of battlefield observation posts as well, such as the supposed use of imitation horse carcasses as hiding places, as was featured earlier. My own suspicion is that few of these colorful camouflage ploys were actually used on the battlefield. But they proved immensely valuable as amusing illustrations for exaggerated news reports, which boosted recruiting and Liberty Loans. Below for example are photographs of the two sides of a roughed-out dead horse carcass trick, mocked-up in clay by camoufleurs at Camp Taylor KY (c1918).

Phony Horse Carcass Used as Observation Post

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Camouflaged Ships as Deep-Sea Barbershops

USS Siboney (c1918) in dazzle camouflage
Arthur Capper, Nature, Art and Camouflage in The Topeka Capital (Topeka KS). October 21, 1917, p. 4B—

The new art of camouflage is not limited to land, by any means. One of our boys transported to Europe has described a fine example of this art, in the case of the American destroyers, hunters of U-boats, who came out to meet the transport fleet as it neared the French coast.

The smudge of the destroyers could be seen twenty minutes before they themselves were visible, and when their hulls finally appeared they bore the appearance of a two-stack freighter heavily loaded and low in the water. As a matter of fact the destroyer has four funnels instead of two, but the two not seen at a distance are cleverly camouflaged to give the appearance of a freighter instead of a war vessel. As the boats came nearer the boys thought they were French, owing to their gay and bizarre coloring, or decoration. Their sides were painted in zigzag lines of white and blue, while the rigging and "concealed" smoke stacks were trickily and cockily camouflaged in wavy lines or "snaky ribbons," of green, white and blue. The general effect of the American destroyers on the sea, when transacting business, as soon as they can be closely observed, is suggested by the nickname the American soldiers immediately gave them of "deep-sea barbershops." The U-boat is the "canned Hun."

…The notion that protective coloration of warships must necessarily be a dull sea-gray disappeared long ago… New principles are employed, as in the case of the spiral green, white and blue lines on the stacks of torpedo boats, the zigzag lines of blue and white on the hull, and the same scheme of wavy zigzag, or spiral painted lines and splashes of color in varicolored combinations on cannon behind the front.

Yet the truth is that the new camouflage follows the principles first adopted by the artists of the Barbizon school and soon carried to extremes by radical painters, the principles that later, about thirty-five years ago, developed into the new landscape method of impressionism. Camouflage and impressionism are twin sisters. Nature is in fact colored not on simple, dull principles, but its coloration is greatly mixed, weirdly so, and with no regard to conventional ideas of consistency or harmony. Once in a while, as in this exceptionally brilliant month in Kansas, the true principle of mixed coloration appears to the plain, common eye in viewing the stunning prairie landscape. But to the now initiated artist these colors are present, even when hidden.

Arthur Capper, campaign card for Kansas governor's race

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Inept Trompe l'Oeil Camouflage in WWI

Camp Sherman, Chillicothe OH, building camouflage (1919)

Distant view of same building (1919)
Surely, some of the least persuasive camouflage of World War I was illusionistic building camouflage, devised by Allied infantry camoufleurs. Sometimes it was designed by artists who were assumed to be experts because, as civilians, they had worked or studied as artists. Too often, apparently, they may not have been sufficiently skilled as painters, nor did they genuinely understand the conditions that contribute to effective camouflage. There is ample indication of that in wartime vintage photographs of the use of quaint pictorial scenes (inept trompe l'oeil realism) on the sides of buildings, which can't have fooled anyone. Show here (above and below) are various examples of that from government photographs from WWI.

As was featured in an earlier post, it was common to use perspective illusions in setting up phony pictorial scenes.


Henry Berry [American artist, writer and WWI camoufleur], Make the Kaiser Dance. NY: Doubleday, 1978, 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.

309th Engineers, Camp Taylor KY (1918)

European building camouflage (c1918)

Ambulances painted on building, Camp Taylor KY (1918)
Camouflaged Naval Air Station in FL (c1919)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Protective Coloration for White Horses

Protective coloration
Above (apologies for posting this drawing again, but it is so good it deserves to be repeated) World War I-era cartoon by George Morrow, published in Punch magazine, April 7, 1915, p. 280. The caption reads: REMARKABLE CASE OF PROTECTIVE COLORING. Owing, it is believed, to the fears of a German invasion, a zebra at the zoo assumes a neutral aspect.•

• Protectively colored in "stars and stripes" from a British point of view, presumably because the US was still neutral in the war.


In earlier posts, we have talked about the practice during World War I (apparently not uncommon) of reducing the conspicuousness of white horses by painting them with darkened pigments. We've found yet another reference to that in the memoirs of the granddaughter of President U.S. Grant: Princess Cantacuzeine, Countess Spéransky, née Grant, Revolutionary Days: Recollections of Romanoffs and Bolsheviki 1914-1917. Small, Maynard and Company 1919, p. 23. In this passage, she recalls the resulting commotion when newly-painted horses (formerly white) were loaded onto railroad cars—

A most curious sight was the horses belonging to the regimental band. It was a tradition that though the other soldiers were all mounted on bay horses, the band should ride pure white steeds. With the news ideas of warfare, these animals became a danger to their unit, and they had been dyed for safety with olive-brown. This was their first appearance in their disguise; and their comrades of the four squadrons did not recognize them. There was a dreadful fuss, and such desire to avoid the poor, painted creatures that the latter felt insulted; and regarding themselves as victims of a ridiculous mistake, they lost no opportunity of protesting. Their humiliation turned them timid and fractious, and it took time and persuasion to get them into their cars. Everyone rushed to help; and officers as well as soldiers were amused at the result of this first essay at "camouflage," which came as a diversion to our strained feelings.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Concealing the Land: Camouflage from Above

Above Cover of Sonja Dümpelmann, Flights of Imagination: Aviation | Landscape | Design. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2014. Camouflage, landmark alteration, and aerial disorientation in both World Wars are examined throughout, but also featured is an extensive 50-page section on "Concealing the Land: Creating Invisible Landscapes of War and Peace" with subsections on "Camouflage as Art-Science," "Camouflage as Regional Planning," "Camouflage as Urban Design," "Camouflage as Landscape Architecture," "Living Camouflage," and "Camouflage for Peacetime."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cruise Boat Camouflage | Katy Mutton

Above Australian artist Katy Mutton has undertaken a public art project (concurrent with the World War I Centenary), called In Plain Sight, in which she has designed a glaring dazzle camouflage scheme for a small cruise boat.

Beginning in October 2016 and continuing for a year, the vessel will provide tours on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra (Australia's famous capital), as part of the Contour 556 Arts Festival. In the artist's words, the project will play up various aspects of stealth and surveillance: "Using bright, bold mixed patterns the transformed vessel will invite attention while simultaneously interfering with the viewer's perception of its form and detail." More>>>

Friday, June 24, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 15

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the styles" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Anon, THE BAFFLE SYSTEM OF CAMOUFLAGING SHIPS in Monroe Journal (Monroe NC), September 17, 1918, p. 2—

…The district camoufleur at one great [US] port was called to the telephone late one Saturday afternoon—when most folks were ending their week's work. The agents of a big steamship company requested that one of their vessels, an 8000-ton freighter, due to sail the following Monday morning, should be camouflaged.

"All right!" was the matter-of-course reply to the most unusual request. And an expert camoufleur was immediately assigned to the task. A paint concern was instructed to deliver the necessary supplies to the dock, arrangements were made for a crew of painters, the design for the vessel was speedily selected and by midnight the marking out of the design on the ship was accomplished. The paint supplies arrived some time during the middle of the night, a crew of 62 painters showed up promptly next morning and at 5:30 on that Sunday afternoon the ship was completed, and she sailed with her precious cargo for our forces overseas exactly on schedule time….

Answers (top to bottom) Marc Chagall, Romare Bearden, Amedeo Modigliani, and Max Weber.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

La Baionnette Camouflage Cover | Jacques Nam

Cover illustration (1917), by French camoufleur Jacques Nam
Above La Baionnette was a weekly French satirical magazine that was published during World War I, from 1914 to 1918. Each issue focused on a theme, and this is the cover illustration for the 23 August 1917 edition. As is evident from the signature at the bottom left, the artist was Jacques Nam (aka Jacques Lehmann or Jacques Lehmann Nam) (1881-1974), who served as a French Army camoufleur. In civilian life, he was primarily known for political caricature and for stylized animal portraits (ad nauseum), especially cats—ca-choo!


George W. McCree, "Recruiting Engineers for the World War in Minnesota" in Minnesota History Bulletin. Vol 3 (May 1, 1920, p. 350)—

One day a man came into the office very excited. He was an artist, a scene painter in one of our theatres, and he was very anxious to get into Company C of the Twenty-Fifth Engineers. This was a company made up of camouflage artists. This fellow was a dandy man for that organization but he was an inveterate cigarette smoker and had one hundred percent of artistic temperament. Before he went up for his preliminary physical examination, I spoke to him quietly because I knew his heart was beating about a thousand times a minute and that he would never pass in that condition. When I thought he was all right I let him go and then telephoned the noncommissioned officer in charge at the recruiting station, telling him what kind of a man was coming to see him and that if there was nothing organically wrong to let him pass because he was a very desirable man for the camouflage unit. About three minutes after the man left he came back and said, "Oh! Mr. McCree pray that I may be passed." He was passed and he was so elated that it was about four days before he could get his feet back to earth so that he could go to [Fort] Snelling for his final examination. After his elation he became tremendously depressed; every little while he would come in to ask me if I thought he would pass and each time I was requested to pray for him. At last I got him off to Snelling and sent him on his way assuring him that I would pray for him. Believing that in this case work was more efficacious than faith, I telephoned Snelling and told the authorities how anxious I was to have this man accepted. Soon thereafter he left for American University [the camp in Washington DC, where WWI US Army camoufleurs were being trained] to join his regiment.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 14

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Isabel Anderson, Zigzagging. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1918—

I was not disappointed on seeing the British camouflaged boats! They exceeded even my wildest dreams. The British idea is not to make the ship invisible, but to deceive as to its direction and length—the bow, for instance, often being painted to represent the stern. They were even sometimes made to look like two boats—unbelievably queer! One had a destroyer under full steam painted on her side. The prominent colors seemed to be green, blue, white, and black; sometimes done in figures, or resembling a Scottish plaid, or squares and triangles, or strange cubist designs. There were curling, crazy lines—often carried on to the lifeboats, which were painted half and half. These designs are quite incomprehensible to the lay mind. One wonders if some cubist artist has gone entirely mad—and perhaps the whole world, too.

Answers (top to bottom) John James Audubon, William Harnett, László Moholy-Nagy, and Édouard Manet.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 13

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


George Fitch, "Cubist Art" in the Washington Herald, April 21, 1913—

To paint cubist pictures requires great genius and self restraint. The painter must abandon all previous ideas of art, nature and religion, and paint as nearly as possible in straight lines. This can best be done in the ordinary strait jacket, so popular in our leading institutions for the regulation of advanced and explosive thought.

Answers (top to bottom) Max Ernst, Irene Rice Pereira, Frank Stella and John Singer Sargent.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Camouflage Hoodies | Sinister French Artillery Robes

early WWI French camouflage (c1914)
In earlier blog entries (such as one on camouflaged robes, and a second on French camouflage and criminals), we've posted information about the hooded outfits that were devised by French artists who were serving in artillery teams at the beginning of World War I. As I've described elsewhere—

 …what we call camouflage was first promoted by artists serving in the French Army in the early years of WWI. While there is some confusion about which individual initiated the ideas, the reasons are not in contention. Soldiers assigned to artillery teams were dismayed by the ease with which airborne enemy spotters could find and report the positions of their field artillery. In response, they initiated two countermeasures: the application of disruptive ("broken color") patterns on the surface of their cannons, and the donning by those in artillery teams of sinister-looking hooded robes, called cagoules (they closely resembled the outfit worn by a French crime novel character called Fantomas (c. 1911) or darkened paint-stained versions of Ku Klux Klan ceremonial robes).•

A surprising number of photographs of these hoodie-like camouflage outfits have survived, including a handful of full-color images in the collection of the Bibliothéque Nationale de France, and can be accessed online (posted here are restored, cropped and cleaned-up renditions of those). Other images of these outfits, whether black and white photographs and drawings, or painted illustrations by artists, were also commonly reproduced in contemporaneous magazines, such as on the cover of Scientific American (September 29, 1917). Even a few of the robes have survived.

• From Roy R. Behrens, "Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience" in Ann Elias, Ross Harley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds., Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance. Sydney AU: Sydney University Press, 2015, pp. 1-15.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 12

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


J.M. Daiger, "Makes Warship Look Like Tub" in The Breckenridge News (Cloverport KY), January 16, 1918, p. 6—

The older naval officers include 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.…

…These vessels close up look like scrambled rainbows or like the palette of an artist in his cups. 

Answers (top to bottom) Arthur Lismer, Joan Miró, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 11

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Henry Charles Witwer, From Baseball to Boches. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co, 1918, p. 31—

The whole boat was painted by a set of maniac painters opposed to prohibition, and the foreman must have seen that nobody died of thirst while they was on the job. There's a swab of pink here and a swab of blue there, and in between they got samples of chocolate, strawberry, orange, vanilla, and allied flavors. This is called camouflage and is supposed to keep the submarines from seein' the ship, and, in the event they do see it, to scare 'em away.

Answers (top to bottom) Francis Picabia, John Graham, Edgar Dégas, and El Lissitzky.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 10

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


Katharine Kuh, Break-Up: The Core of Modern Art. Greenwich CT: Graphic Arts Society, 1969, p. 11—

The art of our century has been characterized by shattered surfaces, broken color, segmented compositions, dissolving forms and shredded images. Curiously insistent is this consistent emphasis on break-up.

Answers (top to bottom) Thomas Eakins, Jacques-Louis David, William Holman Hunt, and Mary Cassatt.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Hypothetical Dazzle Camouflage Schemes | Part 9

Above Hypothetical dazzle ship camouflage schemes (2016) by Roy R. Behrens, "in the style" of four famous artists. Can you name them? Answers are at the bottom of this blogpost. more>>>


William Marion Reedy in "Hosiery and Skirts, Etc." in Goodwin's Weekly, c1918—

We want a [J. Edgar] Hoover to regulate skirts and waists and stockings—yes and the cosmetics of the ladies. The paint one beholds! And the ladies are all past impressionists. Their faces rival the works of Matisse or Nevinson or Picabia. They are as barbaric as Gauguin, as cubist or vorticist as Gaudier-Brzeska. Some of them look like the camouflage ships on the river or in the bay.

Answers (top to bottom) R.B. Kitaj, Charles Meere, Gustave Courbet, and Théodore Géricault.