Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mirrored Camouflage Listening Posts in WWI

An apparent problem during World War I was that of trying to conceal an eavesdropper within hearing distance of the enemy's position. As we've shown in earlier posts, this was sometimes accomplished by constructing (probably using pâpier maché) the convincing likeness of a rotting horse carcass. Hollowed out and equipped with various peepholes, it was of sufficient size that a soldier could secretly listen during daylight, then return to his unit in darkness.

It is impossible to know how often (if at all) "ye olde dead horse deception" was actually used on the battlefield. The only photographs we've seen were made as demonstrations at camouflage training camps, and distributed to various American news services, for amusing wartime anecdotes. If the method were actually being used on the battlefield, it wouldn't make sense to broadcast it to the enemy.

Other devices were also employed, or at least they were tested at camouflage training camps. Reproduced above, for example, is a US Army photograph of three soldiers who were testing a curious listening device that consists of a mirrored sheet mounted on a wooden frame (slightly tilted forward). The irregularly-shaped edge is an attempt to make it fit in better with the natural surrounding. Because the facing panel is mirrored, an observer from the front would see a reflected image of the terrain, but not the soldier behind it. It may seem clever, but it can't have been very effective. In this photograph, the three soldiers are positioned so closely together that their own bodies would be visible in the mirror of the person behind them.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) online documentation of this (NARA A339 and A341) includes a second photograph (as in before-and-after views). In that photograph (shown below), we see the enemy's point of view (more or less) and—voila!—there is not a trace of the hidden listeners (well, almost).

This idea was not unprecedented at the time of WWI, and it has often resurfaced in the past one hundred years or so. As one of many examples, reproduced below is a patent drawing for a "Reflective Hunting Blind," invented c2008 by Kevin Pottmeyer and Chester Burdette and registered as US Patent 8579007 B2.

It consists of four hinged panels, irregularly shaped along the top edge, with peepholes through which a hunter can look. The inner surface is covered with a disruptive camouflage pattern, while the side that faces out (as shown here) is a reflective mirror surface (slightly tilted forward). As a result, the inventors explain—

A game animal looking into the front of the blind from a distance therefore sees only a reflection of the terrain surrounding the blind, thereby making the blind substantially indiscernible from the surrounding terrain and effectively obscuring a hunter…

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

WWI Camouflaged Observation Car

Above Camouflaged World War I US Army staff observation car (c1918). Based on an Ordnance Department photograph now in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). 165-WW-296A-019. Extracted from original black and white photograph and digitally colorized.


Anon, ‘Soul Study’ Photos for Ugly Folk: Camera Decreases Years and Removes Double Chins for Patrons (reprinted from the New York Sun) in Abel’s Photographic Weekly. Vol 30 No 774, October 21, 1922, pp. 460-462.

I’m satisfied with photography that shows people as they are. I think that’s what it’s for. I never could see that it was any compliment to a photograph to say that it looked like an oil painting.

It isn’t a photograph’s business to be like an oil painting, and a thing that imitates something else is just a joke, with no sincerity or usefulness in it. All that foggy, smokey, posey camouflage that they’ve dragged into photography to make it look like art doesn’t make any impression on me at all. I want a picture of myself as I am or none at all, but if you want one that makes you look like a dying duck in a thunderstorm you’d better go and get it without consulting me. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dazzle-Camouflaged Beverage Can

Above Des Moines-based graphic designer Kenny Miesner (former student of whom we have warm memories) shared with us this image and link to Focus Lab studio's concept (not actually used by the client) of a dazzle-camouflaged beer can. It reminded us of a reviewer's comment when the Chelsea Arts Club Dazzle Ball was held in London in 1919. The writer cautioned that the dazzle-patterned costumes might cause the dancers to collide. No doubt a couple of beers would help.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Game | DazzleShip Battleships

Box cover of Dazzleship Battleships game (2017)
Above Last year we were asked to serve as a consultant (fact-checker on the booklet text) in the development of a new boxed game called Dazzleship Battleships, the cover of which is reproduced here. Produced by Laurence King, it has recently been published. The container cover, the open box and some of its components are shown below.

Among the inside components is a brief illustrated overview of the method and the rationale for World War I ship camouflage, called dazzle-painting.

A spread from the booklet is shown below. Overall, what a wonderful package design. A beautiful object, game or none. Collectors of exquisite graphic design will love it.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Papier Mâché Used in Wartime Camouflage

H.L. Messmore with battlefield dummy (1918)
Above Above is a colorized version of a 1918 photograph of H.L. Messmore, a prominent supplier of components for amusement parks, carnivals and expositions. For example, he contributed to the Panama Exposition in San Francisco, the Chicago World’s Fair, the Golden Gate Exposition and the New York World’s Fair. He was a partner in Messmore and Damon, which his brother George established in 1914. It was H.L. who built the Electric Park in Detroit in 1907, and also served as manager of Luna Park at Coney Island.

During World War I, H.L. Messmore appears to have shared with the army his expertise in making papier mâché and plaster figures. In this photograph, he is inspecting an unpainted dummy of a soldier, to which he is about to add sculpted binoculars. The caption on the black and white photograph (which is available online at the National Archives and Records Administration website) states that “after use in this country in the Liberty Loan Campaign, [it] will be placed in a trench in France as a dummy target.”

In earlier posts, we’ve talked about such uses of plaster and papier mâche dummies during WWI. Since horse carcasses were a common feature at the front, hollowed-out dummy horses might be used as observation posts. An instructional example (in this case, it appears to be a clay model) is shown below, both front and back, including the rough-hewn shape of a soldier inside.

Spurious Horse Carcass (c1918)
When I was an art student in the 1960s, I thought papier mâché was a non-durable technique used only by hobbyists and amateurs. But I learned from one of my painting teachers that it was highly durable and had been used very seriously in building all sorts of astonishing things. In particular, he showed me a functional lute that he had made using papier mâché. I was amazed, since it looked and felt identical to a lute made out of wood. He also built highly detailed, elaborate marionettes from the same materials.

Arthur B. Jensen's book (1919)
During WWI, one of the people who made an effort to extend the use of papier mâché for military purposes was a man named Arthur B. Jensen (1899-1987), who was Danish-born (apparently) and lived in the vicinity of Rockford IL. While serving in the US Army Reserves, he was the senior instructor in the Camouflage Department of the Blackhawk Division, which was initially stationed at Camp Grant IL, near Rockford. At the end of the war, he published a book on the use of plaster and papier mâché for modeling, titled Jensen System of Modeling: Employing the Superskill Modeling Device (1919). As he explains and illustrates, while stationed at Camp Grant, he and other soldiers made a 25-foot high statue of Blackhawk (the Native American leader), constructed of waterproofed plaster and papier mâché. Reproduced below is the title spread of Jensen’s book, and a photograph of the statue he made.

Papier mache statue of Blackhawk (c1918)

The following is an excerpt from Jensen’s book (pp. 3-4)—

Plaste papier modeling has a glorious past. The US Army used this method in the World War for making dummies to attract enemy fire and so learn their location, and in many other ways. In several instances, a dead horse lying on No-Man's Land near the enemy trench was replaced by a good duplicate made in plaste papier, and the observer would crawl into the paper horse before dawn each day and observe the enemy's action all day at close range. Great guns were imitated in this material and placed in the vicinity of real guns that were carefully concealed through camouflage. The Boche [German] observers sent out to discover the location of the real batteries that were doing the havoc to the enemy would discover the paper guns only, and so the enemy artillery would train their fire on the dummy batteries and allow the real guns to continue their fire without being molested. The real guns were concealed by having their outlines painted out by means of broken forms of various colors painted all over the guns, and also covering the guns with foliage. A great statue of Blackhawk, 25 feet high,was modeled in this material and waterproofed, just before the Blackhawk Division left Camp Grant IL, for France in July 1918. This work was done by the Blackhawk Division's Camouflage Department, of which the writer was a member. It still stands, after these many months, defying the elements; the winds and rains and snows could not destroy it; and it still looks as permanent as though carved out of solid rock.

[Added March 22, 2017] Since our original post of this page, we've discovered a related article in the March 1920 issue of Boy's Life magazine, titled "The Use of Plaste Papier in the War" (p. 55), including the following excerpt—

Plaste papier is really nothing more than wrapping paper dipped in plaste, which makes it plastic and pliable while the artist is modeling with it, and very hard and rigid after it dries.  It was very light, being modeled as a hollow shell, and so could be carried about near the fornt line trenches easily.

To make this substance even more easily handled, Lieutenant A[rthur] B. Jensen has invented a superskill modeling device, which consists of aluminum strips which describe the important lines of the head, neck and shoulders of a man and woman. This device enables anyone to secure the correct lines and proportions of the head, without interfering in the slightest with the modeler's originality. On the same frame one can model the head of President Wilson, a portrait of himself, the bust of Venus de Milo, or any other subject.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

David Linneweh | Compositional Camouflage

Configuration (Rockford) © David Linneweh 2013 •
Above A long-time friend, Joseph Podlesnik (artist, photographer, filmmaker, teacher), recently introduced me to the work of artist David Linneweh. I was especially struck by this particular painting, titled Configuration (Rockford), 24 x 36 in., oil and graphite on panel (2013). It is so very exactly composed and beautifully executed. It's just also very smart in the ways in which it taunts us with suggested (yet withheld) connections. In every inch of its surface, one encounters an on-going battle between flat graphic abstraction and the illusion of three-dimensional form. This is not cubism, but it has much in common with that, as it does with World War I ship camouflage.

In looking at this painting, I am reminded of Wylie Sypher's account (see Rococco to Cubism in Art and Literature) of the constructive-destructive strategies of the cubist designers and painters. These include (as Sypher wrote)—

…a breaking of contours, the passage, so that form merges with the space about it or with other forms, planes or tones that bleed into other planes and tones; outlines that coincide with other outlines, then suddenly reappear in new relations; surfaces that simultaneously recede and advance in relation to other surfaces; parts of objects shifted away, displaced, or changed in tone until forms disappear behind themselves.

Linneweh teaches at the College of Dupage (Glen Ellyn IL), and the College of Lake County (Grayslake IL). He appears to be prolific, as judged by his website, online portfolio, and an interesting series of podcasts called Studio Break. His efforts are well-deserving of an extended, serious look.

• Reproduced by permission of the artist.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Camouflage Artist | Anne Lemanski

Camoufleur © Anne Lemanski 2014
Above In recent days, we've been fortunate to run across the innovative sculpture of Anne Lemanski, an American artist whose representations of animals are in part derived from her knowledge of protective coloration in nature, aka animal camouflage.

Abbott Thayer would be delighted.

The piece shown here is Camoufleur (2014), and is made with vintage paper, epoxy, wood, etc. It measures 15.5 x 15 x 8.5 inches. There are many other works by her that are equally astonishing, as can be viewed on her website. See Ocelot (2016) and Tiger Target (2016) below.

All works copyright © Anne Lemanski. Reproduced with her permission.

Ocelot © Anne Lemanski 2026

Tiger Target © Anne Lemanski 2016

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Smithsonian | World War I Ship Camouflage

Smithsonian article on WWI ship camouflage
Above and below World War I government photographs of two of the women camoufleurs, called Yeomen (F) to distinguish them from men, who served in the US Naval Reserve with the Design Subsection of the navy's Camouflage Section. In an attempt to find opportunities for women to participate meaningfully in the war, a small number were allowed to work on ship camouflage.

As shown here, women were only responsible for assembling small wooden ship models, on which camouflage schemes were painted by men, for testing in a periscope-equipped observation theatre. Only the men were allowed to design the actual schemes. Shown here are colorized versions of public domain black and white news photographs (c1918) in the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration.


Linda Rodriquez McRobbie, from an excellent, detailed article on WWI dazzle ship camouflage online at

…In order for a U-boat gunner to fire and hit his target from as far as 1,900 meters away (and not closer than 300 meters, as torpedoes required at least that much running distance to arm), he had to accurately predict where the target would be based on informed guesses. Compounding the difficulty was the fact that he had typically less than 30 seconds to sight the target ship through the periscope, or risk the periscope’s wake being seen and giving away the submarine’s location. Typical U-boats could only carry 12 very expensive and very slow torpedoes at a time, so the gunner had to get it right the first time.

“If you’re hunting for ducks, right, all you have to do is lead the target and it’s a simple process. But if you’re a submarine aiming at a ship, you have to calculate how fast a ship is going, where is it going, and aim the torpedo so that they both get to the same spot at the same time,” says Roy R. Behrens, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa, author of several books on dazzle camouflage and the writer behind the camouflage resource blog Camoupedia

Wilkinson’s idea was to “dazzle” the gunner so that he would either be unable to take the shot with any confidence or spoil it if he did. “Wilkinson said you had to only be 8 to 10 degrees off for the torpedo to miss. And even if it were hit, if [the torpedo] didn’t hit the most vital part, that would be better than being hit directly.”… more>>>

WWI American woman camoufleur

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Camouflage Fashion | Swimsuits, Stripes & Headgear

Dazzle-Painted Bathing Suit (1919) [colorized]
Above This is a young, fashionable sun bather at the beach at Margate in 1919, dressed in a scandalous dazzle-painted bathing suit. The fad was enormously popular—it went viral at the time—and widely covered in the press. We've talked about this in earlier posts, the only difference being that this is our colorized version of one of the news photos.


Anon, "Camouflage Finds Use in Fashions" in The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton OH) (April 15, 1920), p. 7—

LONDON—The artists who decorated our recently almost invisible ships and who hid the armies of the western front behind and under painted canvas and "ersatz" villages are out of a job.

Hence the Spring millinery styles.

The dazzle hat has arrived, and with it a game.

Says one fashion writer:

"If you see coming toward you a woman who in some unaccountable way seems to melt into a sort of rainbow mass above the shoulders, don't be alarmed; try to find her hat."

To the uninitiated the new Spring designs seem to be meaningless collections of colored stripes and zig-zags. Some are even more like forked lightning.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

US Camouflage Artists Preparing Ships for Testing

US Ship Camouflage Artists (1918) [colorized]
Above Our unfinished colorization of a World War I US Navy photograph, an original of which is in the collection of the National Archives and Record Service (No 165-WW-70C-001). It is described as having been received from the Navy Department, Bureau of Construction and Repair, on July 12, 1918, but there is no indication of when it was actually taken.

In this photograph, four ship camouflage artists are applying dazzle camouflage schemes to various sizes and types of wooden ship models. When completed, the models were stored on the shelves on the back wall. We now know the identities of these four artists, all of whom had been career artists in civilian life. They are (left to right) John Gregory, Gordon Stevenson, Frederick Judd Waugh, and Manley Kercheval Nash.


Haldane Macfall [reviewing a London exhibition of paintings by John Everett of WWI camouflaged ships], "The Dazzle-Painter" in Land and Water (February 6, 1919), p. 31—

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-gong 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 solid 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 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 by 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.


Below Following completion of the dazzle painted ship models, each was carefully tested in an observation theatre, which simulated its appearance through a periscope at sea against different backgrounds, varied lighting , and in various weather conditions). Shown here are two camouflage artists from the same Navy unit, in the process of testing the models. The person at the periscope is architect Harold Van Buskirk, executive officer in charge of the two camouflage subsections (the one shown here was in Washington DC; the other at Eastman Laboratories in Rochester NY). Standing beside him is Kenneth MacIntire, an artist who headed the workshop in which the wooden models were made.

Ship Model Testing Theatre (1918) [colorized]
For more information on American and British WWI ship camouflage (both detailed text and images), see James Taylor's recent book on DAZZLE: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art (2016).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bedlam Abounds | Shipshapeliness and Camouflage

USS West Bridge in dazzle camouflage
Above Photograph of the USS West Bridge, as photographed on May 25, 1918, with a dazzle camouflage scheme applied. This is a digitally colorized version, and does not literally represent the colors applied to the actual ship. The public domain photograph on which this rendering is based is in the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command (NH 65098-A).


Lewis Ransome Freeman [describing a dazzle-camouflaged ship], Sea Hounds. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1919, pp. 112-113—

The fantastic pile of multi-colored slabs blotting out a broken patch of sky above the seaward end of the estuary, if it had been on land, might have been anything from a row of hangars, viewed in slant perspective, to the scaffolding of a scenic railway, or a "Goblin's Castle" in Luna Park…Distorted by the camouflage, the tumbled mass of jumbled colors continued to loom in jagged indefinitiveness as we closed in from astern, and it was only when we had come up well abreast of it that the parts settled down into "ship-shapeliness," and the silhouette of perhaps the most famous of the world's great steamers [USS Lymptania] sharpened against the sunlit afternoon clouds.


Below Digitally colorized version of a black and white news photograph of two members of the Design Subsection of the US Navy's marine camouflage unit near the end of World War I. On the right is Lieutenant Harold Van Buskirk, who was the officer in charge of two teams of artists and scientists (in Washington DC and at Eastman Kodak in Rochester NY, respectively) who designed ship camouflage plans.

US Camoufleurs R.J. Richardson and Harold Van Buskirk

On the left is Raymond J. Richardson, in charge of the drafting room, who had studied camouflage earlier in New York with muralist William Andrew Mackay. Van Buskirk is holding the drawn-up camouflage plans for a certain vessel, a camouflage-painted model of which is being held by Richardson. If the painted model passed the observation tests, the drawing was sent to the US Geological Survey and reproduced in multiples as colored lithographs. These printed plans were then sent out to District Camoufleurs at eleven coastal shipyards throughout the country, for use in applying the schemes to the ships. Nearly 500 different plans were drawn up, colored and printed, of which three complete or partial sets are known to have survived. One of those sets is at the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design, while another is at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Maximilian Toch | Camouflage Artist-Scientist

American chemist and camoufleur Maximilian Toch (1907)
Above Portrait of American chemist and paint expert Maximilian Toch, as President of the Chemists' Club (1907), photographer unknown. Original photo from the Chemical Heritage Foundation (Wikipedia), with digital color added. 


Born in New York, American chemist and paint expert Maximilian Toch (1864-1946) earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry and law at New York University (1886), then went on to graduate work at Columbia University. He taught chemical engineering at Cooper Union, and at the University of Beijing. He also lectured on organic chemistry at Columbia (1905-06), and the City College of New York (1909), and later taught industrial chemistry at Cooper Union (1919-1924), and painting chemistry at the National Academy of Design (1924-36).

New York Times (“Dr. Toch” 1946:23): The cement-filler treatment used in the construction of the Panama Canal was developed by him.

Cervaux (2013): [Toch's] primary focus was the interaction between paint materials and the steel and concrete that had become mainstays of urban architecture. He sought paints specially adapted to the job of protecting and beautifying the modern city…[As early as 1908] Toch Brothers products were in use in structures from the New York Public Library to the San Francisco branch of the US Mint. As Toch delivered lectures and published articles in chemistry journals, the scientific reputation of Toch Brothers and its chief chemist grew in tandem.

New York Times (ibid.): He is credited with developing the original battleship gray formula used by the United States Navy, and during the first World War was called America’s first camoufleur. He had charge of camouflage of the East Coast defenses at that time also, and developed the Toch system of camouflage.

Toch’s opinions regarding chemical evidence in the authentication of art became controversial in 1931, when he claimed that all but one of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Rembrandt paintings (about thirty at the time) were not genuine, and that of four hundred paintings attributed to Rembrandt in collections worldwide, only forty-eight could be scientifically verified. He defended his claims in a book Paint, Paintings and Restoration and other books on authentication methods in art. He was the uncle of art materials expert Ralph Mayer.

Toch (1919): It was my good fortune the first week of the war [WWI] to be called down to the Navy Department to the Bureau of Yards and Docks, which department really took up the first camouflage of the United States, and I had the mission thrust upon me of going along the coast of the United States and designing and executing the camouflage of the yards and docks and a number of fortifications… When I was called to Washington during the first week of the war, it was because in 1915 I had camouflaged two forts at Panama. In those days the word ‘camouflage’ was totally unknown. The words used were ‘military concealment,’ and on the question of the visibility of color [blending] and juxtaposition of  color [dazzle], these two fortresses which contained disappearing guns were given to me to distort and to lower their visibility…

The first workers on ship camouflage were Messrs. [William Andrew] Mackay, Gerome Brush, Louis Herzog, Lt. [Everett L.] Warner and myself, and of course in those days we didn’t have the guidance of the brilliant scientific research of Messrs. [Harold] Van Buskirk, Warner and [Loyd] Jones.

Toch (“Camouflage of Ships” 1919:154): The Shipping Board, in conjunction with the navy, found it advisable to adopt methods for lowering the visibility of ships, and the important information this subject which the public ought to know, is that if anybody thinks a ship can be lowered in visibility to a point where it becomes totally invisible, he is thoroughly mistaken. No ship, however thoroughly it may be camouflaged, can become invisible against the rising or setting sun. I have shown photographs of white flying birds and camouflaged ships against the light which show their total opacity. The navy adopted four systems, viz., the Brush, Herzog, Mackay and Toch systems, and, later on, the Toch [sic, should be Warner] system. But Admiral Sims, in 1918, decided that the Wilkinson system, which bore great similarity to the Toch system, excepting that Wilkinson used blue where I used green, be adopted by the English and the Americans.

Toch ship camouflage plan (c1917)


The total effect of ship camouflage is one of distortion and not of the lowering of visibility, and a ship properly camouflaged becomes so distorted that it is impossible to tell its correct direction within twenty-five degrees. This I determined for myself by having spent a day at sea in one of our submarines, which the camouflaged ship Parthenia accompanied us, and in five range-finding operations showed up from 10 to 18 percent, and in no case, even at 600 yards, which is point blank fire, could the Parthenia have been hit by the U-boat from which I made my observations.

Toch (1931:308): In the beginning of the War [World War I] we all thought it was perfectly possible to lower visibility until you could not see the object. We learned that this is impossible, so I worked on the coloration concealment of Abbott Thayer, because I was one of the fortunate possessors of his book, which had long been out of print and which he personally had given me. I am frank to say that without his book, my slight knowledge of physics, chemistry, and optics would not have stood me in good stead.

Toch (Ibid.:308): Early in May, I was hurriedly called down to the Shipping Board, and they read me a report from the captain of the [USS] Luckenbach, in which he stated that the Toch system of camouflage was no good and did not lower visibility; that some other method ought to be tried, and he concluded by saying that one thing he did notice was that he could not tell which way the camouflaged ships were going.

USS Katrina Luckenbach (hypothetical digital colors)
I immediately saw that here we had at last the solution to our problem: that to lower visibility to the point of extinction was utterly impossible in physics and in optics, and I explained to the Shipping Board that every effort must be made to forget this but to try and distort direction.

Toch (Ibid.:309): [Having been painted in disruptive camouflage]…a ship not only became foreshortened but its direction was so distorted that when I went out to sea in a submarine and fired some dummy shots at one of my own camouflaged ships, I missed the boat at as short a distance as 600 meters.

Early in January [1918], the Eastman Kodak Laboratories were enlisted in the studying of the lowering of visibility. I went to Rochester and consulted with their physicists; but I stood my ground that the lowering of visibility was not what we were after but distortion of direction, and in the end most of the ships were camouflaged by this method.

In Warner ("Summary of Points"), it is stated that the USS Kajeruna was camouflaged using the Toch System, c1917, and in January 1918, two other ships, the USS Huron and the USS Aeolus were also painted using the same system (Section H).

Toch on horseback [detail] (1940). Wikipedia.

Behrens, R. (2009), CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books.
__________ (2012), SHIP SHAPE: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook. Dysart IA: Bobolink Books.
Cerveaux, A. and E. Hepler-Smith (2013) “Quest for Permanence” in Distillations. Chemical Heritage Foundation. Online at <>.
“Dr. Toch, Chemist and Art Expert, 81” (1946) in New York Times (May 31), p. 23.
Hendrick, E. (1929), “American Contemporaries: Maximilian Toch” in Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Vol 21 No 7 (July), p. 704. Online at <>.
Toch, M. (1918) “The Fine Art of Military Camouflage” in Munsey’s Magazine Vol 64 No 1 (June), pp. 5-8.
_______ (1919a) “Camouflage of Ships” in Pacific Marine Review, 154.
_______ (1919b) “Discussion” in Transactions of the Illuminating Engineering Society Vol 14 (July 21), pp. 230-232.
_______ (1931) “Adventures in Camouflage” in The Military Engineer Vol 23 (July-August), pp. 307-309.
Warner, E. (n.d.) “Summary of Points to be Made in a General Lecture on Marine Camouflage.” Unpublished typescript.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tom Benton, Frank Lloyd Wright and Camouflage

Thomas Hart Benton, Report on Camouflaged Ship (1918)
Above In earlier posts, we've noted the involvement of American Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton (see portrait below) in World War I camouflage. While he served in the US Navy, he did not design ship camouflage. Instead, his assignment was 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.The page above is a record of one of those sightings, including full-color renderings of the camouflage schemes on both sides of the SS Alban (dated October 30, 1918).

There's a great story about Benton and American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It's told in Priscilla J. Henken, Taliesin Diary: A Year with Frank Lloyd Wright (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), p. 35—

[There is] an amusing story of the [Taliesin] Fellowship's overnight stay at the Benton home in Kansas City, on the way [from Spring Green WI] to camp [at Taliesin West in Arizona]. All the boys [sans F.L. Wright, who made the trip separately], including the short, square, black-moustached Thomas Benton had imbibed freely. While he swung in wide arcs from a swing with 25-foot long ropes, the boys stood on the porch singing to Kansas City till the wee hours Palestrina, Bach, spirituals, and folk songs. Then he and his sons entertained them with chamber music composed of harmonicas and recorders.

Benton Family Musicians

In the new book on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2016), there is a discussion of the connections between Wright's architectural style and Benton's approach to painting.

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City (2016)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Forced Perspective, Stage Design and Camouflage

Above Only a few days ago, an essay that I recently wrote on forced perspective (commonly used in stage design and museum dioramas) and World War I ship camouflage has been published online at the website of Aisthesis (an Italian journal published by the Firenze University Press), where it can be read online or downloaded as a pdf.  The essay, titled "Setting the Stage for Deception: Perspective Distortion in World War I Camouflage," appears in the current, special issue on Mimicries in nature, art and society. Vol 9 No 2 (2016).

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The History of Camouflage | YouTube Video

The Fine Print | History of Camouflage | Episode One
Above Forty-five years ago, when I first published articles on art and camouflage, no one was even remotely interested. Now it seems as if everyone is researching camouflage, even hip hop. It's been a long and often enlightening search.

Here's the lastest: A seven-minute online video, produced by Mountain Dew's Green Label, the first of three episodes, titled The Fine Print: The History of Camouflage. Enjoy.

Warner, Waugh and Camouflaged Ship Model

Everett L. Warner with ship model (c1918). Courtesy NARA.
More than two years ago, in a blog post about World War I American artist Frederick Judd Waugh (1861-1940), we reported on his camouflage plan for the USS Proteus, a cargo ship for carrying coal. We included two photographs at the time, one showing the painted wooden ship model (reproduced below), as prepared by Waugh, the other a view of the actual ship after the scheme had been applied.

More recently, we have located another photograph of Waugh's model (above). It shows Everett Longley Warner (Waugh's immediate supervisor) standing beside an observation theatre, used for testing ship camouflage plans. The ship model has been placed on a circular turntable that can be angled at any degree. Also evident is a painted backdrop on a roll of canvas, which allows the background to be changed, to simulate various weather effects.

Close-up view of same ship model

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Stripes, Checked Suits and Camouflage La Bohème

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Camouflage Through Purposeful Shadow Disruption

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

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

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

John Singer Sargent, Breakfast in the Loggia (1910)

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scandalous Dazzle Camouflage Swimsuits 1919

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

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

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


Godawful Poesy and Sorolla Ship Camouflage Plan

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

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


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

Dazzle scheme ala Sorolla

Monday, September 5, 2016

Futurist Views: Nevinson, Bertram Park and Dazzle

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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