Sunday, December 8, 2013

FDR In Camouflage | Cecil Calvert Beall

Portrait of FDR by Cecil Calvert Beall (c1933)
The American artist who produced this portrait of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not (to our knowledge) serve as a camouflage artist, but it certainly looks like he could have. It is a clever composite (chockful of delightful puns) devised c1933 (some say 1936) by magazine illustrator Cecil Calvert Beall (1892-1967). This is a black and white version of course, but the initial painting (as shown below) was in full-color. It was met with such widespread approval that the National Democratic Party used it in its next presidential campaign, assigning it the title of Find What Roosevelt Means to the US in This Picture.

Full-color versions of the same composite portrait

Then or sometime later, it was apparently revised for promotional use in connection with FDR's residence at Warm Springs GA, describing it as "The Little White House," and introducing images of Eleanor Roosevelt and the United Nations.

Beall was a native of Montana who had studied at the Art Students League in New York with George Bridgman. It doesn't seem that "visual puns" were his usual way of working (look up Arcimboldo for historical precedents), but we do know that he used the same technique in at least one other painting. As shown below, it appeared in a wartime poster for the US Army Recruiting Service (presumably for World War I, if the soldier's helmet is correct).

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In psychology, composite puzzle pictures such as these are typically referred to as "embedded figures." For a discussion of how these have been used in art, architecture and design (as well as, literally, in camouflage), here is an online essay.

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