|Everett L. Warner, New York From a Sea Plane (c1919)|
About the Warner pastel sketch above, we were surprised and delighted to find it online. We'd seen it reproduced before, but had never seen it framed. When I showed the frame to William Adair at Gold Leaf Studios in Washington DC, he replied that it is typical of a Boston-area "Murphy-style frame," so-named because of the work of American artist and frame designer Hermann Dudley Murphy (1867-1945). As a painter, Murphy was primarily known for his portraits and landscapes, but he also did some wonderful floral still lifes. His papers are in the Archives of American Art.
When I saw Murphy's name, I realized I had heard it before, and that he was somehow connected to wartime camouflage. Indeed, that seems to be the case. In an online biographical note at the National Academy Museum website, it states that "during World War I he worked as inspector of camouflage for the US Shipping Board." During the war, ships in the Boston Navy Yard were being painted with various camouflage schemes by artists and others. Artist Philip Little from Salem MA (whom we've posted on before) was prominent in that group and was surely well-acquainted with Murphy. Little (and probably Murphy as well) was in direct contact with Everett Longley Warner, who was serving in Washington DC at time, as head of the US Navy's team of artists who designed the camouflage patterns required of all merchant ships, as regulated by the US Shipping Board.
Now back to the wonderful Warner pastel on this blog page. Here's what Helen K. Fusscas wrote in an exhibition catalog titled A World Observed: The Art of Everett Longley Warner 1877-1963. Old Lyme CT: Florence Griswold Museum, 1992—
In June 1919, although the war was over and his skills in camouflage were no longer needed, Warner had still not been discharged. He conceived a scheme whereby his last few weeks in the service would be helpful to him as an artist…As a result Warner spent three or four weeks being flown daily in US Navy seaplanes over New York City and the Eastern seaboard painting small sketches in oils from the air to be enlarged later in his studio…He completed several dozen fairly complete sketches, perhaps the first paintings ever done during actual flight.
Warner was soon discharged from the service. His first thought as a civilian was to enlarge enough pictures of flight to make an exhibition.…In a burst of enthusiasm he quickly completed three large paintings from the sketches…New York From a Sea Plane [is] the only one of this series known to have survived even as a sketch…
Warner exhibited his aerial paintings frequently, but the excitement that he had hoped to stir up never materialized. He discovered that few people new or cared what the land looked like from the air. Totally discouraged by the indifference with which his excursions into this new field were received, Warner gave up the idea of painting aerial views…[He] finally painted two out and burned the other.