Friday, February 7, 2014

The Dazzle Painter | John Everett Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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