Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lunacy, Delirum Tremens, Jazz—and Camouflage

Cubist cartoon (1913), by Frank King
Styles of so-called "modern" art pre-date dazzle ship camouflage, since disruptive camouflage (as we know it) was not adopted until 1914, the first year of World War I. Modern styles of art were shown to the American public by way of the Armory Show in early 1913. 

Thereafter, cartoonists had an absolute field day with avant-garde art, as shown above in a wonderful cartoon by Frank King, titled "After the Cubist Food Exhibit," that appeared in The Chicago Tribune on April 24, 1913. As soon as disruptive camouflage was introduced, there was no stopping the rumors that it had been inspired by lunacy, the delirium tremens, jazz—and cubism. The fight is still on-going.


P.I. O'Leary, THE LITERARY PAGE. The Informalists. The Advocate (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), June 24, 1920, p. 3— 

Mr. [W.L.] George sees in the work of [Irish writer James] Joyce a resemblance to the impressionist painter's method, who, instead of painting a green spot, painted side by side a blue spot and a yellow spot, and then invited you to stand back. If this attempted literature of Joyce resembles anything at all in pigments, it is the chaotic and seemingly meaningless lines and drab splashes painted on camouflaged ocean-going vessels during the late war. Unlike those markings, however, which served to obliterate the vessels they made usefully hideous, these serve only to hide something which is not there to be hidden.…


Dazzle Mania in The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), October 8, 1923, p. 11—

Post-impressionists have been at work in London again. Wandering down one of the streets where the feminine population does its shopping, I was struck—literally—by a most amazing pair of silk stockings. "Jazz," murmured the fair lady: "aren't they a dream?" They were—a rather bad one. The post-impressionist had apparently endeavored to portray his impressions of a landscape after a thunderstorm. Verdan green as to foot, the stockings first took on a threatening reddish-yellow glow, deepening into vivid crimson, and back again to sullen gray, all the colorings looking as though they had been thrown on from a distance of at least five feet. I suppose they would be all right on some people, but they looked to me like the camouflage they put on boats in war time.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Ship Camouflage Exhibit at French Maritime Museum

Poster for French exhibition (2017)
Above Poster for a current exhibition titled RAZZLE DAZZLE: L'art contre-attaque! at the National Maritime Museum in Brest, France. The exhibit, which pertains to World War I and to ship camouflage in particular, opened on October 20, 2017 and continues through December 31, 2018. Poster and installation designed by Collectif XYZ.

Additional items from the exhibition, including a view of the setting during a session with children, are reproduced below. For detailed information in English, visit this page at the museum website. Courtesy of Jean-Yves Besselièvre, museum administrator.


TEXANS AT PORTS ON GULF BAFFLED ENEMY SUBS BY CAMOUFLAGE. At Port Arthur, Beaumont, Houston and Orange They Made Ships Look Like Something Else. San Antonio Evening News, January 31, 1919, pp. 1 and 3—

Bound by oath to reveal nothiing about their activities, prohibited from so much as a reference to their vocation or the nature of the work they were doing from day to day, a silent army of Texas workmen during the war were engaged in doing a service to Uncle Sam that just now is coming to light with the lifting of the censorship ban. This work was the camouflaging of ships, upon which the very fortune of the war hinged.

WWI dazzle camouflage design by French artists (c1918)

"Some of the best work of camouflaging ships was done in Texas. I have also found that as a whole the men who worked in the Texas shipyards were more patriotic than some of those in the Eastern shipyards. The Texans proved themselves 100 per cent Americans." With that statement Follette Isaacson, chief camoufleur of the Gulf District, summed up the work of camouflaging ships in Texas. Mr. Isaacson was in San Antonio Thursday in conference with the organizers of the Armenian relief campaign.

The Gulf district includes the shipbuilding ports of Beaumont, Orange, Morgan City, Louisiana, and Houston, and the fuel base of Port Arthur, Texas. Mr. Isaccson's headquarters were at Beaumont the greater part of the time, although he superintended and directed the work of applying the camouflage designs to the emergency fleet ships and the oil tankers in all cities of the district.

Despite the fact that Mr. Isaacson begins his explanation of camouflage with the bromide statement that "camouflaging ships is a scientific business which was developed by American brain after America's 'armed neutrality' period of the war," his recital of this phase of winning the war is no less interesting than the erstwhile "Once upon a time" fairy stories.

According to Mr. Isaason, the United States was divided into eleven shipbuilding or seaport districts, each one of which was under the direction of a chief camoufleur.

WWI camouflaged ship model

Designers, Architects, Mural Painters Make Camoufleurs

Working under the direction of the chief camoufleur was an assistant camoufleur and a corps of camoufleurs. The camouflage designs were originated by the Navy Department, Bureau of Construction and Repair, and in turn were applied to the ships by the camoufleurs who worked under the Emergency Fleet Corporation. The camoufleurs usually were men who had been commercial designers, architects and mural painters, while the executive work was handled by former business men.

In the Gulf district the emergency fleet ships were camouflaged at Beaumont, Orange and Houston, and Morgan City, Louisiana, there being a shipyard at each place. At Port Arthur, Texas, which is one of the fuel bases for the United States Navy and also one of the chief exporting ports of the country, all tankers were camouflaged.

Camouflage as an art and a science has passed through an evolution during the course of the recent great war, according to Mr. Isaacson. Beginning with the painting of ships in a monotone color that harmonized with the atmospheric color of the sea landscape, the next step in camouflage was the combination of colors.

This combination of colors, Mr. Isaacson explained further, was made in an effort to adapt the ship to the changing atmospheric conditions of different localities and did not represent waves as is popularly supposed. For this reason a combination of colors would be worked out to suit the variant conditions of different localities, as the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. This system was worked out by W[illiam] A[ndrew] Mackay, a mural painter of New York City.

The third step was the Wilkinson Dazzle system of camouflage which was worked out by an officer of the English navy who demonstrated the feasibility of this system to the United States Government. This system was used in the United States in the latter part of 1917.

Distortion Camouflage Is Most Successful of All

"But," continued Mr. Isaacson, "it remained to American brain to work out the most perfect system of all, known as the distortion system. While the Wilkinson Dazzle camouflage proved fairly successful, the distortion camouflage was the most successful of all."

Distortion camouflage, as its name implies, Mr. Isaacson explained, distorts the accepted outline of the ship. This outline often was so distorted that the enemy could not tell in which direction the ship was going or whether they were looking at it broadside or by the stern. Since the submarie usually operated at a distance of a thousand yards, it was necessary for them to come closer to attack, which brought on disastrous results to them after the American boats were armed and protected. Again, some forms of distortion camouflage also served to convey the impression that the ship was two or three points off of its actual course.

Installation view of French exhibit (2017)

The particular form that created this impression was the perspective distortion, which was the arrangement of color masses in conformance with the perspective law of the vanishing point, which is that objects tend to grow smaller or vanish with distance. By arranging the color masses so that they followed a certain direction, the distance to the ship and its course was misrepresented.

Couldn't Tell If It Was Coming or Going

Another form of distortion camouflage that was highly successsful was the equalization of masses. The relative structural spaces of the ship, the comparative width of its bow and the length of its broadside were broken up or distorted by camouflage designs. In addition to this, the designs usually were applied in such a manner that the ship would appear to be going in an opposite direction from what it actually was. The stack, being one of the most important factors in creating this illusion, was also camouflaged in keeping with the other part of the design. In nearly all cases the equalization of masses, destroying the accepted outline as it did, makes it impossible to tell whether a ship is approaching broadside or by the bow.

A third phase of distortion is camouflage through color value, which is the arrangement of graduated colors in a camouflage design according to their value, as black, heavy gray and gray-white. The colors most frequently used in all camouflage were blue, black, gray-white and blue-gray.

"The whole thing is a question of science," Mr. Isaacson concluded, "science built on the biological principle of protective coloring. Camouflage in one form or another has always been in existence. The chameleon, the lizard that takes on the color of its surroundings when it is frightened, is a good example of protective coloring. In camouflaging ships we merely added scientific principles to the biological principle of protective coloring."

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Camouflaged War Relic Train in Burlington, Iowa

Above Lloyd Harrison. WWI-era poster, c1917. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.


BIG GUN HAD SOME KICK. War Relic Train With Whippet and Camouflage Disguise in Burlington. The Burlington Gazette (Burlington IA), April 22, 1919, p. 6—

…A war relic train consisting of three flat cars and a baggage car disguised in blue, white and yellow camouflage arrived in Burlington yesterdayat 5 o'clock. The train also carried two coaches for the soldiers who guarded the trophies.

The flat cars were loaded with war relics of all kinds and descriptions. A partially destroyed French fighting plane, minus the wings, an unexploded areo bomb, a twelve-inch cannon and several smaller fire arms were on one car. The other two flat cars were loaded with two camouflaged German Whiz-bang cannons which were captured by the Yankees before the close of the war, machine guns and other fighting periphernalia, used by the Huns.

A small but effective Whippet tank very artistically disguised in blue and yellow paint was also an attraction to the crowd of about fifty people who gathered at the Union station to see the relics….

Above World War I camouflaged French tank. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Hypothetical color scheme added.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Staged Illusions | Scenography and Camouflage

In earlier posts, we've talked about the role of set designers, called scenographers, in the development of camouflage. Among those that spring to mind are Homer St-Gaudens, Louis Bérard, Joseph Harker, Carol Sax, Adrian Samoiloff and others. 

In a recent essay on "Setting the Stage for Deception," we also discussed the relevance of forced perspective (as used in stage and film design) to dazzle ship camouflage in World War I. 

As noted in a post about camouflage and Hollywood set designers, the inherent link between camouflage and scenography was documented in 1989 in a dissertation by Ronald Naversen at Southern Illinois University.

Just this year, a new book has been released that once again targets this topic. It's a volume of scholarly essays (see cover above), edited by Victor Emiljanow, titled War and Theatrical Innovation (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017). Of particular interest are essays by Fraser Stevens (on the use of acting techniques in training spies for espionage) and Greer Crawley (on recruiting scenographers in both World Wars as camoufleurs). Of pertinence to Stevens' essay about acting and espionage, we are reminded of The Camouflage Project at The Ohio State University in 2011. As confirmed online, Crawley's essay is in part indebted to her 300-page doctoral dissertation called "Strategic Scenography: Staging the Landscape of War" (2011).


THE THEATRES. Washington. The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (Richmond IN). March 19, 1920—

When Sooner or Later, the current Owen Moore Selznick Picture comes to the Washington theatre today and tomorrow, local fans will have their first opportunity of seeing one of the latest phases of movie progress—the art of camouflage, developed to such a high extent during the war and now adapted to motion picture studio uses.

Joseph Teicher, the scenic artist at the Selznick studio is chiefly responsible for the development. Without disturbing the dramatic continuity of the production, it was necessary to take Owen Moore and his company to a wide stretch of country, with lake and hills and winding paths, the whole flooded with moonlight.

This was done with the aid of all the tools of the camouflager—paint, board, frames of steel and wire, and the scientific use of perspective. The result was so baffling that photographs of it deceived all who had not seen the studio scenes. For the movie cameras the "coup de camouflage" went over with a bang.

Dazzle Camouflage | A Crazy Quilt of Autumn Leaves

View of camouflaged destroyer (c1919)
Above Dazzle camouflage pattern on a US destroyer, viewed from the deck of the USS Maui, as reproduced in Being the Log of the USS Maui in the World War. New York: Brooklyn Eagle Press, c1919, p. 35. The Maui had also been dazzle-painted, as described on p. 34: The usual loading of supplies and cargo went on while camouflage artists completely obliterated the modest impression of a coat of battleship gray which bespoke the vividness of a cube artist's nightmare.


G.A. Martin, Roundabout Town. CAMOUFLAGED SHIP AT CLOSE RANGE LOOKS LIKE HOUSE AFIRE. El Paso Herald. December 13, 1918, p. 6—

Camouflage is a science. If it were not, nobody would ever camouflage a ship they way they do. To a landsman a camouflaged ship looks as if it would be about the easiest thing in the world to see on the water, but those who have gone down to sea say it isn't and they ought to know. Now that the war is over and secrets don't have to be kept, it is permissible to write of such things.

The docks at Houston, Beaumont and Galveston are full of these ships these days, still in their camouflage coats until peace is really here by signatory treaties, and they are very interesting to the ordinary inland resident. Instead of being some dark color as one would imagine, they are painted in the most fantastic designs and a crazy quilt is a model of accuracy compared to the streaks and stripes of a camouflaged ship. They start at the prow with a black streak, perhaps, that may resemble the figure 7 or something else as grotesque and follow this all the way back with alternate streaks and stripes of white, yellow, pale blue and other colors.

The completed whole very much resembles a futurist or cubist painting and a close view reminds you of looking at a zebra after a session of several hours with a few quarts of champagne, if you can imagine how a zebra would look under such circumstances.


SHIP HAS DELIRIUM TREMENS. Washington Times. October 14, 1917, p. 19—

New York, Oct. 14—An American passenger ship has arrived at an Atlantic port looking like a serious case of "marine delirium tremens," for she was camouflaged in many colors, among which pinks, pale greens, horizon blues and grays predominated. No two of the color patches were of the same size or shape, and they looked much like a rug of autumn leaves tossed indiscriminately over hull, decks, cabins and masts. The ship is said to present the most effective camouflage yet devised, for at a short distance she is practically invisible.


CAMOUFLAGE SCHOOL. A Valuable War Service. Australian Brains at Work. Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales). August 19, 1941, p. 6—

…There is a story of one naval officer who, when the painting of the decks of his ships was proposed, turned indignantly on the camoufleur, saying: "What, foul the teak of my decks! Only a seagul has the right to do that, sir."

USS Maui in dazzle camouflage (1919)

Above The USS Maui in process of loading the wounded at Bordeaux, France, January 1919. Portions of her camouflage coat can be seen on the stack and the life boats. US Signal Corps photograph, National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Reuterdahl Camouflage Mural in Missouri Capitol

Mural in Missouri State Capitol by Henry Reuterdahl (1921)
Swedish-born American artist Henry Reuterdahl (1871-1925) was a prominent albeit mysterious participant in World War I ship camouflage. We’ve talked about him in earlier blogposts, including a brief discussion about The Navy Guarded the Road to France, his mural on display in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. 

There is an infomative overview of this and the other artworks in this building in a book by Bob Priddy, titled The Art of the Missouri Capitol: History in Canvas, Bronze, and Stone, including a vivid photograph of Reuterdahl’s mural (shown above). Thanks to Steve Sitton, administrator at the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site, for calling our attention to this.


NAVAL PAINTING IN MISSOURI CAPITOL. Reuterdahl’s Portrayal of Missourians’ Encounter With U-Boat Installed in State House. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 21, 1921, p. 17—

JEFFERSON CITY—The first mural painting of the navy to be placed in a State Capitol in the United States is being installed on the south side of the east wing of the State Capitol this week by Lieutenant-Commander Henry Reuterdahl USNRF, as part of the decoration of the Capitol.

This painting, on which Reuterdahl has spent more than four months, portrays the work of Missourians in the navy during the recent war in handling troop convoys.

The center foreground is the deck of the destroyer Wainwright, commanded during the war by Capt. J.K. Taussig of St. Louis. The destroyer is in action against a submarine, her gun crews being busy, while other sailors prepare to launch “Ash Can” depth bombs on the U-boat. Capt. Taussig, glasses focussed on the enemy craft, is shown prominently near one of the guns, watching the effect of a shot from which the smoke and flash are about the gun muzzle. A photograph of this painting was published in the Post-Dispatch rotogravure section January 9.

Higher up on the picture are the Wadsworth, commanded by Capt. Poteet; the Orizaba, Capt. R.D. White; the Finland, Commander Graham, all of Missouri, and the New Orleans, Cleveland, Kansas and Susquehanna, all commanded by Missourians.

Wartime Camouflage Shows

These ships, steaming in convoy formation, are shown in their wartime camouflage, just as they actually appeared, the lines of the vessels, the camouflage designs and other details having been copied by Reuterdahl, from the war models of the navy and loaned for the preparation of this painting.

The picture is in the brilliant coloring which marks all of the work of Reuterdahl, regarded as one of the leading marine artists.

…Reuterdahl, who is to receive $2500 for his picture, came here in his naval uniform, doffing the gold braid cap and jacket and donning a paint-stained artist’s tunic while giving the final touches he desired to add after the painting had gone on the wall. He expects to finish his work and depart for New York tomorrow.


Reproduced below is yet another Reuterdahl painting of camouflaged ships (c1919), in which the USS Allen is shown escorting two troopships, the SS France and the USS Mount Vernon, as they cross the Atlantic Ocean. Other ships are also shown.

Painting by Henry Reuterdahl (c1919)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Futurism and Camouflage | A Wood-Turned Effigy

Mussolini Bust (1933), Renato Bertelli
Above In 1933, the Italian Futurist artist Renato Bertelli (1900-1974) produced a series of portrait heads of Benito Mussolini in what is sometimes known as the "aereoceramica style." It is a 360-degree portrait, a "continuous profile," somewhat related in concept to stop motion photography.

In another publication, we pointed out the similarity between Bertelli's Mussolini bust and an earlier illustration by American artist Charles Dana Gibson, published around 1903 (reproduced below), in which a man's head moves back and forth, as he pays attention equally to the beautiful "Gibson girls" on either side.

Charles Dana Gibson (c1903)

More recently, we came across a newspaper article, titled Souvenir Vase That Shows Dutch Queen's Face, accompanied by a drawing of a comparable continuous profile bust (see below). The article was published in the Boston Globe (based on an earlier article in the New York World), July 27, 1899, p. 6—

When Queen Wilhelmina of Holland was crowned the opportunity was supplied for every inventor in her realm to do his best to honor the occasion. A facsimile of one of the cleverest bits of workmanship executed in commemoration of her majesty's coming to the throne has just reached this country.

It is a souvenir effigy turned in wood. The wood was brought from India at enormous cost, and its exquisite shades and markings are well worth the attention of a queen. The design is very clever and the workmanship extraordinarily delicate.

Portrait of Queen Wilhelmina (1899)

A plain beveled bar of wood is the foundation for the wooden portrait. To this background is fastened a piece of carving of a semicylindrical shape, bearing a series of ridges which at first sight seem fantastically devised.

It will be seen, however, that the outer line of the wood, when held in any position, is the counterpart of the young queen's profile. The likeness is so cleverly suggested that Wilhelmina herself is said to have been highly pleased with the fanciful tribute.…


Paul K. Saint-Amour, "Modern Reconnnaissance" in Modernism/Modernity. Vol 2 No 1, 2003, p. 350—

By 1918, young British aviators were being trained to see an avant-garde exhibition unfurling beneath their cockpits: a First World War Air Force photo atlas for new pilots used "FUTURIST country" and "CUBIST country" in its taxonomy of aerial landscapes, alongside more everyday mneumonic headings such as "FRUIT GROWING" and "PATCHWORK QUILTING."

Friday, December 15, 2017

New and Improved Personal Camouflage Methods

Bruce Bairnsfather (c1918)
Above A classic cartoon (c1918) of a dazzle-patterned World War I soldier by British cartoonist and humorist Bruce Bairnsfather.


L.W. LOWER IS A DAB AT COLOR SCHEMES in Daily News (Perth, Western Australia), September 23, 1939, p. 21—

Camouflage classes have been started in the Eastern States [of Australia]. We need them here.

The idea of camouflage is to convince observers that you are not where you are, and not even in any place where you're not.

This will apply mostly to buildings and other structures.

But personal camouflage is another matter.

It will be advisable for citizens to carry a variety of paint pots with them.

For ordinary street wear all that is needed is a pot of paint the same color as the pavement.

At the first sign of danger, the head should be plunged into the paint pot, thus deluding the enemy.

Green paint should be poured over the upper portion of the body when one is in a park.

The addition of a dahlia on top of the head will help.

Motors will find it a simple matter to paint the back of a cow on the roof of cars.

A simpler method is to carry an umbrella which looks from the top like a street man-hole.

All you have to do is to sit in the roadway under the umbrella and look like the entrance to a drain.

To make the thing more realistic you should also feel like the entrance to a drain.

In the meantime I am going to persuade the local publican to allow me to use his cellar as an air-raid shelter, starting from today.

He doesn't seem too willing to collaborate, so far.