Tuesday, November 23, 2021

too old for draft Jean-Louis Forain serves nevertheless

Above Jean-Louis Forain, wartime sketch of a soldier writing a letter home, reproduced in the same news article quoted below. Forain's service as a camoufleur is also featured in this short video.


Albert Franz Cochrane, …FORAIN… in the Boston Evening Transcript, August 15, 1931, Part 4, Page 3—

[During World War I, the famous French satririst and illustrator Jean-Louis] Forain not only helped keep up the spirits of his compatriots and their allies and influence the attitude of the neutrals by his terrible caricatures in Le Figaro, L’Opinion and L’Avenir, which, like those of the Hollander [Louis] Raemekers, were reproduced all over the world, but he actually entered the [French] Army, despite his sixty-two years, and rendered yeoman service there in the [Section de Camouflage] as right hand man of the camouflage chief, the painter Guirand de Scevola

When Forain presented himself booted, strapped and helmeted before [French officer Philippe] Pétain, the future Commander-in-chief, who is blessed with a quiet sense of humor, finding him [Forain], no doubt, a trifle “chesty” for an ex-civilian, [exclaimed] playfully, “Que dirait Forain s’il vous voyait!” (“What would Forain say if he could see you!”)

Below A younger Forain with his wife, Jeanne Bosc in a gondola in Venice. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

interview with camouflage scholar Camilla Wilkinson

In a July 2020 blog post, we shared a major article on World War I dazzle-patterned ship camouflage. It was written by British architect Camilla Wilkinson, who is the granddaughter of artist and poster designer Norman Wilkinson. He was the person who in 1917 successfully urged the adoption of high difference or disruptive ship camouflage [*see note below], which has since been referred to as dazzle camouflage. Her article, titled "Distortion, Illusion and Transformation: the Evolution of Dazzle Painting, a Camouflage System to Protect Allied Shipping from Unrestricted Submarine Warfare, 1917–1918," was published in Studia de Arte et Educatione, Number 14 (Krakow, Poland), 2019. The full text can be accessed online.

More recently, we’ve also found that Camilla Wilkinson, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster, has since been featured in a 27-minute video interview (which can also be accessed online). The interview was produced in connection with a camouflage-related artwork exhibition at Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight, during March through June 2021. Titled Dazzle & Disrupt, it showcased the work of two artists, Jeannie Driver and Lisa Traxler.

* This links to an online video on the use of embedded figures in the design of dazzle camouflage. Unfortunately, as has been aptly noted in viewers' comments, I inadvertently stumbled into "horse crap" when, in the film's narration, I repeated the erroneous claim that American soldiers were called "doughboys" during WWI because of the color of their infantry uniforms. Instead, it seems that they had been called that since the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, and it may instead be related to the color of adobe bricks—its origin is uncertain. Mea culpa.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Camoufleur John Dwight Bridge and Santa Barbara

A couple of years ago, we posted our findings about American artist and camoufleur John Dwight Bridge. Now, just a few months ago, a California historian named Hattie Beresford has published a far better article on him—better written and far more thoroughly researched—on a Montecito Journal site on the history of Santa Barbara CA. Above is a screen grab of its initial paragraphs.

Friday, November 12, 2021

pioneering aviator and camoufleur Mittie Taylor Brush

Above Group photograph of Mary (Mittie) Taylor Brush, with her children. Both she and her artist-husband, George De Forest Brush, were pioneering contributors to the study of camouflage, both natural and military. In some of their efforts, they collaborated with their Dublin NH neighbor, Abbott H. Thayer, as did their son, Gerome Brush, a sculptor (standing on the left in this photograph). Public domain, Archives of American Art. In 2016, we featured an earlier blogpost about Mittie Brush, but only recently have we found a substantial news feature about her invisible ariplane, the full text of which is found below.


Earl Murphy, WIFE OF NOTED N[ew] E[ngland] ARTIST INVENTS INVISIBLE AIRPLANE—CARRIES IT OWN LANDING LIGHTS, in Boston Sunday Post, July 22, 1923, p. A4—

Here is an airplane that is invisible by day, that travels through the heavens at night like a giant firefly, lighting its own way to the landing field.

It is the invention of Mrs. Mittie Taylor Brush, wife of George De Forest Brush, the noted painter.

Mrs. Brush became deeply interested in aviation during the war [WWI] and has practically completed the experiments which resulted in a plane that sees without being seen.


Thanks to Mrs. Mittie Taylor Brush, it will soon be unnecessary for you to get kinks in your neck from gazing at the airplanes that float overhead.

Pretty soon you won’t be able to see the contraptions at all and goodness knows, few of us are foolish enough to waste our time looking at something we can’t see.

Mrs. Brush, who is now at her summer home in Dublin NH, has an invention which makes airplanes invisible. Like the small boy, they will continue to be heard, but, unlike the small boy, they will not be seen.

Mrs. Brush is the wife of George De Forest Brush. And he is one of the world’s greatest living artists. That is why it seems strange that Mrs. Brush should be an inventor, that she should live in a world of stresses and strains and angles of refraction. The wife of an artist is expected to be somewhat of an artist herself. It is difficult to think of her as an extremely practical person, interested in mechanical things.

Flyer’s Bugaboo
To Mr. Brush, however, it is all very simple and natural.

“Art,” he has said, “is the purgation of the superfluous.”

And that is the answer.

Mrs. Brush is an artist. She is engaged in purging aviation of some of its superfluous difficulties.

The first is the matter of visibility. The second is that bugaboo of all fliers, the problem of selecting a safe landing place at night.

Why, you may ask, need an airplane be invisible?

It doesn’t need to be—at present.

But there were times during the war, when our aviators were flying over the battlefields in France, that an invisible plane would have been a handy thing.

It was during the war that Mr. Brush became interested in inventions for the development of the airplane. Mrs. Brush shared his interest. An artists who has devoted his life to his art naturally knows very little of carburators and valves and the intricate doohickies that make up a high-powered airplane engine. But he does know color. He has used color to give bodies to his ideals. Certainly he can use his colors to make material things as invisible as ideals. That is called camouflage.

Battleships were painted in weird streaks and patterns which made it hard for the enemy to see them. Trucks and tanks and guns were so treated that they would melt into the landscape.

The planes presented an entirely different problem.

It is very easy to see an airplane flying against the clear sky. Paint it what color you will, the drumming of its motor advertises its presence and its wings and body stand out in silhouette. With all his artistry and knowledge of color, Mr. Brush could not camouflage an airplane.

But Mrs. Brush could—and did.

Seated in an enormous living room of her farmhouses in Dublin, she told of it modestly enough. That living room is a wonderful place for the discussion of aviation. The ceiling is the roof. The rafters are bare. There is a huge fireplace, showshoes hang on the wall, and in a corner, an old-fashioned spinning wheel.

“It struck me,” said Mrs. Brush from the shelter of her wide-brimmed straw, “that if we couldn’t make a plane invisible with color, we might do it without color. After all, color is the only thing we see. If a thing has no color we cannot see it. We do not see a clean window. We look through it, as if it were not there at all. An airplane that has no color cannot be seen.

“The problem reduced itself to a matter of finding a transparent material to use for covering the wings in place of the ordinary linen. Glass would not due. It was too heavy. Experimenting was a dangerous business. I have never piloted a plane, but I have frequently gone up as a passenger. In flying, as in everything else, the only way to determine the value of an innovation is to try it out. That means flying and the risk of crashing if your scheme fails.

“We tried several things until I hit upon this celluloid composition. It is transparent, has the thickness and strength of linen and built on a base of course copper wire mesh, but the stuff ripped and split. When this material is used for wing covering, it is difficult to see a plane even at such a low altitude as 300 feet. The government took my invention, but the war ended before it could used extensively.

“We had a Bieriot plane down at Mineola [NY] in which we made several flights. It was covered with this material, which is called Chrystal. When we went up at night, it was necessary to build fires all around the field so that we could find our way to the landing place and avoid rough spots on the ground. This difficulty in landing is the great obstacle in the way of night flying.

“My success with the transparent wing covering encouraged me to go farther. If a plane can carry its own light it is independent of landing fields and guide lights on the earth. The automobile has the headlights and the driver picks out the road as he goes. The flyer has no such advantage.

Giant Firefly Soon
“A plane cannot carry powerful searchlights. The machinery required to generate sufficient power for the operation of such light is too heavy. In flying, every ounce counts. I set myself to work on developing reflectors that would use a 32-candle-power lamp—small enough to be lighted without the addition of any heavy apparatus. The reflector is the main thing. The light must be gathered and directed so as to give the effect of a large searchlight.

“As yet I have not obtained the results I want. We equipped a Chrystal plane with the lights, strung them out on the wings and around the body. We went up. The plane made a pretty sight with its lights glowing and the dark sky for a background—but when we tried to land we didn’t have enough light.

“This is my vacation time,” Mrs. Brush laughed, “but I’ll be back at work pretty soon and I’m sure I can make a success of the landing lights.”

When you read the report of some poor astronomer who has seen a gigantic firefly gleaming in the heavens, you will know that Mrs. Brush has succeeded. 

Gravestone of Mittie Taylor Brush


Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne on WWI ship camouflage

Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, Self-Portrait
Above Self Portrait by Margaret Fitzhugh Browne (1884-1972). Browne was a Massachusetts portrait painter, and this is one of her finest works. She was also the art editor for the Boston Evening Transcript at the end of World War I. Presumably while serving in that capacity, she attended a public talk by American Impressionist Everett Longley Warner. Wartime censorship having been lifted, Warner spoke in great detail about his involvement in American ship camouflage, including so-called “dazzle painting.” Browne published a lengthy and especially vivid account of Warner’s lecture. Her complete text is published below. It may be one of the finest accounts of the process. For my overview of the same subject, see Disruption versus Dazzle: Prevalent Misunderstandings about World War I Ship Camouflage, as well as the four short videos listed at the end of this blog post.


Margaret Fitzhugh Browne, TAKING DAZZLE OUT OF DAZZLE PAINTING: Lieutenant Everett L. Warner, an Artist in Charge of the Navy’s Camouflage Designs During the War, Explains Secrets of the Optical Illusions Created, in the Boston Evening Transcript. August 11, 1920, Part 2, Page 5—

Perhaps none of the devices and inventions of science used in the late war has had such a general and pictureque appeal as the subject of camouflage. Certainly the principles of none have been so apparently easy for the public to grasp, as the general acceptance of the term and its useful and established place in the language bear witness. But in spite of this wide understanding of the broad aims of camouflage—namely, to produce an optical illusion—there has been an almost universal misapprehension of its methods and principles. This has been especially the case in marine camouflage and was due to the fact that the many attempts to explain it were made by writers who, because of the close navy censorship, which was maintained even long after the armistice, had access to no reliable information. The result was that an emormous amount of false or misleading material was published even in periodicals of a semi-scientific character.

A most interesting and valuable opportunity to understand the true aims and principles of naval camouflage was afforded in a talk on the subject in Duxbury MA, under the auspices of the Duxbury Art Association, by Lieut. Everett L. Warner, who was in charge of the Section of Design of naval camouflage in Washington during the war.

Lieutenant Warner is an artist of high standing, a member of the artists’ colony at Lyme CT, with a studio in New York in the winter, and was one of the many artists who turned to account their imagination, ingenuity and years of training in the study of things as they appear in this branch of war service. His talk at the Duxbury Yacht Club was delightfully informal, full of interesting anecdotes and illustrated by lantern slides from photographs of ships or models made to demonstrate the camouflage designs.

Land and Marine Camouflage
Lieutenant Warner first emphasized the essential difference between land and marine camouflage, saying that the two had almost nothing in common, either in their methods or their aims. Land camouflage was more obviously a deception of the eye, as it attempted to make things invisible or make them look like something else. Whereas in the navy, though it was desirable to conceal the character or identity of a ship when possible, that was far from being the chief end of camouflage. The early experiments tried for “low visibility,” as it was called, almost exclusively, but it was soon found that the movement of the ship and the constantly changing and infinite variety of light upon her made such deception very uncertain.

Many suggestions along these lines, however, were submitted to the Navy Department throughout the war. One man had an elaborate scheme for painting the ship to look like an island with trees and houses and even a lighthouse on it—a suggestion which would have been only more complete by having the steamer’s smoke issue from the chimney of the lighthouse keeper’s house. Of course an obvious drawback to this plan was that as the ship was not stationary the camouflage would hardly be very convincing.

Another idea was that the ships be covered with mirrors, which it was supposed would reflect the surrounding sky and sea and so make the ship invisible. The originator of the plan, however, while he had realized one of the necessities of “low visibility” camouflage, namely, that it would have to change with every condition of sea and sky to be effective, still was far from a solution, as he did not recognize the fact that the mirrors would only reflect the sky and water behind the submarine, and not behind the ship to which they were applied, and that furthermore, with every roll of the ship, they would flash alternatively light and dark, greatly increasing her visibility; a condition which the Navy had realized and tried to eliminate by giving up entirely the use of any glossy paint or bright surfaces on the ships. Other imaginative minds suggested such things as enveloping the ship in a net to make her look like a cloud on the horizon, or painting a destroyer on her sides so that she would appear to be closely convoyed—a scheme which would, of course, have its only chance of deception when she was exactly broadside on to the submarine.

Low Visibility Abandoned
Doubtless the people who submitted these kindred ideas for “low visibility,” and, in fact, the public at large, have wondered how the crazy zig-zag patterns with which the ships were painted could possibly achieve this result, and it certainly did seem as if the vessels were made more noticeable by them. The truth of the matter was that the designers and experimenters with marine camouflage did not make ships invisible simply because they couldn’t, and the patterns on the ships were not designed with that in view. It was soon discovered that a method of painting which could make a ship less visible on one kind of day made her more visible on another, and that a paint which would look dark on sunny days would appear most white on cloudy days, in contrast with gray skies and seas. Then, too, the microphone, a listening device by which a submerged submarine could hear the engines of a moving vessel at a distance of as much as twelve miles, and could often hear and roughly determine the position of a steamer long before it could be seen, rendered the reduced visibility of ships of doubtful value.

As an illustration of the extreme delicacy of this instrument, Lieutenant Warner told of an experience of the British Q-boat Barranca, while hunting submarines. A German U-boat was located by microphone on the bottom of the sea, where, as it was before the days of depth bombs, she was safe from attack, though the listener at the instrument on the Barranca could plainly hear a phonograph playing German songs on the U-boat below.

The development of this marvelous instrument forced the scientists to come to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done but to evolve a color of the lowest visibility and paint the ships with that without any further attempts at camouflage. But the imagination of the artists had been aroused and they would not give up. The idea of “dazzle painting,” as it was ultimately known, was finally conceived by a British artist, Norman Wilkinson. In the spring of 1917 he presented to the British Admiralty his plan. This was the use of strongly contrasted designs which so distorted the appearance of the ship that it was difficult to determine her course. He argued that though it had not proved possible to paint a vessel so that she was hard to see, it was still possible to paint her so that she would be hard to hit, and that as she could be both seen and heard anyway, a method of painting which rendered her more invisible would lessen her danger from torpedo attack if it distorted her course.

Spoiling the Torpedoes’ Aim
From then on the basic idea of marine camouflage was, not to make a ship difficult to see or to change her character, but to make it difficult for a submarine to determine the course which she was traveling. The submarine, after locating her prey, tries to reach a good position for firing by keeping submerged and thrusting up her periscope at as long intervals and for as short periods as possible. A ship whose course was puzzling would force the submarine to keep her periscope up longer, and the chances were that she would be seen and her quarry make its escape before she put up her periscope to locate it again. Furthermore, as the ships cannot be fired at point blank, owing to the slow rate of speed at which a torpedo travels, the range must be determined with the greatest accuracy, and the torpedo aimed so as to meet the ship at a given point on her course. The slightest mistake in the estimation of her course would send the torpedo harmlessly ahead or astern of her, and “dazzle painting,” by distorting the course, frequently caused the U-boats to take up the wrong position, and spoiled the accuracy of their long shots.

That the Germans fully realized the importance of determing the true course of a ship is shown by a quotation which Lieutenant Warner gave from the confidential manual issued for the instruction of German submarine officers at Kiel. A copy of this was secured by the British Secret Service and passed on to us through the office of Naval Intelligence. In this manual it was stated that “the determination of the track angle of the enemy’s course is the foundation of the whole art of firing submerged.”

Now that the importance and value of course distortion was generally accepted, the next step was the principles of design and pattern which would produce this result. At first the work was carried on by means of countless experiments with one pattern after another, and the English evolved some very successful designs in this way. Lieutenant Commander Wilkinson, the originator of the idea, came to this country for a month and gave our navy the benefit of the British experience in ship camouflage. Lieutenant Warner worked with him and many of the devices and patterns which the English had found resulted in “course distortion” were adopted by our Navy, but it was not until some time afterwards that the principles underlying these results were understood and the general law governing the effect produced was discovered.

Working with Models
As everyone knows, teaching a subject involves reducing it to its basic principles and putting the principles in a clear and easily understood form, and it was largely through explaining the “dazzle painting” to the camoufleurs of the Shipping Board, whose duty it was to apply the navy designs to the ships, that the subject was put upon a practical basis of procedure, having a logical certainty of result. To secure more complete cooperation and that they might better understand the principles underlying the designs, three of the camoufleurs came to Washington each week for an intensive course given by the camouflage designers.There, in the Navy Department’s camouflage theatre, they were shown the little models of the different types of ships, carefully made to scale, with which the camouflage designers made their experiments. The ships were painted with different dazzle designs, placed upon the turntable and viewed through a periscope to determine whether the camouflage gave the necessary course distortion before the designs were approved and issued for use.

In order that the camoufleurs might be more familiar with the basic construction of the patterns, Lieutenant Warner had made a number of wooden blocks of different geometric shapes, which could be arranged in imitation of the patterns applied to the ships, and it was gradually discovered that every successful pattern, whether based on geometric or any other form, was capable of explanation along the same lines, and was governed by the laws of perspective.

One of the most successful methods of producng course distortion was that of projecting upon the ship’s sides a pattern consisting of a series of forms which apparently turned towards or away from the observer, according to the way in which they were drawn, with the result that the ship appeared to be steering in the direction indicated by the pattern.

Illusion of this sort is familiar to everyone in scene painting, or, in fact, any pictorial representation, and Lieutenant Warner gave an illustration which should make the principle clear, even to those not accustomed, like the painter, architect or sculptor, to realize the changes in the appearance of objects seen at different angles, and of course explainable by the laws of perspective. For instance, a row of bathhouses along a curving beach painted upon the backdrop of a stage would look equally convincing if that backdrop were erected upon an actual beach. The beach and houses would appear to be curving away, though in reality painted upon a flat surface. The same principles of perspective applied to a pattern made up of geometric forms painted upon a ship’s sides would make her appear to be turning away from the observer when she was actually broadside on.

Other methods of producing an optical illusion were also used such as parallel, vertical bands to make a ship look taller and to conceal smokestacks or confuse her construction, and so make it difficult to fix upon a point in calculating the range. Broad bands were sometimes painted upon her sides at such angles as to create the illusion of a bow in advance of her real bow, and the lights and darks cause by her actual construction were confused by the application of fictitious structural shadows painted upon her.

The matter of color was not of importance in “dazzle painting,” dealing as it did with the distortion of form, and though many experiments with color were tried especially in the earlier attempts for “low visibility,” it was finally demonstrated that values or degrees of light and dark were of more importance, and some of the best results were obtained with only blacks and grays, though blue was frequently used, in the hope that it might on certain days blend with the sea or sky and so add to the distortion of the form of the ship and obscure the direction of the course upon which she was traveling.

The success of camouflage cannot, of course, be definitely demonstrated, owing to all the other factors which enter into the matter of a ship’s safety, but the navy statistics in comparing the losses among the camouflage and un-camouflaged ships are so greatly in favor of the former as practically to prove its success. Its future is, of course, problematical. In the event of another war it would, without doubt, be carried even further and its field widened. There may be a future for it in peace, however, for if ships can be painted so as to distort their course they could be made to show more clearly the direction in which they are traveling and so lessen the chances of collision and miscalculation.


See also 


Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk)

Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk)

Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk)

Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk)

Friday, November 5, 2021

optical camouflage based on Maxwell's spinning disks

One of the earliest, most important contributors to World War I ship camouflage was an American muralist named William Andrew Mackay (1876-1939). He is best known for having created a series of murals about the achievements of Theodore Roosevelt, which are housed in the rotunda of the Roosevelt Memorial Hall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In advance of WWI, he began to experiment with optical color mixtures in the camouflage of submarines, which he demonstrated with spinning colored disks that had been developed earlier by James Clerk Maxwell. A detailed, richly illustrated account of Mackay's camouflage-related research is accessible online here, and is also downloadable online here.

• Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk) at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLX5YQF-H3k> 

• Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiSWNYCNRcM> 

• Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3asynn24nD4> 

• Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS2ZwYyxy1Y>

Monday, November 1, 2021

Jan Koenderink / to see is to sneeze—in this respect

Jan Koenderink, “Vision as a User Interface” in Proceedings SPIE 7865, Human Vision and Electronic Imaging XVI, 786504 (February 4, 2011)—

Visual awareness is proto-mind stuff. Here I am thinking of the Gestalts or the classical illusions, which are cognitively inpenetrable. Even if you are an expert on a certain illusion, you still see it, cognition doesn’t make it go away. Likewise, a Gestalt like the famous Kanizsa triangle [as shown above] is stubbornly there—in your visual awareness, even though you know that “there is no triangle.” Visual awareness is presentation in the sense that it simply happens to you. Nothing you can do about it, nor are you responsible for the presentations you have. It is much like sneezing in this respect.

Also see Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk)

Saturday, October 30, 2021

the deserved jot / a decided if non-dazzling personality

WWII German ship camouflage
Above Dutch photograph of a World War II, dazzle-camouflaged German ship (1944). Hypothetical colors applied, using AI, it should not be assumed to be historically accurate. Note that the camouflage application had not yet been completed.


John Walker Harrington, HART, THE RELENTLESS SCRUTINIZER OF AMERICAN PORTRAITS: He destroyed some illusions, but he helped to increase the fame of our early artists, in The New York Sun, August 8, 1918—

Charles Henry Hart, sharp of eye and agile of wit, never gave up an opinion once formed on full investigation, and he was beloved and hated according to the way his views chanced to square or clash with those with whom he came in contact. As one who knew him, I am venturing to write these lines about him because nobody misunderstood him, and therefore, taken all in all, he was a most unpopular man. There is danger, owing to his decided personality, and also because in these days art has given way to dazzle and camouflage, that the great service which this man did for American art will be forgotten for a time. Likewise, fifty years from now there is no likelihood of posterity neglecting to give every jot of credit he deserved to Charles Henry Hart. [As of today, it has been over one hundred years since Harrington wrote this, and there is neither hide nor hair of Hart—nor of Harrington.]

Thursday, October 28, 2021

USS Leviathan in a WWI engraving by Bernardt Wall

Bernhardt Wall (1918)
Above An etching by American illustrator Bernhardt Wall (1872-1956), titled Seagate 1918. In the foreground are two small children, making a sand castle. Of the ships on the water in the background, the central, largest one is the USS Leviathan. It is painted in an elaborate dazzle camouflage, designed by British camoufleur Norman Wilkinson. It had initially been a German ship called the Vaterland, but was seized by the US Shipping Board when the US entered World War I in April 1917. For the rest of the war it was used for transporting troops, making ten rounds between Hoboken NJ and several European ports, carrying more than 119,000 troops. A photograph of the Leviathan’s port side camouflage is shown below. 

USS Leviathan

• Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk) at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLX5YQF-H3k>
• Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiSWNYCNRcM>
• Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3asynn24nD4>
• Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS2ZwYyxy1Y>

Sunday, October 24, 2021

latest terpsichorean fads in WWI wartime dancing


Chicago, June 10—The “trench trot,” the “camouflage waltz” and the “cantonment canter” have displaced the gavotte, the minuet and the old fashioned waltz, it was declared today at the convention of the International Dancing Masters’ Association. Other new dances displayed were the “war stamp" and the “airplane spin.” Plans were announced for a dancing masters’ union which will soon embark for France to instruct American soldiers regarding the newest steps.

• Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk) at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLX5YQF-H3k>
• Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiSWNYCNRcM>
• Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3asynn24nD4>
• Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS2ZwYyxy1Y>

Saturday, October 23, 2021

the debate about who originated WWI camouflage

Above World War I photograph (c1914) of four members of the French camouflage squad described in the news article below. They are (l to r) Èugene Jean-Baptiste Corbin, Louis Guingot, Henri Royer, and (seated in front) Henri Ronsin. If this article is accurate, Corbin may have been the first of the French camoufleurs to experiment not only with field camouflage, but with naval camouflage as well. Confusingly, it is often said that the originator of French camouflage was Lucien-Victor Guirand de Scévola who apparently arrived at the same idea, independently of Corbin. Combining their findings, they became a single team, but it was Guirand de Scévola who managed the first camouflage workshop at Toule, and who persuaded the French command to establish a section de camouflage.


HONOR INVENTOR OF CAMOUFLAGE: French Officials Recognize Genius of Eugene Corbin Who Aided World War in The Portsmouth Times (Portsmouth OH), October 6, 1935, p. 12—

Paris, Oct. 5—Eugene Corbin, inventor of the system of camouflage used in the World War, finally has received recognition from the French government for his work.

In August 1914, Corbin, now 65 years old and the weathy director of a big department store chain, was mobilized as a noncommissioned officer. Three days after he reached the front the idea of putting war materials in “disguise” came to him. It was later adopted by all the allied and enemy armies and became one of the most striking characteristics of the World War.

One day, as Corbin tells it, he learned that three of his friends were blown to pieces by an airplane bomb while manning a field gun. He remembered that years before he had experimented with many-colored costumes while hunting so as not to scare away animals. He thought the scheme might work to disguise field guns from enemy planes and his colonel gave him permission to experiment.

Corbin first rounded up a squad to help him. Louis Guingot, a prominent portrait painter, and Henri Ronsin, decorator of the Paris Opera were his first aids. Together they painted the first canvas to hide a field gun and its gunners from German planes. They were given an automobile and complete painting equipment plus the use of a vacant department store in Toul. Soon their staff grew and idle factories throughout France were opened to pratictioners in the new science of camouflage. The first design never varied throughout the war.

Corbin directed painting of the first warship and first transport, examples of camouflage which were to become familiar to American citizens throughout the war. His invention was applied to everything used in army and navy life, from guns, hangars, tanks to armored cars, trucks and railroad cars.

Corbin has been active throughout his life in the interests of what he calls “real art,” apart from the crude system of painting that he originated. For some years he has supported a colony of artists and sculptors in his native Lorraine and his private art collection numbers more than 10,000 objects which he has collected for 35 years.

Èugene Jean-Baptiste Corbin

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

WWI British camouflaged ship in Southhampton water

Geoffrey S. Allfree (1918)
On pages 88-89 of James Taylor’s book, Dazzle: Disguise and disruption in war and art (Pool of London, 2016), on a facing full-page spread, there is a striking reproduction of a painting of a dazzle-painted British ship, A dazzled oiler with escort (1918), by Geoffrey S. Allfree (1889-1918). He was not a camouflage artist per se, but was commissioned during World War I by the Imperial War Museum to document wartime subjects. 

Of those paintings, my own favorite is a watercolor on paper (shown above), titled Camouflaged ship in Southhampton water (1917). As can be skillfully achieved in watercolor, there is a freshness and immediacy that makes it seem to have come about with all but little effort.

During the war, Allfree was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Vounteer Reserve. He died at sea on September 29, 1918, at age 29. Earlier in the same year, he had been designated as the official painter for the Royal Navy. He is the grandfather of composer, musicologist, and scholar Joscelyn Godwin, Professor of Music Emeritus at Colgate University.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

cut-out silhouettes of skunks / embedded figures

Cut-out silhouettes of skunks
Above In a recently posted video on Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (2021) I demonstrate the use of cut-out silhouettes by American artist and naturalist Abbott H. Thayer, who worked in collaboration with his son, Gerald H. Thayer, in the study of protective coloration in nature. 

[During World War I] Thayer objected to the use of field service uniforms of plain, one-color fabric. He thought it was better to break it up, to counter the shading from overhead light, and to generally make it confusing.

At some point, he announced that he had come up with a simple method by which any soldier, in any setting, could determine his own best camouflage pattern. This too made use of cut-out silhouettes. All a soldier needed to do, Thayer proposed, is to cut out a silhouette of his own figure (or the generic shape of a man), and to study the colors and patterns that appeared in the hole of the figure when observed in his surroundings. He had already explored this photographically to recreate the patterns of, for example, birds and skunks [as shown above]

• Nature, Art, and Camouflage (35 min. video talk) at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLX5YQF-H3k>
• Art, Women’s Rights, and Camouflage (29 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiSWNYCNRcM>
• Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage (26 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3asynn24nD4>
• Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage (28 min. video talk) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nS2ZwYyxy1Y>

Saturday, October 9, 2021

skilled cosmetic camouflage / disguised injured optics

James Montgomery Flagg (1905)
Above James Montgomery Flagg (best-known for his I Want You Uncle Sam poster), Cover illustration (with embedded figure or visual pun) for Life magazine, March 23, 1905.


Abel Warshawsky, The memories of an American Impressionist. Kent OH: Kent State University Press, 1980, p. 30—

One Sunday, when as usual we were on our way to dine at the Kroll’s house, Leon Kroll surprised us by revealing an unsuspected side of his character. We were passing through a tough neighborhood after a heavy fall of snow, when we came upon a band of young roughs mercilessly pelting an old man with snowballs. When we tried to interfere, the band of hooligans turned on us, and we were obliged to make a fight for it. Kroll, who was of small physioque, was our first casualty. An old shoe, hitting him on the head, bowled him over down the area steps where we had taken our stand. In a moment, he was back, blazing with the lust of battle, a veritable David ready to slay his tens of thousands. His onset was so terrific that the enemy was soon put to flight. But there were several black eyes among us to tell the tale of the Sunday battle, and that evening we were to attend a concert! How to save our telltale faces! It was then we remembered the lower Bowery expert who painted out black eyes, and we proceeded to do likewise, so successfully that no one that evening or the next day noticed the traces of our combat.

Above Anon, detail from a cartoon from The Ogden Standard (Ogden UT), December 3, 1917, p. 11.

George Ross, BLACK EYE CAMOUFLAGE ARTIST TELLS MR. ROSS TWO OUT OF TEN ‘PATIENTS’ ARE WOMEN, in Times Daily (Florence AL), September 21, 1939—

NEW YORK, September 22, 1939—“Doctor” Edward Xiques, an amiable Greek who plies his practice amidst the flop houses on the Bowery, hums “Ch’ chonya” with amusement in his voice. “Ch” chonya” is Russian for “dark eyes” and the song, there, is a musical trademark for Dr. Xiques’ craft. He happens to be the only healer and camouflager of black eyes in the city. Or as his own business card promises, “Black eyes painted natural!”

And business has been rather good lately, As you might surmise, not the bulk of Dr. Xiqies’ trade stems from the flop houses in the nondescript Bowery, but from uptown where vanity is fancied.

He speaks smugly of the folk who have come down in expensive cars from Park Avenue to have shiners camouflaged, and he likes to tell about the silk-sheathed beauties who sneak down to his atelier to have a few bruises and a wounded optic well disguised.

As a matter of fact, two out of ten patients are women. That will give you some idea of the status of chivalry in Manhattan. In a specialized occupation like Dr. Xiques,’ discretion is the better part of valor. For example, he has never smiled when the patient explained that the bedpost, the doorknob or the phone receiver hit him. And he is resigned to the slamming taxi door, also. For save in the cases of unabashed pugilists, none of his patients have ever confessed to being the receiving end of a bare fist.

Disguising a black eye is anart with an orthodox background; the secret has been in Dr. Xiques’ family for three generations—but he is the last, probably, who ever will pursue it. After he bows out, folks will have to go back to raw beefsteaks, through Dr. Xiqus frowns upon a prime cut as an effective curative. He says you may as well decorate a black eye with a filet mignon or entrecote!

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Poet William Carlos Williams meets Gerald H. Thayer

Above Gerald H. Thayer, Male ruffed grouse in the forest (1907-08). Watercolor on paper. 19.75 inches high x 20 inches wide. First published as an illustration in his book, Concealing coloration in the animal kingdom, New York: Macmillan, 1909. Plate II, 38 (public domain). The original painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Roy R. Behrens, “Khaki to khaki (dust to dust): the ubiquity of camouflage in human experience” in Ann Elias, Ross Hartley and Nicholas Tsoutas, eds., Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the art of disappearance. AU: Sydney University Press, 2015—

The grouse [in Thayer’s painting] is completely motionless (a common means of defence among animals) for the same reason that the Ames distorted room [one of the Ames Demonstrations in psychology] works best from a rigid, “frozen” one-eyed view. Motion is a great spoiler of camouflage, and if the grouse moves even a muscle, it will be quickly given away.…


Halter Peter, The revolution in the visual arts and the poetry of William Carlos Williams. Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 125-126—

[From an analysis of a William Carlos Williams poem]…the last lines [of the poem]—“a / partridge / from dry leaves”—contain a reference to the painting Male Ruffed Grouse in the Forest by Gerald H. Thayer…Thayer’s watercolor of a partridge merging with dry leaves and winter trees behind it is related to the Audubon tradition of accurate and loving observation of the American fauna which Wlliams so highly valued…

Moreover, Thayer’s painting is a kind of picture puzzle: Based on the systematic exploration of mimicry in animals, it depicts a partridge that is indeed difficult tell “from dry leaves.’…Williams may well have singled out Thayer’s painting as a work of art that, not unlike his own poem, explores ambiguty and foregrounds the problem of figure and ground. Both painting and poem are about what has to be “figured out”; both contain, in other words, the hide-and-seek dimension that asks for the viewer’s or reader’s active participation.


Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

attribute rhymes, proximity, and aligned continuities

suite of design-themed posters (designer unknown)
Camouflage artists are not alone in making use of unit-forming factors. As is evidenced by this series of posters, graphic designers make incessant daily use of attribute similarities, proximity, and aligned continuities. Each of these posters is a tribute to a different variety of design (they represent—from left to right—graphic, industrial, and interior design). While each is unique, they hold together as a suite, like a set of dinnerware, as variations on a theme. Recurrent circles (in the form of a plate, a sphere, and side views of a circular table and lamp) are an especially important motif. More>>>

bilious green and red-lead squares set diamondwise

HMS Mauretania
Arthur Riggs Stanley, With three armies: on and behind the western front. Indianapolis IN: Bobbs-Merril, 1918, pp.16-18—

Our little procession that night consisted of two hospital ships full of wounded going to Blighty, our own ship, and the usual convoy of destroyers. The weather was good for submarining, rainy, blowing half a gale, and black as a pocket. The enemy could creep up and wait in our path unobserved…

…What a day that one of swinging anchor was! Submarines outside—a new liner not yet on her maiden voyage but merely coming from the yards, torpedoed and destroyed—an American destroyer sunk—two big passenger liners sent to the bottom, one visible from our ship when we passed its location. Rumor was busy indeed. But we were on the home stretch, we had all of us seen much and learned  more; we were on an American ship with a veteran crew…

The ship itself was not painted a uniform war gray, but with a bluish-gray as a background, she was literally covered, hull, superstructure, funnels, spars, boats, everything with bilious green and red-lead squares, set diamondwise—camouflage at sea. When coming aboard a young airplane engine expert, with the rank of a Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, shivered at this hideous pleasantry, and all the way across missed meals and kept away from the bluest part of the smoking room.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

two boys beneath a coat become a circus elephant

Above Page with text for children from Clarence F. Carroll and Sarah C. Brooks, The Brooks Primer. New York: Appleton, 1906. Public domain.


John Lewis, Heath Robinson: artist and comic genius. New York: Harper and Row, 1973, p. 192—

The repeated use of the camouflage theme in [William] Heath Robinson's Second World War cartoons may have had something to do with the fact that his eldest son Oliver was a Camouflage officer in the British Army. 



Nature, Art, and Camouflage  

Art, Women's Rights, and Camouflage

 Embedded Figures, Art, and Camouflage

 Art, Gestalt, and Camouflage

Friday, September 24, 2021

Sunday, September 19, 2021

sex on an iowa farm / it is praying mantis party time

Photograph © Mary Snyder Behrens
Of late, we have had some interesting encounters on our five-acre wildlife refuge, and not just because the human race is rapidly self-destructing. As has happened every year since we first moved here in 1991, the monarch butterflies gathered in our grove of trees on their annual migration. Their numbers are conspicuously less than they were in earlier years, but may have been slightly stronger this year. For nearly a week, it is heartening to stroll among them as they fly around ones head, and, when the numbers are sufficient, to watch them change the leaves from green to orange as they hang suspended from the trees.

At nearly the same time, the hummingbirds have also been passing through in their usual abundant numbers, each of them fighting off the others for sole possession of an entire feeder, even if there are multiple feeding stations. They are unrelenting as they dive at one another, using their long, thin beaks as if they were fencing swords. Unheard of until this year, we found a dead hummingbird on the porch deck. It appeared to have a broken neck. It was adjacent to a feeding station, and may have crashed into a porch railing as it was being attacked. Holding its body in our hand, we were amazed to find that it was literally "as light as a feather." Regrettably, we didn't think of photographing it, and very soon it (apparently) blew away.

As if those events were not enough, even greater commotion was caused last week when Mary came running in from the garden to say that she had spotted a large female praying mantis. We both rushed out to see it (each year, we encounter at least one on our property, probably as a result of ordering a few egg cases many years ago from a garden supply catalog). But this time, we were even more fortunate. We watched her for a couple of days, as she grazed on grasshoppers. And then, about two days ago, when we went out to visit, we discovered that a male partner had discovered her, and we photographed them in the process of mating (see detail above, and full image below). Viewer discretion advised.

In the photograph at bottom, you may notice that the female is looking toward the camera (mantids have a curious human look because they can turn their heads like humans). She is not easily disturbed by observers, so perhaps she was looking at the tasty grasshopper at the right edge of the photograph. To find her (which is not always easy), we sometimes look for the discarded body parts of grasshoppers.

As we were observing all this, we began to wonder if the male mantid would be eaten by the female after having mated. It is rumored to happen, but apparently only about one in forty times. Or, in some instances, the male may kill the female. In this case, when we went out to observe them again that same afternoon, the party had ended. The male had left the female, and had returned to routine activities at a safe distance. Now, we will be on the lookout for an egg case.

Photograph © Mary Snyder Behrens 2021

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Franz Marc as a WWI German artillery camoufleur

Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest
Above Franz Marc, Animals in a Forest (1914). In earlier paintings by Marc, figures are easily distinguished from their backgrounds. As his work evolved, animals and landscapes increasingly merged, progressing toward embedded figures


Tim Newark, Camouflage. London: Thames and Hudson, 2007, p. 68—

[During World War I, the German army] recruited artists to disguise their weaponry. The most famous of these was Franz Marc, an Expressionist painter who served initially as a cavalryman. He wrote a revealing letter to his wife in February 1916 in which he told of the creative pleasure he derived from painting military tarpaulins by adapting the styles of great modern painters.

“The business has a totally practical purpose,” said Marc, “to hide artillery emplacements from airborne spotters and photography by covering them with tarpaulins in roughly pointillistic designs in the manner of bright natural camouflage. The distances which one has to reckon with are enormous—from an average height of 2000 meters—enemy aircraft never flies much lower than that…I am curious what effect the ‘Kandinskys’ will have at 2000 meters. The nine tarpaulins chart a development ‘from Manet to Kandinsky.’” 

Franz Marc (1910)


Friday, September 10, 2021

harlequin-patterned WWI dazzle ship camouflage

Above Photograph of a dazzle-camouflaged British troop ship, the RMS Mauretania, arriving in New York harbor, carrying infantry from Europe (December 1919). If compared with the 1914 theatrical photograph below, it is evident why the public commonly compared such checkerboard-patterned camouflage to a traditional harlequin’s costume. 

painted bridge camouflage during both world wars

Above Photograph (c1918) of a World War I-era camouflaged bridge in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, France, fifty miles southeast of Nancy. Note the painted scenic panel that spans the length of the bridge (in imitation of a row of buildings) and conceals the traffic crossing it.

Below is a newspaper account of the removal of bridge camouflage at the end of WWII.


CAMOUFLAGE REMOVED FROM RIVER BRIDGE in The Valley Times (San Fernando Valley CA)  July 12, 1947—

One of the last objects to be relieved of its wartime coating of camouflage is the Los Angeles River bridge on Victory Boulevard between Glendale and Griffith Park.

I.M. Ridley of Burbank today is directing two crews removing the camouflage that was placed on the bridge about six yers ago to make it appear non-existent to possible enemy bombers. Three days will be required to sandblast the paint off and return the bridge to its former white cement finish.

Most of the bombshelters have been removed from around the county’s war plants. But many buildings that produced war goods still retain camouflage.

Friday, September 3, 2021

visual ambiguity / metaphors, camouflage, visual puns

Anon, French postcard, portrait of Bismarck
Today, I ran across an online essay (it's been online since 2017, and I've only just now found it) by American designer/illustrator  Catherine A. Moore, titled Seriously Funny: Metaphor and the Visual Pun. It is a well-written overview of ambiguity, especially puns and metaphors, both word- and image-based. 

The term ambiguity is commonly misunderstood. It doesn't imply a lack of meaning, but refers instead to the potential of multiple meanings. It comes from the same etymological root (ambi, meaning "both" or "on both sides") as ambidextrous, ambivalence, ambitious, ambience, amphitheater, and so on. In practice, it has lots to do with embedded figures (such as the pun-embellished portrait of Otto, Prince of Bismarck, shown above), with metaphors, and, by extension, camouflage.

Moore's essay is a wonderfully wide-ranging discussion of various kinds of word play, from which she moves on to examples of extraordinary visual puns (dare we call them image play) by such masterful practitioners as Christoph Niemann, Guy Billout, and, of course, René Magritte.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

speeding up the daily production of ship camouflage

During World War I, did any of the ship camouflage artists come up with clever procedures by which they could speed up the daily production of dazzle designs?

The answer is affirmative, although we do not know to what extent these were actually put into practice. Among the most ingenious was a method that originated with an American Navy camoufleur named Everett L. Warner. It was he who oversaw the ship camoufleurs in Washington DC at the Design Subsection of the US Navy’s Camouflage Section. Not only did he originate this method, he also documented it with photographs and described it in an article that was later published.

Here is what we know about his innovative method of producing new schemes for the sides of ships: At some point, he discovered that the painters at the harbors, who were applying the schemes to the actual ships, did not fully understand how various distortions worked. As a result, he initiated the practice of requiring small groups of those painters to attend training sessions at the Design Subsection. The distortion effects were a challenge to explain, and Warner soon found it was helpful to have on hand a number of cut-up, variously-colored wooden scraps to use in demonstrations.

One day, while preparing these demonstrations, Warner inadvertently arranged a number of these scraps of wood on the surface of a table. With no particular purpose, a wooden model of a ship, painted in monochrome gray, had been placed on the same surface, so that it served as a contrasting background. At that point, Warner realized that he could easily rearrange the scraps, in all but an infinite number of ways, and then use that arrangement as a flat, confusing pattern on the surface of the ship. If the scraps were aligned at an oblique angle, the plain gray ship behind them would appear to be positioned at the same angle. more>>>

Monday, August 30, 2021

video / a dazzle advertisement of a dazzling discovery

Above A damaged, 19th century Swiss photograph of a small child in a white hat (just left of center) seated on her father's lap, with her mother standing at the right. Circumstances are such that, at first glance, some viewers interpret the child's face as the eye of a profile of Christ, facing left. 

Like the man in the moon, or a face in the clouds, this is an example of seeing apparently meaningful forms in random or accidental formations, called pareidolia. Unless of course (as might well be), the photograph has been altered, to increase the likelihood of seeing the figure. 

As I discuss in a new online 25-minute video talk, titled Art, Embedded Figures, and Camouflage, there is a long tradition of the purposeful insertion of embedded figures (or, as they are sometimes called, camouflaged figures), in picture puzzles and works of art. Here's a brief excerpt from the video narration, followed by the two advertising diagrams that it describes—

Not surprisingly, embedded figures have also been used in advertising. During World War I, for example, at the height of the public’s interest in dazzle-painted ship camouflage, this unidentified diagram was published in a British magazine, repeatedly—on the same page, in the same location—for several weeks. It simply read: A dazzle advertisement of a dazzling discovery. That was all that anyone knew. 

And then, suddenly, in the last week of the ad campaign, an “embedded figure” solution appeared, also on the same page, same place. Camouflage has its uses, it said, but Firth’s Stainless Steel needs no protective covering.