Thursday, December 26, 2013

War Log of the Camouflaged Mauretania

Herbert Paus, Collier's magazine cover (1918)
The World War I dazzle camouflage of the RMS Mauretania (designed by British camoufleurs) was a sight to behold. Equally interesting is a 1919 painting of that ship (below) by American artist Burnell Poole (1884-1933), a US government artist and a wartime correspondent for Everybody's Magazine. To the right of it, at a distance, can be seen a second dazzle-painted ship.

Burnell Poole, painting of the RMS Mauretania (1919)

That same year, another rendition of the Mauretania was reproduced (below) in the June 1919 issue of a magazine called Printing Art. It was lauded by editors as an effective use of a dazzle motif—

The war has brought out a great many wonderful effects in decoration, illustration, etc., and among these the various uses of the camouflage must be placed early in any list. Naturally this camouflaging of ships has lent itself better to pictorial illustration than to decoration, but in the insert [in this issue, facing page 304] will be seen a decoration adapted from camouflage designs for the cover of a booklet for the Cunard Steam Ship Company, Limited. This booklet, "The War Log of the Mauretania," while small in size, carries on the cover such an appropriate handling of this peculiar design that we are very glad to be able to show it as this time. The production is the work of Gaines Thurman, Inc., of New York City (p. 312).

Cunard Booklet Cover (c1919)

At the time, the Mauretania was transporting Canadian and American soldiers to and back from Europe. Its astonishing complex design was well-known and widely admired. A year before Cunard came out with its war log, a detail of the ship appeared on the cover of Collier's: The National Weekly (June 15, 1918), in a painting by American illustrator Herbert Paus (1880-1946), as shown at the top of this blog post.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Horses Camouflaged with Paint

We've talked about this before, but here's more information on an apparently once-common practice of actually painting horses, for purposes of camouflage, during World War I. In an earlier post, we wondered what if any harm this would do to the horse. It appears that the "paint" that was typically used was potassium permanganate (aka permanganate of potash or Condy's crystals). Among US soldiers during WWI, it was used twice daily as an irrigation in treating gonorrhea. Today, it is used in connection with eczema, blisters and athlete's foot—and in rocket propellent. Hmmm.

But first, a parenthetical note for those who are acquainted with Jerzy Kosinski's novel called The Painted Bird. Here's an excerpt that's oddly related to that from the Field Artillery Journal (November-December 1935, p. 537)—

[While awaiting orders to go into Mexico in 1915, the US 6th Field Artillery] had been instructed to leave behind any conspicuously marked animal. The favorite horse of Battery A was a big gray. The men were so anxious to take him along that they dyed him with potassium permanganate. The result was a dirty brown. It might have served, but when the dyed horse returned to his coral, his herd failed to recognize him and attacked him as a rookie. The gray won the fight that followed, but he lost most of his war paint.

Now back to the spurious zebras: As confirmed by a news photograph (above), early in WWI in East Africa, a band of British scouts under the leadership of Berkeley Cole (as described in Valerie Pakenham, Out in the Noonday Sun: Edwardians in the Tropics, p. 213)—

painted their ponies zebra-fashion with iodine to blend into the landscape, and spent five months leading a glorious cowboy existence, riding across a vast game reserve full of herds of almost tame game, before being brought sharply back to reality by a vicious fight with the Germans as Mbuyuni. Cranworth's zebra-striped mule, to his horror, bolted headlong through the German lines, and he then had to charge them in reverse.

Another confirmation of this (see photo below) was published in various US newspapers, such as in a story titled TRICKS IN ALL TRADES, in the Atlanta Constitution, on Sunday, June 13, 1915, with a caption that reads: English Troops in Egypt Paint Their Horses to Resemble Zebras, Which Are Almost Invisible Against a Tropical Background. In a concurrent but different clipping (with the same photograph), the caption reads: A British officer's pony dyed with permanganate of potash in order to make it less noticeable when fighting against the Germans on the East African border.

That said, consider three additional bits: According to Wikipedia, there is a tradition in northern Mexico of painting white donkeys to look like zebras, commonly referred to as Tijuana Zebras. In 2012, new research was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology claiming that a zebra's stripes make it less attractive to horseflies—with the result that some horse owners have since been painting black stripes on their horses.

More recent (if not all that surprising) is apparent confirmation in the journal Zoology that zebras' stripes may be confusing as they move.

Additional Sources

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Aerial Views, Camouflage & Crazy Quilts

Prior to World War I, in part in response to the Armory Show (1913), there was a flood of comparisons (in cartoons in particular) of cubism and futurism with less exalted forms of "art," such as the "crazy quilts" (made of leftover quilting fragments) created unassumingly by America's grandmothers. Above is an especially funny cartoon of grandma and her cubist quilt. Drawn by Clare Briggs and titled THE ORIGINAL CUBIST, it was published in the New York Evening Sun, on Tuesday, April 1, 1913.

After World War I began, camouflage was widely adopted, and inevitably there were comparisons of camouflage and cubism, and, in turn, of camouflage and crazy quilts. More serious, and far more interesting as well, were the various many comparisons of cubism, camouflage, crazy quilts and views of the earth from an airplane (a novelty then). Here's what Ernest Hemingway said in "A Paris-to-Strasbourg Flight" in the Toronto Daily Star on September 9, 1922—

The plane began to move along the ground, bumping like a motorcycle, and then slowly rose into the air. We headed almost straight east of Paris, rising in the air as through we were sitting inside a boat that was being lifted by some giant, and the ground to flatten out beneath us. It looked cut into brown squares, yellow squares, green squares and big flat blotches of green where there was a forest. I began to understand Cubist painting.

Of course Hemingway wasn't the only one to make such comparisons. Journalists and the general public saw it too. Below are two aerial photographs of the French landscape from the same time period. The second view, which appeared initially in Collier's Weekly in 1918, was captioned with a text that read—

NO WONDER CUBISM STARTED IN FRANCE! No one need wonder any longer where the cubists got their inspiration. They must have gone up in an airplane and had a good look at France! This airplane view of an observation balloon floating over a French village is as good a bit of cubist art as anything that Marcel Duchamp ever turned out.

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).

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.

additional sources

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Camouflage Artist | Everit Herter

Herter Brothers cabinet (c1875)
Above An astonishing decorative cabinet, made of ebonized cherry and mixed wood marquetry, circa 1875. It is now in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Its creators were the German-born designers Gustave (1830-1898) and Christian Herter (1845-1883), whose design firm in New York was called Herter Brothers.

During the Eisenhower administration, while growing up in the Midwest, we were well aware of the name Herter, because another Christian Herter (1895-1966), a respected American statesmen, was Secretary of State from 1959-1961. That person was the son of an American artist and muralist, named Albert Herter (1871-1950), whose own father had been the earlier Christian Herter, the designer-craftsman.

Although we didn't know it then, the artist Albert Herter had a second older son, a young artist named Everit Albert Herter (1894-1918), who died tragically at the front at Chateau-Thierry in France in World War I. The young Herter was a Harvard graduate, among whose college friends had been the muralist Barry Faulkner (cousin of Abbott H. Thayer) and theatrical designer Homer St. Gaudens (son of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the most famous sculptor of his time).

Portrait (perhaps a self-portrait) of Everit Herter (n.d.)

When the US Army officially started its Camouflage Corps in 1917, Herter was one of the first to enlist, along with Faulkner, Iowa sculptor Sherry Fry (an Augustus Saint Gaudens protegé), and others whose names I have listed in earlier posts, among them William Twigg-Smith, Valentin di Colonna and Cobb X. Shinn. Saint Gaudens was the officer in charge of the unit, the same unit that published a camp newspaper called The Camoufleur. They trained for several months on the grounds of the American University in Washington DC, then sailed for France in the last few days of December 1917 or the first week of January 1918 (there are conflicting accounts of the departure date).

Until recently we hadn't realized Herter's capabilities as an artist, and still know very little. While it's unfair to assess his potential on the basis of a single painting, we cannot help but be impressed by a work of his in the collection of the Fogg Museum at Harvard. Reproduced below, its title is Portrait of a Young Man in a Brown Shirt (c1913). There is writing on the side that reads: "Study by Everit Herter Harvard Class of 1914 Sergeant Camouflage Corps: [not readable] died in France June 1918." Obviously, the inscription was not added by Herter, but perhaps it was placed there by his teacher, Harvard professor and art theorist Denman W. Ross (1853-1935), whose family gave it to Harvard in 1936.

Everit Herter (1913), Fogg Museum, Harvard

Nor had we realized until recently that Everit Herter had kept a diary during the war, and that a good portion of it can now be accessed online, in M.A. DeWolfe Howe, Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany. Vol 3. (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1922), pp. 229-247. He was the first of two American camoufleurs to be killed in action at the front (the other being Faulkner's friend Harry Dickinson Thrasher).

There are numerous accounts of Herter's death, given his friends and family ties. A brief report that first appeared in the Harvard Graduates' Magazine. Vol 27 (1918) reads as follows—

Everit Albert Herter, sergeant, 40th Engineers, died of wounds, June 13, 1918. A small body of men had volunteered to camouflage a gun in a position in advance of the front line. Sergeant Herter was the first to go out, and after reaching the appointed place, waited for the rest of the party. The other members were either delayed or were unable to come, and while waiting, Herter was severely wounded by a bursting shell. He tried to make his way back to the lines, but lost consciousness. Finally he was rescued and carried to a hospital, but he never regained consciousness, and died within a few hours.

His family was of course devastated, made more poignant by the fact that Everit and his wife were the parents of two infant sons. In Everit's memory, his painter father gave to the French people a huge, magnificent mural that was installed in the lobby of the Gare de Paris-Est (East railway terminal). It can be accessed on Wikipedia here. In addition, there are other photographs of it and an insightful account of its meaning on a blog called Invisible Paris.

additional sources

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Camouflage Artists | Davenport & Benrimo

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Three views of dazzle-painted USS Mount Vernon (1918)
The following is a newspaper article (JAMAICA WOMEN'S CLUB) that appeared in The Daily Long Island Farmer (Jamaica NY), January 9, 1919, p. 1—

The program for the January meeting of the Jamaica Woman's Club yesterday was in charge of the Arts and Crafts Department of which Mrs. J.T. Cooley is chairman. Mrs. Cooley had succeeded in procuring as speakers, Messrs. Henry Davenport, a portrait painter of Boston, and Thomas B.[sic] Benrimo, a magazine illustrator. These artists responded to their country's first call for camoufleurs, and as such have been working on boats in New York Harbor for many months. The father of naval camouflage is Wm. A. Mackey [should read William Andrew Mackay], lately returned from France. The French has used land camouflage for some time. Naval camouflage has been a great success, as out of 150[sic] boats* so treated by the United States, none have been sunk and only two or three hit. The object at first was to render boats invisible, but owing to changing clouds, light and shade, this became impossible and the best plan was found to deceive the eye of the enemy as to the direction in which the boat was proceeding. This was accomplished by means of disappearing and converging lines, black, white and gray being the colors most effective.

It has been a tedious and most difficult job for these artists, for besides a long day at work, 7 days in the week, the boats themselves were not easy to decorate, as on one side they were unloaded of their cargoes and on the other, perhaps loaded. All the work had to be done while ships were in port and besides the loading and unloading there were the usual number of mechanics on board, clearing, painting and repairing. The original plans of working were made at Washington [DC, at the Design Subsection of the Navy's camouflage unit] and might or might not fit the boat they were designed for. Much of the actual work or painting—the large masses—was done by Swedes with huge brushes, but the marking out and finishing was done by these patriotic artists who were accustomed to much finer and more congenial work.

Mr. Benrimo said that the English had adopted our idea of camouflage and had made it much finer, and been wonderfully successful in work turned out.

The object of all the different methods was to apparently turn the course of the boat so that submarine commanders would make wrong sights. Mr. Benrimo in conjunction with this spoke of the importance of painting out prominent parts of a boat using massed color, and bringing different surfaces all on one plane.

Mr. Davenport spoke of the difficulties of actually applying the designs and paint. His talk was very humorous and both he and Mr. Benrimo made one realize how portrait painters can pitch into work wholly foreign to them and accomplish something really big, while the public regards it as picturesque and amusing.

* This may be a printing error since, according to Harold Van Buskirk (the executive officer in charge of the Navy's two-pronged Camouflage Section), more than 1250 US ships were dazzle-painted prior to 1919.

There is more to know about Messrs. Davenport and Benrimo. American painter Henry Davenport (1881-1965) was born in Brookline MA. A Harvard graduate, he went to Paris to study architecture but turned instead to painting. Returning in 1914, he studied at Provincetown MA under Charles Hawthorne and George Elmer Browne, then founded his own school in Paris in 1916. Later, he taught studio art and art history at Yale University. In Richard H. Love's fascinating book on Carl W. Peters: American Scene Painter (NY: University of Rochester Press, 1999), there is a suspect statement that claims that "In the New York area, the artist in charge of camouflaging ships in military service during World War I was Henry Davenport, an accomplished painter who had worked in Europe." On the contrary, William Andrew Mackay was in charge of the New York civilian camoufleurs.

As for Thomas D[uncan] Benrimo (1887-1958), he is fairly well-known as a magazine illustrator and early Modernist painter. He also worked successfully as a theatrical designer. His wartime service (during which he is said to have worked with Mackay) is described as follows in David L. Witt, Modernists in Taos (Santa Fe NM: Red Crane Books, 2002):

Benrimo became a lecturer in camouflage methods, training others in this art while at the same time gaining experience valuable to his later teaching career. Using tape measures, chalk lines, and rules, the camoufleur marked out the design on the ship and supervised quality control in the actual paint application…[he] apparently thought this design experience important because he kept his lecture notes and drawings (pp. 72-73).

It is of curious interest that Benrimo, while on the faculty at Pratt Institute (1935-39), was an influential teacher for graphic designer Gene Federico, who himself served as a camoufleur during World War II.