Thursday, June 28, 2018

Article on Gestalt Theory Chosen for Chinese Journal

Leonardo: Journal of the International Society of Arts, Science and Technology (published by MIT Press) is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

To commemorate that, Zhuangshi: The Chinese Journal of Design (published through Tsinghua University in Beijing) has published a special issue in which it has translated into Chinese and reprinted in its pages six selected articles (chosen by the Chinese editors) from all past issues of Leonardo.

We were pleased to learn that one of our articles, titled "Art, Design and Gestalt Theory" (Leonardo 31, No 4, 1998) was among the six articles chosen.

Link to articles on Gestalt theory

Kevin Nute | Embedded Figures in Wright Floor Plans

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City
There are few books I would recommend as highly as Kevin Nute's Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: The Role of Traditional Japanese Art and Architecture in the Work of Frank Lloyd Wright (1994). When I first came across that book, I was researching Gestalt theory in relation to camouflage. It was Nute who showed the embedded figure connections between Arthur Wesley Dow's "organic line ideas," traditional Asian lattice motifs, and Wright's floor plans.

I have learned recently that Kevin Nute will be talking about Wright in Japan at the Architectural Interpretive Center in Mason City IA, at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. The event is free and open to the public.

Poster © Roy R. Behrens

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Fashion of Military Camouflage—and Goldfish

Above Camouflage fashion image from En Vogue: The Fashion of Military Camouflage (including posted essay) at the website for Buy The Camo Blend Right Out.


Sell Camouflaged Goldfish in The Aberdeen Weekly (Aberdeen MS), June 13, 1919, p. 3—

London—Camouflaged "goldfish" have been selling well in London. Common varieties of small fish are being dyed. In about three days the dye wears off.

Before the war England obtained virtually all its goldfish from Germany.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Herbert Barnard John Everett | More Information

As a quick follow-up to our previous post, here's the link to a wonderful essay by art historian Gwen Yarker on British painter Herbert Barnard John Everett. We are delighted to learn that a biography is in process—he deserves it, with more than 1,000 of his oil paintings in UK collections.

Herbert Barnard John Everett | An Interview in 1919

William Orpen, Portrait of John Everett (c1900)
In earlier posts, we've praised the wartime paintings of dazzle-painted ships by British artist [Herbert Barnard] John Everett (1876-1949). Many of his paintings are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich UK. The painting reproduced above is not a painting by Everett, but a portrait of him by William Orpen (c1900). Shown below is one of Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships, titled Convoy (1918). Both works by Orpen and Everett are in the collection of the National Maritime Museum, and are listed by Wikipedia as public domain.

According to art historian Gwen Yarker

In the spring of 1918 he [Everett] was commissioned by the Ministry of Information to complete some drawings and paintings of wartime London docks and the Thames which were subsequently exhibited in America.

In connection with that American exhibition and a subsequent one in London, Anne Morton Lane (London correspondent for the New York Mail and Express) interviewed Everett and prepared a substantial news article. Published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond VA) on Monday, January 13, 1919, p. 7, the article was accompanied by a portrait photograph of Everett (not shown here).

Reprinted below is the entire article—

Interesting Story Is Told in Pictures, the Work of Artist John Everett
Ship Painting in War Time Proves One of Many Methods Used by Entente Seamen to Puzzle German U-Boat Commanders

LONDON, January 12—Recently there was begun an exhibition in New York of pictures which have received the sanction of the British government to be shown outside Great Britain.

They are the work of John Everett, a highly interesting and distinguished English artist, who has made a specialty of seascapes and pictures of ships on the high seas and at rest in docks.

Early in the war, when the use of camouflage as applied to shipping became a special and practical portion of defense at sea, as the camouflage of guns, airplanes, munition sheds and other machinery of battles became a component part of war on land, Mr. Everett saw the wonderful possibilities that might accrue from a record of the commerce afloat as a pictorial history in color.

As we all know, now that hostilities have ceased, the mystery that, surrounded all ports and shipping in the allied countries was a necessary as it was dense. Therefore, it was only after many weary months that Mr. Everett, through personal persuasion, practical influence and genuine hard work, was accorded the privilege of His Majesty’s government of visiting the great docks of London and Liverpool, in order that he might make pictures of the amazing transformation, wrought by paint and scientific knowledge upon the units of the fleet.


And now that the U-boats have ceased from troubling and the submarines are at rest within British waters, by permission of the government, Mr. Everett is now able to display the fruit of his two or three years work in dockyards, at exhibitions in London and New York.

I went to see Mr. Everett the other day in his interesting and remarkable studio, which is situated off the beaten track of general traffic in a sort of side-tracked field in St John’s Wood, a well-known artists’ quarter of suburban London.

This studio of Mr. Everett’s is a converted barn of great size and with unusual lighting qualifications. Its walls are lined and a large portion of the floor space filled with pictures of ships.

All these ships display camouflage designs, and they represent many vessels that have plied their way between England and America in wartime, but also to many thousands, who have heard of the strange masquerading of ships on the high seas.

In England the painting and designing of sea-going vessels has been carried on under the direction of a department known colloquially as the “dazzle office,” and Mr. Everett was appointed as it illustrator.

Now that the curtain is being lifted from some of the amazing secrets of the admiralty and War Office, Mr. Everett has many interesting things to relate concerning the art of “dazzle-painting” as used, and the possibility of its continuation after the war.


“Although the word camouflage is an excellent one that has been adopted by the Anglo-Saxon tongue since its uses in war time have been discovered,” said Mr. Everett. “I think that the descriptive title of “dazzle ship” is much more illustrative when applied to the use of this art at sea.

And, after all, it is not a very new ideas, because we are told that the Ancient Greeks painted their ships with big eyes and cheeks upon their bows to give them a terrifying expression of wisdom that might serve to confound their enemies.

But we moderns did better than this in war time: we had out ships painted in such a way that their strange colorings, and curious stripings and curves would puzzle the enemy and serve to give rise to uncertainty by dazzling the eyes of the watchful foe.

In fact, as I very early discovered in my work as official artist to the dazzle department, the object of ship painting in war time has really very little to do with the real meaning of the French word camouflage, which means the dissimulation of natural objects with the landscape by protective coloring.

Dazzle-painting was invented by the well-known sea painter, Lieutenant-Commander Norman Wilkinson, RNVR, and it is the only system which has practically solved the problem of the variation of light, and which attains its object not only eluding the submarine by invisibility, but by confusing its observers.


“By recognizing the limitations of paint, the art of dazzle as applied to ocean-going ships, pushes back these limitations as far as possible and makes the object of its being not invisibility but distortion: It makes the problem of calculating the course of a vessel extremely difficult.

Each design, as you will notice in the many pictures I have painted of ships, is entirely different from the other. No two dazzle-ships are alike in detail, either in color design, and the success of Commander Wilkinson’s inventions were so marked during all the weary war time months, that they were adopted by every entente nation with a marine service.

I think that this is one of the reasons why my pictures when they are seen in New York will be of extreme interest to Americans. They will then be able to see exactly the source from which came all those wonder ships that braved the perils of the sea during the past four years.

I have shown my portraits of these masquerading voyagers in English waters and British docks—settings that perhaps will be better appreciated nowadays in the New World, because it is so closely linked in these days with the old.”


Among the pictures which will be seen by permission of the British government are HMS Victorian Bringing a Convoy of American Troops into London. Mr. Everett told me that this ship was afterwards torpedoed. She was hit amidships, but by some miracle she was brought into port and no lives were lost. Another picture is of the steamship Shuma discarding timber.

“This,” explained Mr. Everett. “is a ship with an interesting dazzle, showing a great deal of light sky-blue picked out with black and white.” Another ship shows a dazzled flour ship, and another the conversion of the Cunard steamship Nanerig into an armored cruiser.

Those and many other pictures of a like kind display with extraordinary clearness something of the practical side of what those who have “gone down to the sea in ships” have had to do in order to confound the enemy.

John Everett, Convoy (1918)

There is something very dramatic about these pictures of Mr. Everett’s. They give the story of the life of the sea, and the traffic across that great grim stretch of water between England and America with wonderful vividness. The artist confesses that these pictures, painted under circumstances both difficult and dangerous, are the most fascinating work he has ever undertaken.

“The painting of these pictures, which I regard as a sort of diary of the merchant service at sea during war time,” he said, “has given me an immense belief in, and admiration for, this dazzle theory; the whole point of it has been the deception of the submarine as to the course of the ship, thus causing a miscalculation of her distance. You ask me if the dazzle ships will die with war-time; I suppose for practical purposes they will do so.

But it seems to me a pity, for undoubtedly they have lent a beauty and color of ocean-going vessels and have transformed dirty old tramp steamers into objects of remarkable harmony of shape and hue.”

Certainly amongst the strange records which the war leaves behind it, these paintings of “dazzle ships” by John Everett will not be among the least curious. It has been suggested that the dazzled colors might still be used in peace time, not to distort, but to emphasize shipping. As Mr. Everett himself suggests, it certainly might be diverted from its past uses to the purpose of making a ship’s course more clear and thus bringing about an avoidance of collisions.


Note Art historian Gwen Yarker (cited above) is one of seven speakers at a day-long "dazzle study day" that will take place from 9:30 am to 4:45 pm on Saturday, June 30 at the University of South Hampton, UK.  She will be speaking about John Everett's paintings of camouflaged ships.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Teaching Camouflage | The Real Art of War 1917

Top photo shows painted mural concealing the road
In an earlier blog post, we shared drawings and photographs of the use of perspective Illusions as a means of concealing activity, such as the movement of troops and equipment. These were huge, painted canvas backdrops, probably inspired by the theatrical backdrops in stage settings. They are also not dissimilar from the enormous scenic murals that provided the outdoor backgrounds for Buffalo Bill's Wild West performances, including phony boulders made by simply draping canvas tarps. We've now run into yet another example of the use of forced perspective in World War I. The article, reproduced above, was an unsigned full-page article called TEACHING CAMOUFLAGE, THE REAL "ART" OF WAR, TO AMERICA'S SOLDIERS, published in the St Louis Dispatch (Sunday, July 22, 1917, pp. 9-10). The entire text of the article is reproduced below—

To the German observers this perspective looked just as it had the night before. In reality they were looking at a cleverly painted screen behind which heavy guns were being placed. Drawn from a photograph.

It is the painting cannon, depots, hangars, piles of ammunition, and other war materials to blend with the surrounding landscape and be invisible to aviators. Even a countryside has been transformed so that troops could move behind a screen unknown to the Germans. American painters already have formed an organization to volunteer for service.

CAMOUFLAGE—Humbugging disguise; its main principle is the destruction of outline by paint or other artifice. See Camoufle; Camoufleur.

Such is the made-to-order definition of one of the newest words in our language, put there by the necessities of war. It will not be found in any dictIonary as yet, but it will soon be there in its proper place, precise and up-to-date. The adaptive and imaginative Frenchman coined it; the Britishers were slow to take up this new art of concealing themselves and their equipment from the common enemy. In fact, so much so that their chief protagonist, H. G. Wells, goes after his compatriots in this fashion:

"The principle of breaking the outline does not seem to be fully grasped upon the British front. Much of the painting of guns and tents that one sees is a feeble and useless dabbing or strIping; some of the tents I saw were done in concentric bands of radiating stripes that would on the whole increase their visibility from above. In one place I saw a hangar painted a good gray-green, but surrounded and outlined by white tents. My impression—and it may be quite an unjust one—was that some of our British Colonels misunderstand and dislike camouflage.”

Be that as it may, America is for this now highly developed trick-of-war, brush, tube, palette and all. Two hundred of the foremost artists of New York and other cities have already responded to the call, and when our cannon roll out towards the front they will Iook like the grassy ground, from above; and our hangars and our camps and our depots for munitions and supplies will be peaceful bits of meadowland or forest, as viewed from the German aeros circling the blue; a tarpaulin covering a pile of big shells lyIng in a roadway will have the dust of the road and the green of its edges reproduced upon it—our army is for the camouflage, first, last and all the time!

Sherry E. Fry and Barry Faulkner, two New York artists who were the recipients of the American prize to Rome. were the prime movers in the American camouflage. They enlisted the aid of several others—Walter Hale, Edwin Blashfield, J. Alden Weir and men of similar distlnction and called a meeting. The American Academy of Design went in, and the Architectural League, followed by the Society of Illustrators and the Society of Scene Painters. Mr. Blashfield was made chairman and Mr. Fry secretary. Then Washington was notified, and an appreciative letter returned from the office of the Chief of Staff.

A battalion of four companies of the camouflage Is tentatively proposed for each field army of from four to six divisions. Each company will consist of a Captain of camouflage, with three or four Lieutenants, eight or 10 Sergeants, 15 to 20 Corporals and the remainder privates. Its members wlll be put on a strictly military basis as to pay and allowances. A committee of the War College Division is now studying camouflage with a view to making definite recommendations to the Secretary of War. In the meantime the New York volunteer artists have been asked to submit technical details as to material and functions.

Abbott Thayer of Dublin, N.H., was the fIrst person ever to take up the art of concealment when he began the study of the protective coloring of animals 25 years ago. He noted that such beasts as the zebra and okapi were parts of the landscape at a few yards distance and he evolved the prlnciple that the breaking or outline was the destruction of visibility.

Little was thought of camouflage at the onset of the present big conflict. There were white kid gloves—fatal targets for German snipers—and waving plumes; the burnished cuirass and the pennoned lance. Then the two contending lines dug themselves in and locked horns. Concealment became everything—concealment from the aero with the telescopic eye; from the artillery observation station, binocular-eyed; from the practiced glance of the sharpshooter and the keen vision of the patrols. French artists in the ranks busied themselves; a new branch of the art military was born—camouflage.

Today it is highly developed. There are two branches, invisibility and imitation. A supply train may look like a row of cottages; that is imitation. A screen tops a great gun so that the green of the screen blends with the grass of the meadow; that is invisibility. And there Is a third offshoot—the art of making compelling replicas of camps, guns, piles of supplies, trenches, ammunition depots and the like, which are not bonafide at all, but the aero man thinks they are and wastes his bombs and energy at attacking nothlng worthwhile.

Such is the great game of hocus-pocus. The French, grasping the idea of the zebra’s stripes and the leopard’s spots, paint their tents in map-like shapes of strong green and bright yellow. At short distances the objects so painter are completely swallowed up in the landscape. An airman will have to fly dangerously low to spy out the trick.

French women work zealously at camouflage—“a tip to American women now drilling in khaki, utterly useless,” says one officer of the American unit. They weave countless square yards of a special open green fabric out of rushes, which can be stretched between poles, or spread out on roofs of supply depots, or on sheds with extreme rapidity.

“We propose to makes ours,” says Mr. Fry, “of American chicken wire fencing or grillage. This will give us a substantial background in which to weave whatever green substance we need to blend with the particular landscape in hand.”

Some great feats of camouflage have been pulled off in the past few months by the clever French poilu-camoufleurs. It was necessary that a large force of troops be moved along a road swept by German artillery at the first sign of anything doing. In a snug place of concealment behind the lines the artists painted on a screen that entire stretch of exposed roadway, with its background, as if it were to be a scene on the stage. Then in the night it was mounted on piles on the side of the road towards the enemy, so that when day dawned the German saw nothing extraordinary—there was the familiar road, as of the day before, wholly barren of human movement. But behind the screen along that road thousands and thousands of French soldiers were quietly marching to take their new positions, a water cart rolling along every 100 yards between the companies to keep down the dust.

Another time the German positions commanded a railway track far into the distance behind the French lines. That whole track, signals, rails and ties, and the tress that fenced in the line and hills on the horizon, were all painted on a wide screen and set up in the night across a village street which was needed. The enemy never found out the trick.

It is no safe occupation, this camouflage. The camoufleur, to achieve the right perspective, must take flights over his objectives. He must set up his whimsies at the most exposed points. Aero and auto and motor cycle must be used by him to get about, nor can he carry weapons of offense while he works. With everyone else, he must take a sporting chance.

Already we see a little of the new art in New York. One army tug down the bay is painted a dull gray, with black horizontal wave lines all over it, hull, cabin, pilot house and all. Army motorcycles are painted olive drab, with maroon stripes. The official automobiles that whisk around the machine guns are similarly colored.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Canada | Artists, Poets and Camoufleurs

Brochure [detail] for In Broad Daylight
Above and below Screen grabs from an online brochure in connection with an OpenStudio visiting artist exhibition, titled In Broad Daylight by Kathleen Ritter, at the Contemporary Printmaking Centre in Toronto CA, 2017. Also see her exhibition Camoufleurs.

Also featured in the brochure (as shown below) is a poem titled The Pickpocket and the Sloth by Ella Dawn McGeough.

Dazzle Camouflage Exhibit at St Barbe Museum UK

Poster for St Barbe Museum Dazzle Exhibition Workshop (2018)
Above Just recently posted is this magnificent poster, featuring a WWI-era painting of a dazzle-painted ship by British artist Harry Hudson Rodmell (1896-1984).

The poster is advertising one of the events that supplement an important exhibition—titled Dazzle: Disguise and Disruption in War and Art—at the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, in Lymington, Hampshire UK. This major exhibition, curated by author and historian James Taylor (working in liaison with Steve Marshall) opened on June 16 and continues through September 23, 2018.

It features original ship models, ship camouflage plans, and historic artworks, including unforgettable views of camouflaged ships by Norman Wilkinson, Edward Wadsworth, Montague Dawson, and John Everett. What a remarkable opportunity—to think that these important works will be on view at one time in a single place. Don't miss it.

Exhibition webpage at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery
We would have hoped to have been there, to particpate in a day-long "dazzle study day" from 9:30 am to 4:45 pm on Saturday, June 30, at the University of South Hampton. See schedule on website.

There are seven major speakers, including James Taylor (the exhibition curator), architect Camilla Wilkinson (granddaughter of dazzle system originator Norman Wilkinson), Simon Stephens (National Maritime Museum), Ed Yardley, Gwen Yarker, Sue Prichard, and Liv Taylor.


Don't forget the on-going French camouflage exhibit as well (mentioned in an earlier post) that continues through December 31, 2018, at the National Maritime Museum in Brest, France.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

New Find | Edward Wadsworth's Ship Camouflage

Above What a complete surprise to have found this, on the cover of the magazine section of The Detroit Free Press (Sunday, July 20, 1919). We've blogged about it before, seven years ago in May 2011, because we had a found a photograph of British Vorticist painter Edward Wadsworth in the process of completing this famous painting. Wadsworth was one of the few Modern-style artists who had actually served as a ship camoufleur during World War I. Most were academy-trained traditionalists, or Impressionists at best. To experience its full impact, you can see a color version here.

When this black and white reproduction was published, there was a caption below it that read—

Above is a reproduction of Lieut. E. Wadsworth's striking Navy picture, entitled Dazzle Ships in Drydock at Liverpool—dazzle, of course, being English for camouflage. This is a big, vital and realistic piece of painting, notwithstanding the necessarily cubistic look of its angular, geometric pattern, scientifically designed to confuse the eye of the hostile range-finder at sea. This reminds us that the invention and application of dazzle camouflage is perhaps the greatest of several factors contributed by artists to the winning of the war, as it enabled Canada and the United States to transport their armies to France in comparative safety, and then, after putting them into the fight, protected them with more camouflage of the military kind.

More on Iowa-born Ship Camouflage Artist Carol Sax

Des Moines Register Article on Carol Sax (1919)
Above In August 2017, we featured a long blog post on an Iowa-born theatre designer named Carol Sax, who had taught scenic design in Baltimore, and served as a ship camoufleur for the US Shipping Board during World War I. We've since found another (slightly different) version of the same article, featured (apparently) in a different edition of the Des Moines Register on the same day (February 2, 1919, p. X7. It includes a photograph of Sax (from Ottumwa) as well as a dazzle-camouflaged ship.