Monday, October 15, 2018

American-Renaissance-Aesthetic Entrepreneur

I often happen upon an artist’s name and think, “Aha! I’ve never posted about this artist, and his/her work is awesome.” That’s what happened yesterday when I crossed paths with George Jakob Hunzinger’s name. In the annals of American furniture design, nothing better epitomizes the (ahem) “unique” tastes in some of the miscellaneous arts of the American Renaissance Period (1870–1900). This period of American art, often erroneously referred to as “Victorian,” shares the same exuberant exploration of a zillion historical influences in furniture as British furniture of the period, but Victoria was not our queen.

American Renaissance is a better term for this period, because the US was expanding in so many directions at such a rapid pace—socially, industrially, financially, politically and militarily. Also, the middle class was expanding rapidly, and to assert their status, they needed fancy furniture! Well, Hunzinger was just the one to provide it! 

George Hunzinger (1835–1898, US, born Germany), Folding Armchair, ca. 1873. Wood and original upholstery, 31 5/8" x 27 ½" x 29 ¼" (80.3 x 69.9 x 74.3 cm). © 2018 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5585)

The Industrial Revolution (1760–1820/1840) initiated a process that revolutionized the building of furniture by machines, rather than cabinetmaker artists. In the late 1860s, the Arts and Crafts movement evolved in Britain, and through the 1870s and 1880s spread to the US. The aesthetic of the movement was a return to traditional, handcrafted decorative arts such as furniture, with the combination of fine art and functional design. This ushered in a revival of past furniture styles going back to the Renaissance and even Ancient Egypt.

The middle ground between these two aesthetic poles was what would subsequently be termed “patent furniture.” Patent furniture was aesthetically designed furniture that exploited the most up-to-date industrial techniques without sacrificing “high style.” Hunzinger was a leader in this style of furniture from the 1860s through the 1890s.

Born in Tuttlingen, Germany, Hunzinger immigrated to the US in 1855. His family had been cabinetmakers in Germany since the 1600s. He was already an established furniture maker when he came to the US, eager to build a furniture company that took advantage of America’s far-reaching advancements in industrial technology and inventions. Ultimately, the means of production for Hunzinger’s furniture was a major source of inspiration for his patented designs.

Hunzinger was a prolific inventor himself, securing twenty-one patents in furniture design between 1860 and the year of his death (1898). Among his inventions based on modern convenience rather than concerns about historical styles were extension tables, swivel top and nesting tables, reclining and folding chairs, convertible beds, platform and folding rocking chairs, and an innovative seating material made of braided steel wire.

The artist’s attitude toward modern production methods matched his instinct for modern marketing methods. He offered his furniture in a wide variety of woods, finishes, and upholstery, with price points that appealed to a broad range of customers. His reliance on the mechanical influences in his furniture designs had major impact on American furniture into the mid-1900s. 

George Hunzinger, Folding Rocking Chair, ca. 1870. Walnut, brass, upholstery, 31 ¾" x 17 7/8" x 29" (80.6 x 45.4 x 73.7 cm). © 2018 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5364)

Folding chairs, such as the red armchair and rocking chair, appealed greatly to the hoards of people moving west during the late 1800s. Imagine the convenience of folding up this rocker and loading it in a wagon to migrate west—a bit of civilization on the frontier! The rocker is one of Hunzinger’s more modestly priced items with it’s simple printed fabric. The red armchair reflects elements of the Renaissance Revival. The design was loosely based on the Italian Renaissance Savonarola chair. 

Elegant folding armchairs were popular among the middle class, who could not always afford to furnish every room in a house extravagantly, moving chairs from one room to another. They were also convenient for elegant outdoor events. Both folding chairs exhibit Hunzinger’s patented construction that featured front legs that served as the side bars of the back. This was easy to produce in one piece, whether turned or straight, and could be very decorative as in the following two examples.

The following two examples demonstrate the confusion of historical styles that ultimately resulted from the mania for historical revival styles. Furniture historians would probably be hard-pressed to pin down a single influence in these designs. The overstuffed pink upholstery is most like part of Rococo Revival, while I’m not sure to what styles the rest of the chair alludes. The overstuffed yellow upholstery also waves at the Rococo Revival style. This armchair features another patented Hunzinger innovation, the “Lollipop Spindle” seen in the lower back of the chair. Hunzinger produced chairs in which Lollipop Spindles that formed the entire back of the chair. Ouch! 

George Hunzinger, Side Chair, ca. 1869. Bonized wood, original upholstery, 44 1/2" x 25 ¾" x 28" (113 x 65.4 x 71.1 cm). © 2018 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5089)

George Hunzinger, Armchair, 1869. Wood and original upholstery, 35 5/8" x 27 ¼" x 25 ½" (90.5 x 69.2 x 64.8 cm). © 2018 Brooklyn Museum. (BMA-5070)

Find out more about the many revival styles from the 1800s in my post Revival Curiosities from 2015.

Correlations to Davis Programs: Explorations in Art 1E Grade1: 6.35; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 1: 6.7; Explorations in Art 1E Grade 2: 6.35-36; Explorations in Art 2E Grade 2: 6.9; Discovering Art History 4E: 2.2

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Woodcuts Like Paintings

Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011, US), Radius, 1992–1993. Woodcut in nine colors from six blocks on paper dyed in six colors, sheet: 28" x 28" (71.3 x 71.3 cm). Philadelphia Museum of Art. © 2018 The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. (PMA-8308fkars)

My significant other and I just had a redo of our vacation in Provincetown that did not end up happening in July. So, in honor of that, I’m presenting Helen Frankenthaler (1928–2011), a true American art legend who lived in P-town when she was married to Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell (1915–1991). I’ve seen the house they shared there and apparently they had to install a garage door in the back of the house (beachside) in order to accommodate their huge canvases.

We all know Frankenthaler as the pioneer of stained-canvas Color Field painting. I have found myself recently even more in love with her work when I understand how she tried—and succeeded—to translating the Color Field aesthetic to printmaking.

Raised in New York, Frankenthaler became a pupil of pioneer abstractionist Hans Hofmann (1880–1966), whose school in Provincetown I featured prior to my earlier attempt at a P-town vacation. Her earliest works were influenced by the Cubism of Picasso. She moved into freer forms inspired by the organic abstractions of Kandinsky, Miró, and Arp. The pivotal period of formation of her style started around 1951, when she spent summers in a Cape Cod studio. She painted numerous studies of hills and woods in watercolor washes.

From these washes, Frankenthaler produced paintings in thinned oil on raw canvas. Also during that time, she was introduced to Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), and seeing his paintings and his methods excited her tremendously. She felt that his method of painting on the floor would be a good jumping-off point for her to realize freer form. Her first exhibited painting in the stained style, Mountains and Seas, exhibited in 1952, had a major and lasting impact on abstract painting.
Frankenthaler was the first artist to explore the possibilities of staining raw canvas. In such a technique, whether in oil or acrylic, the ground and color are integrated and the distinction between foreground and background ceases to exist. As in action painting, the emphasis on pure abstraction is meant to focus attention on the act of painting itself.

Frankenthaler extended her interest in merging support and color to her printmaking. Unfortunately, because Abstract Expressionism was dominated by an emphasis on painting, printmaking was considered by the Art World “elite” to be a marginal art form. After Russian émigré Tatyana Grosman (1904-1982) founded Universal Limited Art Editions on Long Island (1957), the European esteem for printmaking was introduced to the New York School and many of the artists reluctantly tried their hand at it (lithography at first).

Frankenthaler, too, reluctantly approached printmaking—beginning with lithography—after seeing the works of Grace Hartigan (1922–2008) and Larry Rivers (1923–2002) in 1961. Around 1974, she began to work in woodcuts. As she had with lithography, she was trying to achieve the same visual effects in woodcut as in her painting. With the initial cutting of the blocks, mixing of colors, approval of registration marks, and selection of paper, she wanted to be totally involved. The mass reproduction of the approved blocks she assumed would be left to printers who were artists in their own right.

Some of Frankenthaler’s multiple block woodcut prints dwarf the Japanese ukiyo-e style, wherein twelve blocks were used. She produced works using up to 102 colors and forty-six blocks of wood! In works such as Radius, which references landscape, Frankenthaler hoped to achieve a result wherein the images seemed to be laid down all at the same time, like her paintings. This was her guiding aim with her woodcuts. Starting in the 1990s, she began to experiment with dyed pulp paper in order to further the effect of layers of color like her color field paintings.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Whose Mod Is It?

Emilio Pucci (1914–1992, Italy), Dress, late 1960s. Printed silk knit, height center back: 33" (83.8 cm). Image © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8695)

Japan, Kimono, 1920s–1930s. Silk plain weave with stencil-printed warps and wefts, height center back: 63" (160 cm). © 2018 Philadelphia Museum of Art. (PMA-8691)

I’ve posted before about how the idea of abstraction has been around since the earliest art produced by humans. However, somehow in the West we think that Western artists “invented” abstraction. The idea of “Mod” as a style evolved during the 1960s with Beatnik and Hippie aesthetics applied to high fashion. It was the first period in fashion design in which contemporary trends in painting were applied to clothing design. Having been a child during the late 1960s, I can vouch for the fact that some of what was designed was incredibly hideous. But, there are some “mod” designs that are truly tasteful and elegant. The Pucci dress is an example (which I’m sure very few women could afford). But, oh look, there’s a similar vertical pattern in the early 1900s kimono! Do we call that “mod” too?

This elegant dress, which probably cost hundreds in the 1960s (a lot of money back then), is the epitome of 60s mod. Pucci was once dubbed the “prince of prints” because of his designs. He introduced abstract patterns based on contemporary art into fashion in the 1950s. The 1950s were the “Leave it to Beaver” era! 

Pucci is such an interesting artist. He studied agriculture at the University of Milan in the 1930s, the got an MS in social science from Reed College in Portland Oregon. He also received a doctorate in science from the University of Florence. I’m not sure where design came into the mix, but he was first noticed designing ski fashions for the Reed College ski team in 1947.

Pucci’s ski fashions inspired him to introduce his own line in 1948 in Capri. He initially designed ski wear and swimwear. His experimentation with bold and bright colors led him to designing scarves, which ultimately led him to designing women’s fashions. By the 1960s, his designs were popular with such heavy-weights as Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962). Pucci’s abstract designs started to be featured in women’s clothing in the 1950s, at that time a real novelty. He was inspired by Southeast Asian batik, African motifs, Sicilian mosaics, and heraldic motifs.

As a colorist, Pucci was inspired by the landscape of the Mediterranean, and also from Southeast Asian countries he visited. I think we can see that the result of all of his influences is this sophisticated abstraction that reminds one of a Hans Hofmann (1880–1966) painting. His designs also have the sense of landscape. Again, Hofmann! 

Ogata Korin (1658–1716), Red and White Plum Blossoms, ca. 1710–1716. Ink, watercolor, and gold leaf on paper mounted on wood, 61 3/8" x 67 ¾" (156 x 172.2 cm). © 2018 Museum of Art, Atami, Japan. (APAH-210)

Interestingly, the same thing (landscapes) inspires kimono patterns in Japan. Any doubts? Look at this screen by Ogata Korin. Tell me there isn’t abstraction in this painting!

Kimonos evolved during the Heian Period (794-1185 CE) in Japan. It became fashionable at that time to layer up to thirteen(!) silk kimonos of differing patterns and colors as a sign of social status or seasons. After the forced opening of Japan to Western trade by the US in 1853, there was the inevitable introduction of Western fashion, which ultimately doomed the kimono as everyday wear. By the time of World War II (1939–1945) to the present day, kimonos have been worn a lot for special occasions.

In many Japanese art forms, pattern is a key element. Japanese art informed the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, and Impressionism in the West. I would like to think that this kimono from the 1920s or 30s would fit right in on a 1930s Art Deco movie set as a nice contrast.

You can delve into the history of art as I leave you with this question: Where (precisely) do you see abstraction in art?