Sunday, March 18, 2018

A Case of Mistaken Identity Revisited

Since my visit to Montana for a National Parks Service illustration project nearly two years ago, I'm afraid I've neglected this blog. I've been terribly busy with various illustrating, writing, and other projects. But, like Mole in the chapter, "Dulce Domum," in Kenneth Grahame's classic Wind in the Willows, I was called irresistibly back today, though in my case because of an email. 

In 2015, I posted an essay about a portrait identified at various sites online as María Ursula de Veramendi, wife of Alamo legend James "Jim" Bowie.

I was surprised that the evidence I presented against this being a portrait of Mrs. Bowie, which seemed obvious to me, was not accepted by some who continued to insist that this was her genuine likeness simply because it was said by a descendant to have been her. My evidence included the subject's style of hair and clothing - more typical of the 1840s than the early 1830s (María de Veramendi died in 1833), and the fact that Mrs. Bowie seems never to have left Texas prior to her death at the age of 21, and yet there was no known portrait artist of this level of skill working in Texas at this time. Nevertheless, I let the matter drop because, frankly, I had other things to do. 

Recently, though, I was contacted by a descendant of James Bowie's brother, Rezin, who sent me scans of two portraits said to be of his daughters, Martha and Mathilda. They are from Louisiana Portraits, a 1975 publication of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Louisiana. I was surprised to see the alleged portrait of María de Veramendi identified as that of Martha Bowie, Rezin's elder daughter. However, it also states that Martha was born in 1791, which means that she would have been in her fifties if she sat for this portrait in the 1840s. So, clearly, there is still some confusion over just who this woman was. 

In my blog posting, I suggested that rather than Mrs. Bowie (María de Veramendi), this might be a portrait of Rezin's younger daughter, Matilda or Mathilda, who was born in 1816. That would have meant she was still in her twenties in the early 1840s. This publication of the Colonial Dames has another portrait that they believe is Mathilda, and state her year of birth as 1818. However, she is dressed in the fashions of the late 1840s or perhaps the early 1850s, which would have meant that Mathilda was in her thirties when she sat for it, and this lady looks younger to me.

So, it remains a mystery. As I see it, the Bowie family traditions are mistaken about just who these two young women were, based on the fashions worn by the sitters. But clearly (at least to me) neither of them is María Ursula de Veramendi, wife of the legendary Jim Bowie. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Going to Montan' for to Throw the Hoolihan

I ride an old paint
I lead an old Dan
I'm goin' to Montan'
For to throw the hoolihan

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, photo courtesy of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch Foundation. []

Actually, the lyrics to this old cowboy song are partly true, for tomorrow I'm going to Montana, but not to "throw the hoolihan" - by the way, no one knows what that means. Nor will there be any horse riding, at least that I know of. But I'll be gone for two weeks and hope to publish updates from the road.

This is not my first rodeo, as the saying goes. I've illustrated often for the National Park Service.

The excuse for this trip is that the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site needs some illustrations and that's where I come in. I'll spend three days touring the site with members of the exhibits company I'm subcontracting to and NPS staff. Then I'll come home and create nine illustrations for interpretive signs around the park.

Ironically, I started my career as an illustrator with this book for Dover Publications back in 1985. It's still in print.

And here I must thank my dear wife who, when I told her I wasn't going to bid on the project because I didn't have anything current in my portfolio showing cowboys, said "Just send them something." So this is what I sent, and I got the job. Thanks Sweetie.

Another image from my Cowboys of the Old West coloring book. As always, I find the real thing much more interesting than the legend. It's estimated that at least one in four of all cowboys in the classic trail driving days following the Civil War 
were either African-American or Hispanic-American.

Oh, the most authentic rendition of "I Ride an Old Paint," that I could find on YouTube was by Woodie Guthrie:

But this one by Tim O'Brien and the Two Oceans Trio is the most stirring, even if he does sing it with an Ozark twang:

Sunday, March 27, 2016

As Much About the Present as the Past


Someone once made a comment about historical films being as much about the present as the past. This is certainly true of two Russian military epics made during World War II that I found today on YouTube.


The first is "Suvorov," a biography of the astounding Alexander Suvorov (ca. 1730 - 1800). The film dates from 1940, and I suspect it was not only meant as an ode to a spectacularly brilliant Russian general, but also as a reminder to Russians of their fighting spirit, and to Europe (Suvorov crossed the Alps), that it might be wise not to attack Russia.



The second, "Kutuzov," was also about a victorious Russian general and his army, this time Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813), who fought Napoleon. 



Since it was made in 1943, one is tempted to see the film as not only a reminder of Russia's past military glory, but to reassure the nation that the Germans, whom the Soviet Union was still in the process of pushing back to Berlin, would meet a fate similar to Napoleon's.


Both films are remarkable for their attempts to represent authentically the military uniforms, equipment, and tactics of their day. For example, this is the first time I've seen the Potempkin uniforms represented in film. 


The Soviet government was also generous in loaning authentic locations, such as palaces, in which to film, and lots, and lots of soldiers and horses. All of which is remarkable when you realize that World War II was in full swing by the time Kutuzov was filmed.

Lastly, one sees stylistic similarities between these earlier films and Sergei Bondarchuk's handling of battle scenes, especially in his 1968 "War and Peace." No doubt Bondarchuk was quite familiar with both of these amazing films.


I should note that both films are in Russian, with neither dubbing nor subtitles. But if you know the history even slightly (or look it up online) they are easy to follow and well worth a look.

A. Suvorov, 1940, with Nikolai Chrekasov-Sergeyev in the title role. 
B. This 1799 portrait of Alexander Suvorov by Joseph Kreutzinger, shows the remarkable physical resemblance between the actor and his subject. [Wikimedia Commons]
C. Russian Troops under Suvorov Crossing the Alps in 1799 by Vasily Surikov, 1899 [Wikimedia Commons]
D. Perhaps influenced by the film, this 1941 Russian poster links General Suvorov with the Russian Army of World War II.
E. Kutuzov, 1943, starring Sergey Blinnikov in the title role. 
F.Portrait of Russian field-marshal M.I. Kutuzov  by R.M. Volkov
G. German troops in Russia during the winter of 1941-1942 suffered a fate similar to those of Napoleon in 1812.
H. The Potempkin Uniform as reconstructed in A.V. Viskovatov's monumental work, Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Army (1855).
I. Suvorov, 1940
J. War and Peace, directed by Sergey Bondarchuk(1968)
K. Kutuzov (1943)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hidden Treasures

A gallery at the Walters Art Museum displaying a small portion of the the 
founders' collection arranged in the "salon" fashion popular in the 19th century. 
Note Detaille's "The Picket" in the lower left corner. 

On a visit to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, I was delighted to discover works by some of the best French military painters of the 19th century.

"The Picket" by Edouard Detaille, 1875. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

More and more museums are beginning to display their collections of academic art that they once hid away as embarrassingly old fashioned. 

"Irregulars in the Trenches," by Alphonse de Neuville, 1874. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The Walters and some other smaller museums are especially good places to look for paintings like these because they are often built around their founders' personal collections. 

"Attack at Dawn" by Alphonse de Neuville, 1877. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

In this case, the collectors were William and Henry Walters, American millionaires of the "Gilded Age" who regularly traveled to Europe to buy art.

"Napoleon" by Jean Louis Meissonier, 1962, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Picture This: A Spanish Colonial Family, Part 3


This is the third posting about my painting for the Santa Barbara Presidio in California. I've finished the painting now, having gone through several steps to get here. It can be a tedious process, but I think it is worth it in the end. Let me show you what I've done. 


The tight drawing was reviewed by the client to make sure not only that it tells the story they want - a typical family of Santa Barbara Presidio in the late-18th and early 19th century - but that the details are are historically authentic. 


An important part of the story is the fact that the people of Santa Barbara Presidio, and 18th century Spanish California generally, were drawn from several ethnic backgrounds.  Based on period records, I was asked to show a family where the father is mestizo - of mixed Native American and Spanish ancestry; the mother is mulato - of mixed African and Spanish ancestry; and the children reflect in their appearance all of their heritages. Here the casta paintings of New Spain (Mexico) are of some help, but luckily I live in a wonderfully ethnically mixed neighborhood and I've spent a lot of time looking at friends and neighbors. 


The clothing I show the family wearing is drawn from a variety of sources. The mother's is based on what was captured by the artist José Cardero, who visited Monterey and Mission San Carlos, California, in 1791.  These women were shown in their best clothing, but we know that daily wear was essentially the same, just of simpler materials. There are also the fabrics found in the Santa Barbara Presidio's own documents of the annual supply shipments from Mexico. 



I also looked at casta paintings from late-18th century Mexico for details such as the striped rebozo, the red and black neckerchief and the yellowish panel trimmed in red ribbon at the top of the blue wool skirt. 


I've modeled the father, a Spanish soldado de cuera, on similar documents, including a little-known picture from the 1780s that shows a soldier with a long mustache.  


His cuera (white buckskin armor) is plain, which was probably typical of enlisted men, and is based on this same picture. 


The father wears his armor and carries a shield (adarga) because he's going on patrol or perhaps an expedition. The shield is based on several examples of this same pattern that survive. One is in the Mission San Carlos museum, another in the Smithsonian Institution and the third in the Museo del Ejército in Toledo, Spain. 


The color scheme of black, red, and yellow ochre is based in part on the Mission San Carlos shield which, though allowed to deteriorate sadly, still retains traces of its original paint. I remember it from years ago when it was not so warped and had far more paint remaining.


It's not yet clear whether shields of this kind were made locally or imported from New Spain. They don't appear in Santa Barbara Presidio's supply list, but the level of craftsmanship is high. One way or another, they probably had to be painted, or repainted, over time. 


Though pigments were imported twice to the Santa Barbara Presidio, the first was for decorations to the chapel and the second for dyeing cloth,  I chose these colors because they were also used by Native Americans in California, who mined and produced the minerals for painting murals, objects, and themselves.  


We know from oral histories collected in the 19th century that young children growing up at this time in California wore only simple shirts (cotoncitos).  Older children adopted more adult styles, but continued to go without hats, jackets, or shoes until they were fully grown. The younger boy's cotoncito was based on examples found in Mexican casta paintings. 


Other details were drawn from actual objects in California State Parks museums, such as this splendid spur from Monterey. 


And this iron hoe head, excavated at La Purism Mission, near Santa Barbara. 


Though I posed models for all the figures in this painting, what I could not do is gather five humans of various ages, a sheep, a cat, and a basket full of produce together at the same time. So in order to understand how the light would fall on a group such as this, and the shadows, reflected lights and highlights it would produce, I built a small diorama and filled it with figures I sculpted and painted. 


Though the figures are crude, they allowed me to experiment with various lighting schemes and gave me the information I needed. 


I've promised my client, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, not to publish the entire painting until after the interpretive sign for which it was commissioned is unveiled, probably at the end of the year. 


But I can show you the painting at its initial stage - with flat washes of acrylic defining the color scheme. I then went over the pictures with gouache (opaque watercolor) in thin and thick washes, and spattering and dry brushing for textures and transitions.  A bit of the finished painting can be seen at the top of this page. 

A. Detail from the finished illustration of a Spanish colonial family, courtesy of Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.

B. Final drawing for the illustration - on 100% rag illustration board, ready for painting.

C. De Mulato, y Mestiza, nace Caurteron (From Mulato, and Mestiza, is born a Quadroon), casta painting, Mexico. Private collection.

D. Detail from a wash drawing by José Cardero, one of the artists on the Malaspina Expedition. It is of the plaza at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel Mission), California, 1791, and shows a man who is probably a soldier without his cuera (civilian and military dress were nearly identical) and two women. Museo de America, Madrid.

E. & F. Casta paintings from Mexico, last half of the 18th century, showing the red and black scarf I put on the mother, along with a blue wool skirt with dark yellow cotton top panel. The little girl's red skirt is also seen in figure E. 

G. Copy of a painting showing the 1786 visit to Carmel Mission of the French exploration party led by Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse. There are two known versions of this picture, but only one shows the figure of a Spanish presidio soldier standing on the left, hat in hand and wearing a cuera. Museo de America, Madrid. 

H. Detail from figure E showing the soldier. He wears a mustache and his leather armor, a cuera, is plain. 

I. An  adarga (rawhide shield) in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.  This was purchased in the late-19th century from an antiques store in San Diego, California.  A very similar example is in the Museo de Ejército, Toledo, Spain, that was donated in the 1850s by a Mexican gentleman. And a third example is in the Mission San Carlos collection, Carmel, California. This suggests that these shields were manufactured in Mexico and sent to the frontier. 

J. Here is the shield at Mission San Carlos, Carmel, California. It belonged to the illustrator, Jo Mora. I've watched it deteriorate seriously over the years, so that it is even more warped than shown here and has shed most of its paint. But traces of red and black can still be seen. 

K. As it is currently displayed, the Mission San Carlos shield has a miniature version mounted below to show how the original may once have been painted. 

L.  The kinds of pigments used for paints that were manufactured by Native Californian peoples since prehistoric times. Such colors could have been used to paint or repaint soldiers' shields. From Paul Douglas Campbell's Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians: Meaning and Technology (2007).

M. De mestizo y de india, coyote (From a mestizo and an Indian, a coyote), by Miguel Cabrera, 1763. From the Col. Elizabeth Waldo-Dentzel, Multi Cultural Music and Art Foundation, Northridge, California.  Note the boy's striped shirt.

N. Californio spur on display at Monterey State Historic Park, California.

O. Wrought iron hoe head on display at La Purisma Mission State Historic Park, California.

P. Figures I've modeled from wire and polymer clay. These figures were then baked and painted.

Q. This is the simple little diorama I set up in order to study various lighting schemes. 

R. Here the shadows and lights have been worked out in charcoal on a photocopy of the drawing.

S. The entire painting was covered with thin washes of the basic colors, to seal the board and to kill the white. Over this the painting was built up with layers of gouache (opaque watercolor).

Campbell, Paul Douglas, Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians: Meaning and Technology (2007).

Katzew, Ilona, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth-Century Mexico, (New Haven and London: Yale