By Nina J P Evans

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Celestial Eyes

The Gatsby cover, as I mentioned in my previous post about the relationship between author and illustrator with regard to this iconic cover; I wanted to find out more about Francis Cugat and his design sketches. Here is an interesting essay (link) on discussing Cugat’s preliminary drawings he did, and it argues that the preliminary sketches by the artist of the Long Island Railroad, among the Ash Heaps shows that there is no billboard of  Dr. T. J. Eckleburg. The essay suggests that Fitzgerald was still to conceive the idea, it states:
“The fact that in Cugat’s sketch there is no indication of a billboard, much less the bespectacled eyes of Doctor Eckleburg, suggests that Fitzgerald had yet to conceive his optical symbolòor at least, had yet to share it with either his editor or the artist. We are left then with the enticing possibility that Fitzgerald’s arresting image was originally prompted by Cugat’s fantastic apparitions over the valley of ashes; in other words, that the author derived his inventive metamorphosis from a recurrent theme of Cugat’s trial jackets, one which the artist himself was to reinterpret and transform through subsequent drafts.” 

Fitzgerald before marrying Zelda and publishing his first novel This Side of Paradise, had a brief career at Barron Collier advertising agency New York. Surely he would have known something about billboards and business of advertising, such as the importance of design and location, so the artwork and copy being seen by a moving vehicle. Also, a little deeper than that, its impact on the transformation of the surrounding environmental scenes, affecting people’s lives in some way. The bespectacled eyes of Doctor Eckleburg in the book, interestingly the billboard had  become redundant and seemed to serve no further purpose.

I think the title of the painting was the trigger that  Fitzgerald needed, enabling him to think between the celestial eyes and his previous experience of working in an advertising company. Charles Scribner (his publisher)  says, “it became the most celebrated jacket art and widely disseminated jacket art in 20th-century American literature.”

In 1915 Francis Cugat was commissioned to paint portraits of the stars at the Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre. Moving to Hollywood in 1925 worked as a set designer with Douglas Fairbanks, it was through his works in the film industry that his works became known to the publisher Charles Scribner. Later in 1942 Cugat had a solo exhibition of his paintings in NewYork. Apart from the celebrated Gatsby cover; Cugat was a Technicolor consultant and was credited for technical work on sixty-eight Hollywood films.
 Murtore, Raisa and Rimini Theatre Cards - 1915–1917
George Gershwin (An American in Paris) - c. 1928, Etching.
Celestial Eyes - A painting for the cover of The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Technicolor Color Consultant for the 1955 movie Three for the Show
Technicolor Color Consultant for the John Ford/John Wayne film The Quiet Man
French Quarter, New Orleans landscape painting
Bridgetoan Harbor, Barbados landscape painting

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fitzgerald Dust Jackets

This is a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first edition books, purchased by Matthew Bruccoli an American Professor of English at the University of South Carolina. At his first attempt to purchase at a charity auction almost completely failed, there were too many other bidders. It was during a break that he noticed Scottie Fitzerald and got taking with her. When the next auction round started he felt a little more determined at bidding. Turning around to see who he was bidding against, he was very surprised to see that it was Scottie Fitzerald. He immediately withdrew from bidding, only to find moments later the book, Taps at Reveille handed to him. Bruccoli remembers as if it was yesterday, “She told me later that I looked so disappointed about losing out on the other books that she wanted to cheer me up. Later, I learned that she did impulsive things like that all the time. She took it as her responsibility to make people happy.” She had bought the book as a gift for him! After this the two became firm friends and collaborated, publishing a number of essays, conversational pieces and biography A Brief Life of Fitzgerald. 

Though, all the books are first editions, they are far from immaculate. However, they are quite remarkable; the books have been personally inscribed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Since Bruccoli’s passing the collection has been kindly donated to the University of Carolina, and is second only to the F. Scott Fitzgerald collection at Princeton University Library.

Matthew Bruccoli’s first introduction to Fitzerald’s writings was by listening to a radio play a dramatisation of The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, whilst riding in the back of his parents’ Dodge. Furthermore, it inspired a love of books, he went on to be a student at Yale University. “The wit and warmth of his prose appeal to me as much today as they did when I first began reading it,” he said. “But I’m also disturbed by the popular image of Fitzgerald that obscures the real man.” This collection costs thousands of dollars, but is now valued at nearly $2 million. Since his passing the collection has been kindly donated to the University of Carolina, as to benefit to all the students.
The earliest first edition book jacket This Side of Paradise, 1920 became, the most popular book of the year. The unfinished novel The Last Tycoon, published in 1941 was completed by a close friend. From a Graphic design perspective there are several interesting things to note about these book jackets, approved at the time by both Fitzgerald, and Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishers New York. Firstly, the typographic treatments of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s authors credit, the letting on most jackets is designed to fit with the title font of the book, the title always taking precedence with colour, and font size. All bar the first three book jackets, have his name in different font settings and styles. The first three novels published are illustrated by W. E Hill, are quiet formulaic as a set with a monochromic style. There’s a font consistency between all three with pencil photorealistic drawings of the characters poised as if on a movie set. I think that the cover illustration on This Side of Paradise and The beautiful and the Dammed looks especially like himself and Zelda. The body language on these covers is quite provoking if I am correct by the likenesses.

From 1922 with Tales of the Jazz Age a new illustrator John Held was commissioned. The typographic treatment is hand rendered, rather than a typeset. The cover image depicts a scene of dancers in a characterised style in contrast to the older covers with photorealist drawings. He approached the cover of The Vegetable with the same freehand font treatment and illustrative style using a brilliant red background. Therein for each new book jacket a new illustrator was commissioned. As a result, the novels individually stand apart, yet as a collection of works by the same author they fit together well; by strong colour association considered, as vintage colours today. The style is often monochromatic with either red, yellow, orange or green. In the case of Tender is the Night, it’s all of those colours, but in simple blocks of colour. Unfortunately not credited to the illustrator; I think that it's a stunning illustrated design. 

Additionally, apart from W. E Hill’s composed illustrations, there is a sense of motion with the others that echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s style of prose. There’s continuous movement throughout the text. This translates visually within the elements of design: dancing, fireworks, rippling water and large romantic italics. The iconic The Great Gatsby’s cover art is illustrated by a little known Spanish artist Francis Cugat, created the piece as Fitzgerald was writing the final drafts of the novel. The heroines discombobulated head, melting into cobalt night sky; her irises transfigured into reclining nudes, glowing like car headlights. There’s an alluring sadness with streaming from one eye is a green luminescent tear; impressed him so much that he decried the visual imagery in his novel. It is even suggested that the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg advertising billboard was added later too (see link below). Scribner (his publisher) quotes the author as saying, “For Christ’s sake, don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.” This is the first I’ve heard of such a thing—A fantastic collaboration between author and illustrator. The result is of course is unsurpassable.  

This Side of Paradise (1920)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by W. E. Hill
Flappers and Philosophers (1920) 
Dust Jacket Illustration by W. E. Hill
The Beautiful and Damned (1922)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by W. E. Hill
Tales of the Jazz Age (1922)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by John Held, Jr.
The Vegetable; or, From President to Postman (1923)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by John Held, Jr
 Gatsby (1925)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by Francis Cugat
 All the Sad Young Men (1926)
 Dust Jacket Illustration by Cleonike Damianakes
 Tender is the Night (1934) 
Dust Jacket Illustration unsigned
 Taps at Reveille (1935) 
Dust Jacket Illustration by Doris Speigel
The Last Tycoon (1941)
Save Me the Waltz (1932) 
by Zelda Fitzgerald
Dust Jacket Illustration by Cleonike Damianak

The Romantic Egoists (1974), front cover

The Romantic Egoists (1974), back cover

F. Scott Fitzgerald Collection, by Kathy Dowell.
 Courtesy of Ex Libris, an annual publication of the Division of Libraries and Information Systems of the University of South Carolina, 1994. Copyright 1996, the Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.

Francis Cugat’s jacket for The Great Gatsby

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker (1906-1975) embodied the Jazz age of the 1920s. “An international star of sensational, exotic cabarets including La Revue Nègre, and the infamous Folies Bergère in Paris and Berlin.”

She was also well-known for wearing the most infamous costumes revealing her exotic beauty. As a muse of F. Scott Fitzgerald, she inspired the character of Daisy Buchanan’s long-time friend Jorden Baker in the novel The Great Gatsby. Like the fictional character she may have played golf; however, I think her career was more focused on dance and performance, she certainly reached celebrity status in Europe. Though not in America her home country, until much later. Her bio says, “Admirers bestowed a plethora of gifts, including diamonds and cars, and she received approximately 1,500 marriage proposals.” As well as Chiquita, the cheetah that encapsulated her persona; half exotic, untamed creature, of sophistication and poise; probably very useful with fending off all those potential suitors.

Paul Colin Plate 37 from Le Tumulte Noir,1927
Josephine Baker in Paris qui remue, 1930, Paris
Stage sets from Josephine Baker’s performances
Studio Piaz, Paris, Josephine Baker with her Leopard, 1930-32
La Joie de Paris, 1932-33
Josephine Baker on the cover of AZ Magazine, October 1933
unknown photographer, 1936 National Portrait Gallery, London
At the Casino of Paris in 1939

Costume Design for Josephine Baker, 1950s Courtesy of the Jean-Claude Baker Foundation
Josephine Baker in Havana, Cuba, 1951

The official site of Josephine Baker

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Botanical Imagination

One of the current exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery is titled: Karl Blossfeldt. His photographs are on display from now until, 14 June 2013 mention:
“Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932) is recognised for his extensive and unique collection of photographic plant portraits that reveal the tactile qualities, intricate forms and uncanny aspects of flora. His fusion of scientific observation, sculptural form and surreal composition pioneered an artistic style that forged new approaches to modern art and photography.”
Karl Blossfeldt composed his photographs beautifully and took great care with the lighting setup avoiding the tonal extremes of dark shadows and bright highlights. The result is seeing greater surface textual detail also the contours of line that describes the subject’s natural forms. His black and white photographs are a study not just of shape, space and form, but of the hidden complexities within these forms. Simply looking at these photographs shows the impossible reality of not being able to grasp these with the human eye without magnification. His pictures illustrate pine cones, buds, stems, dried fruits and seed pods. Photographed at different stages of evolutionary development, and enlarged up to 30 times the actual size of the original form, enabling a more proficient visual enquiry. Also, a renewed delight in looking at something strangely familiar to the variety of plant species in natural hedgerows and gardens of home, this realisation produces a breathtaking effect. The first seeing, of the stark beauty of these natural forms.

The photographs were produced as teaching aids for his students. From 1898-1932 he was a professor of applied art at Berliner Kunsthochschule (College of Arts) in Berlin. Looking at just a few of his macro photographs;  I can see the sculptural architectural possibilities. Possibilities of materials used in making decorative objects, and new designs for embellishments and motifs. An early critic once said of his photographs:
“The delicacy of a Rococo ornament, the severity of a Renaissance chandelier, the mystically tangled scroll work of flamboyant Gothic, domes, towers, and the noble shafts of columns—a whole exotic language of architecture. Crosiers embossed in gold, wrought with trellises, rich sceptres: all these man-made forms find their original form in the world of plants.”
His photographs were published in two landmark books, and he became very well known during his lifetime. A selection of his photographs were bought to the publics attention with his first publication  Urformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art) in 1928. Later a second book Wundergarten der Natur, (The Wondergarden of Nature) 1932. At the beginning of the books he says, “I have published this second volume–to arouse the Nature-sense, to demonstrate the wealth and beauty of nature, to stimulate observation of our own plant world.”

Aristolochia, birthwort – tendril shoots
Cutleaf teasel – leaves at stem
Manna ash – blossom bud opening
Indian balsam, snapweed, branching
Passion flower – bud
Azorina – blossom (petals removed)
Red elderberry – blossom bud
Hairy catsear – young leaf
 Phacelia congesta, Phacelia, panicle
 Henbane, seed capsule
 Cephalaria, Scabious family, capitulum
Rough horsetail – cross section of stem
Northern maidenhair fern – young rolled up fronds
Rough horsetail – top of shoot