Saturday, November 20, 2010


The illustrator Jules Guerin had an unusual combination of strengths. He blended the careful precision of an architectural engineer with the exaggerated, romantic colors of an impressionist.

Guerin's technical drawing skills and mastery of perspective were much in demand by architectural firms around the country.

By infusing architectural drawings with color, he made them so appealing it almost guaranteed that the design would be accepted and the project funded.

At the same time, Guerin's vivid colors and stylized designs made him a popular illustrator of books and magazines. He specialized in painting exotic subjects.

Which art school could teach Guerin two such disparate skills? Or was it just natural talent?

Actually, Guerin learned from two guys he happened to meet along the way. First, In 1889, Guerin's mother was renting out a spare room in their home when a young artist named Winsor McCay showed up at their door. McCay had just been evicted by his previous landlady and needed someplace to stay. McCay and the young Guerin soon became fast friends, and McCay taught Guerin his special techniques for drawing in perspective. McCay went on to create the revolutionary comic strip, Little Nemo In Slumberland, where he proved himself a genius with perspective indeed.

A few years later, Guerin happened to meet another artist, Maxfield Parrish, who took Guerin under his wing, introducing him to the art directors at Century Magazine and teaming with Guerin on projects. It wasn't long before Parrish was a nationally famous colorist, with Guerin following in his footsteps.

So much depends on who you happen to meet, and at what stage of your development, and under what circumstances. Perhaps if Picasso had been evicted from a room in Chicago, Guerin would have a third specialty as a cubist.


Nick Name said...

That's so odd--his style really is a blending of Parrish and McKay. It ends up by being a little like W. Heath Robinson, as well.

It would certainly be easier if art instruction were as simple as a "laying on of hands", although I'd begin to fear for originality if that were the case.

etc, etc said...

It seems to me that there is a definite and positive correlation between training in architecture and having a great sense of design and composition (assuming one has also grasped fundamental skills of painting of course).


The first one and the the two with the moon in them remind me of Arthur Wesley Dow. Beautiful work. Once you point out his influences you can really see it.

Anonymous said...

I was not familiar with Guerin's work. It's really beautiful. Makes me wish Winsor McCay would knock on my door.


kev ferrara said...

Interesting post, David! I've always enjoyed Guerin's work, but had no idea of these connections.

That was certainly an interesting time in art, where an artist might have been trained in architecture, graphics, typography, illustration, and fine art all at once, allowing for art that is both poetic and mechanical at once. I guess this particular kind of art came out of the sharp upswing in interest in Japonese, Persian, and Egyptian graphics at that moment of European empire. And maybe some issue having to do with the best ways to keep images clear at that stage of publishing technology. (And the sheer blithe pleasure of the open shapes, minimal rendering, and lack of dramatic heaviness of graphic art, of course).

I agree with Armand about Dow.

Another artist in this vein from the same time frame was the french artist Henri Riviere:




अर्जुन said...

I've read that he, like J.C, F.X. and so many others, had studied in Paris under Jean-Paul Laurens and Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant.

Catalogue of exhibitors in the United States sections of the International ...

Biographical sketches of American artists

American art directory, Volume 3

Official illustrated catalogue, fine arts exhibit, United States of America ... By U.S. Commission to the Paris Exposition, 1900. Dept. of Fine Arts

Brief Guide to the Palace of Fine Arts - Panama-Pacific International Expostion

or, as with the Leyendeckers, his time at the Art Institute of Chicago, under the guidance of J.H. Vanderpoel.

Bulletin of the Art Institute of Chicago, Volumes 1-12 By Art Institute of Chicago

Tom said...

I love Jules Guerin illustration's David. Thanks for the introduction. Do you know how large the original drawings where? The Nemo drawings are great too. What a nice thing to fine in your newspaper every Sunday morning. Artists who have a strong clear conception of form tend toward bright strong color, like the way the Greeks would paint their temples. I really like the pictures of Egypt, those simple oranges and blues.

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन wrote: "I've read that he, like J.C, F.X. and so many others, had studied in Paris"

It's interesting-- I read once that Guerin's press releases claimed he was trained in Paris to add glamour to his reputation, but that this was overstated. I note that Wikipedia says, " His only confirmed art instruction occurred in Chicago, though biographies claim that he studied in Paris." I don't know the truth of the matter, but I do know that he didn't share JC and FX's academic understanding of his medium. His artwork held together long enough to reproduce, but most of his originals have bleached out or begun to disintegrate since that time.

Nick Name, I agree with you that talent can't be transferred by "laying on of hands." Still, I would give a great deal to spend time in the gravitational orbit of Winsor McCay or Maxfield Parrish in their formative years.

Etc, etc-- I agree that an architect's skills, like many other complementary specialties, can make a real contribution to an artist's work.

David Apatoff said...

Armand Cabrera-- I went back and took another look at Arthur Wesley Dow's work, and share your view.

JSL-- thanks!

Kev Ferrara wrote, "an artist might have been trained in architecture, graphics, typography, illustration, and fine art all at once, allowing for art that is both poetic and mechanical at once."

Kev, I agree with you 100% and I am very interested in this phenomenon. Bernie Fuchs, who was famous for his lush, impressionistic paintings, began by doing very tightly rendered, photo-realistic car illustrations. At age 60, he was still capable of sitting down and lettering with astonishing precision. He didn't use it in his work, but he kept it in his back pocket. Leyendecker and Rockwell also had technical skills they could draw upon whenever they wanted, Sometimes the "mechanical" background remains hidden far beneath the "poetry" but I think it affects the confidence and the solidity and the tone of the end result. Also, I agree with you about Henri Riviere. Thanks for sharing.

Tom-- glad you like them. I have not seen many originals (as I noted above, time has not treated them well) but they seem to be in the vicinity of 14x17.

Peter said...

I had heard of neither Jules Guerin nor Henri Riviere, but I definitely see the resemblance, even if there is no direct influence. The first artist that came to my mind was Hiroshi Yoshida. Of course, Riviere tried to make his pictures more Japanese, while Yoshida tried to make his prints more European.

Don Cox said...

The blog "100 Years of Illustration" also posted some Guerin, here.

Larry MacDougall said...

Jeez, are those watercolours ? It sure looks like it - crikey !

Richard said...

Reminds me of some of Moebius's newest work.

Did Guerin do a lot of art for National Geographic? I am trying to place why I recognize his style...

Tom said...

I like those Rivere paintings too Kev, their great. These artists have a great sense of scale and proportion that I find satisfying.
"Sometimes the "mechanical" background remains hidden far beneath the "poetry" but I think it affects the confidence and the solidity and the tone of the end result." Well said David, every form has its architecture and it's anatomy. The more solidly one conceives something the easier it is to draw. And isn't that what great draftsmanship is, great comprehension.

David Apatoff said...

Peter-- I agree Yoshida is a fine artist, and I see the resemblance.

Don Cox-- thanks for the link.

Larry MacDougall-- yes, I believe they are primarily water color, although I gather Guerin commingled some incompatible media to achieve the results he wanted.

Richard-- I am unaware of Guerin doing any work for National Geographic although he did a lot of travel painting for Century Magazine. Like you, I was interested in Moebius's new work.

Tom-- That's an excellent definition of draftsmanship.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

RE: went to Ivan Albright, an extremely important painter who painted everything in a dark and awful manner ... The result was this wonderful portrait.

How marvelously gruesome and grisly; how seldom does a woman accept/indulge in nonflattery! faszinierend...She had the last laugh!

Anonymous said...

Guerin was really great. One can find his art in Vadeboncoeur's Images mag, as well as in Heritage catalogues, both online and paper ones.

etc, etc said...

David Apatoff said...
"I agree that an architect's skills, like many other complementary specialties, can make a real contribution to an artist's work."

Architecture, quite rationally it seems to me, would force one to consciously and purposefully deal with design in an abstract yet definite and concrete way. I dont know of "many" other complimentary specialities that contribute to a great sense of design and composition; I'm curious to know which others you have in mind?

David Apatoff said...

StimmeDesHerzens-- exactly. I admire her courage and her priorities.

tinoradman-- the one Guerin that was sold by Heritage seemed awfully unrepresentative to me, as if he was trying out pointilism as a style. But perhaps that different approach survived the years better than his traditional work.

Etc, etc-- I intended a fairly broad interpretation of "contribution." I think that a background in mechanical drawing or lettering can add value, however indirectly, to an artistic end product. I also think that the study of philosophy helped the work of artists auch as Klee or Steinberg, and the study of art history gives many artists a greater wealth of images and references to draw from.

Anonymous said...

I have just discovered your blog - fantastic!

Mark said...

I am also an artist doing mainly the female nude (