Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WILLIAM COTTON (1880-1958)

William Cotton trained as a fine artist at the Academie Julien in Paris. He exhibited at the Luxembourg Museum and other esteemed institutions, such as the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington and the Art Institute of Chicago.

But Cotton's gallery paintings-- consistent with the fashion of his day-- often looked like sappy Victorian Valentines. They are mercifully forgotten today.

In the 1930s, Cotton turned from gallery painting to illustration and began doing caricatures of Broadway stars, writers and politicians for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. For the first time, Cotton was forced to accept the subjects that editors assigned to him. He was forced to work on deadline. He no longer had the luxury of unlimited space to paint fancy lace collars and detailed fabric. Instead, he was forced to cut to the essentials, and simplify his images for reproduction on a small magazine page. The result was a long series of really neat, beautifully colored caricatures:

Cotton quickly became one of the most famous caricaturists of the 1930s. His artwork was seen by tens of thousands of people. Eleanor Roosevelt called his Vanity Fair portrait of her, "my favorite character picture."

I love the colors and bold simplification of forms in these pictures. For me, they are far superior to Cotton's gallery work. The relentless efficiency of the marketplace scrubbed away a lot of frills and pretensions, leaving Cotton's work clear, robust and decisive.

We love to be outraged when tasteless commercial sponsors impose restrictions on talented artists. Yet, nobody talks about the other side of the coin: artists whose mediocre "fine" art was improved by the challenges and limitations of commercial media and commercial audiences. It does happen, and we should keep our eyes and our minds open for it.

Those cold blooded market forces do a lot of damage, but there can also be value in keeping art employed in the service of commerce (just as the very first art was employed in the service of the hunt, back in the Cromagnon era). Art that serves no purpose other than to hang as an object on a museum wall often suffers because it is not integrated into daily life. That's one reason I have such a soft spot in my heart for illustration.


Wynne said...


Great post. I agree that Cotton's fine art is good craftsmanship but I think we really see the personality behind the art in his later more commercial work.

And after all isn't that what art is about. Not just a pretty painting but the hand that makes it. If we don't see that we might as well just make copies of old paintings.

As a former graphic artist turned painter, I take commissions that are demanding and outside my realm to keep me thinking. It's all well and good to be free to paint what I want but the rigors of a new challenge are good for the brain.

What a wonderful story about an artist that was pushed to be himself by the restrictions of time and subject.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

RE; But Cotton's gallery paintings-- consistent with the fashion of his day-- often looked like sappy Victorian Valentines. They are mercifully forgotten today.

Ok, so his illustrations are reflective of who he was as an artist. But if I were in the market, I would take that "sappy Victorian Valentine" over the illustrations no questions asked...
The "pretty painting" is more than 'pretty', it is fabulous. Whats the difference between that work and a Renoir or a Monet? Or perhaps you picked one of his best exemplars of sappy valentine paintings...
I feel sad that he was "pushed to be himself by the restrictions of time and subject."

Will you do us a Valentine illustration D? I have in the back of my mind that you use V-day as an opportunity to show something of your work...
greetings, on a (finally)sunny day out here!

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Wynne-- I agree with you about the importance of new challenges, and those challenges can only be ones that are externally imposed if you are truly going to get the benefits of cross fertilization.

Einbildungskraft-- I agree that Cotton's gallery portrait is technically accomplished, and I'm sure it was beloved by the parents of that baby, but beyond that it is hard for me to find a whole lot of inspiration or creativity in it. Compare it to that first caricature (of author Theodore Dreiser). His entire body is reduced to a diagonal line, like the side of a mountain with a head pasted on it. You can tell from the way Cotton portrayed the hands that he remembers anatomy perfectly well from his "sappy Valentine" period, but he has ignored the constraints of realism and shown us two immense paws with stronger, more interesting visual shapes than the ones in the Valentine. The faces in the Valentine required little independent thought beyond the replication that a camera could offer, but Dreiser's face has been distilled to an essence that is far more informative with none of the detail. Dreiser doesn't even have eyes, yet you know this man. It's not easy to do well, especially after you have logged all the hours necessary to master realistic painting. (Your fingers keep tugging you in the direction of a realistic likeness). But for me, when it works, it works far better than that oil painting.

kev ferrara said...

Cotton is great. I love his group portrait of the Algonquin Round Table. And I agree that his gallery work was prototypical doily cuffed, puffy sleeved, Fraggonardian fop clap trap for vain, lame, same-brains of fame.

At the end of the day, there are a lot of "wooden indians" who can learn how to paint oil xeroxes by number, but only a few ever have the poetic talent to get at the essential character of an event, a person, or a place and express it graphically and with integrity.

अर्जुन said...


I like both of his styles.

Brow beaten by a cold market and forced to rise above it?!

Perhaps you should have chosen a different example. Your narrative of a man forced to conform to sponsor imposed restrictions is skewed by loose facts that are out of historical context. Here is my version, which admittedly isn't that much tighter…

In 1931, after nearly 30 years as a successful portrait artist, William Cotton found commissions dwindling. The stock market crash which precipitated the Great Depression, put a serious crimp in the purses of his clientele. Luckily for Cotton, contacts previously made through upscale soirees bore fruit, landing him sweet gigs with the high-end magazines, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. For the first time he was free from the constraints of portraiture. In the Golden Age before micromanagement he would have been much freer doing the illustrations. With the guaranteed income, and only having to produce 2~3(??) pastels per month, he was left with plenty of free time for night clubbing and attending the theatre (he was also a playwright).

More to the point, Academie Julien, student of Jean-Paul Laurens, are you still implying that the greats of American illustration were spawned by the ateliers of Paris?

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन -- you raise a good point, which is that whether you are a gallery painter or an illustrator, everybody has to serve somebody (unless of course you are Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons, in which case you are answerable to no one and can produce whatever self-indulgent crap you want). But in this case, I really think the restrictions on size, printing technology and deadlines had more of an impact on Cotton's work than what you call "the constraints of portraiture" (is my nose really that long?). Even when it comes to subject matter, being assigned to depict the most newsworthy writers, musicians and politicians of his day was clearly a more stimulating challenge than painting the wealthiest patrons of the arts that he could find.

Of course, this is all my speculation from looking at the end product. I suspect that Rob, who earns a living painting portraits, might have a different perspective from the inside.

Larry MacDougall said...

Why is his fine art piece so small compared to his illustration scans ?

David Apatoff said...

Larry-- that was the largest image I could find from Cotton's "fine art" period. I would welcome any links to bigger pictures, but I have not found anyone who collects or even talks much about that part of Cotton's career. Sorry.

Larry MacDougall said...

I thought it was interesting that the aspect of his career that you were dismissing was illustrated by the smallest scan.

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

for me the first one is far and away the best, even with (or especially with) that physically impossible left arm and the hand grabbing his own collar, which is a strange gesture, more like the kind of thing you'd see in German expressionism. i find number four (skipping the oil painting) a bit formless.

never heard of him before, thanks David.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- I agree with you on both points. I wish I had access to more examples of Cotton's work. I included the fourth example, which I suspect is a detail, because I wanted to show that Cotton the illustrator was willing to experiment with devices such as green skin (something that Cotton the portrait painter could never have brought himself to do).

Rob Howard said...

Oh David, you just spoiled everything, taking the romance out of art and turning it back to the cold, hard business it was in the Renaissance, the Baroque and all the way up to this enlightened (and ever so much more talented) age.

The very idea of art without suffering, psychological shadows of a distraught childhood, adolescence, post-adolescence and senescence/adolescence along with rejoicing in failure (as a sign of I Did It My Way individualism) is unthinkable.

For shame! Next you'll be ruining Valentine's Day by declaring that there is no cupid...just artist's cupidity.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

RE; 'The faces in the Valentine required little independent thought beyond the replication that a camera could offer' VS 'entire body is reduced to a diagonal line, like the side of a mountain with a head pasted on it.'

Isn't accurate portrait painting, or 'replication that a camera could offer' as you somewhat disdainfully describe, acknowledged to be extremely difficult to achieve? It appears Cotton was good at it, after being employed in this field for 30 yrs. Is such a talent worth so little nowadays, and (great) cariacature (body is reduced to a diagonal line) is valued so much more? How could such a fine portrait(& his gallery work) be labled "doily cuffed, puffy sleeved, Fraggonardian fop clap trap for vain, lame, same-brains of fame". Shame on you Kev! You illustrators, what a bunch!

Admittedly, I am biased. (not that I am ANY kind of artist!)
But in my world, it is a shame that portrait painting is so radically(admittedly humorously) belittled! Esp this particular one, so charming, & PRETTY ! But I have always liked sunshine, flowers, hats, babies........

Tom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

Hi David

Just for fun I thought I present the other side of your argument, as all statements are relatively true (and always seem to contain their opposite) via Vernon Blake.

“Shop1’ the evil word is out, betrayed by the very word employed. How many English artists plead “Not guilty”, to the charge of having considered salability while constituting their technique? On the other hand, can we accuse Monet in his younger days of having made that calculation? Art and commerce are irreconcilable enemies, except in so far as successful general commercial conditions are perhaps necessary for the encouragement of art. But the artist must not be at first hand commercial: or if, like Turner, he do not forget his financial interests, he must, again like Turner, only consider them when, for the moment, his art is over and put aside. The irony of the situation comes out when we remember that the salable value of those who made it their chief occupation inevitably falls, while the value of a Monet has increased by something like a hundredfold. I should be very happy to consider an offer for a portrait of my father by Edwin Long, R.A. (without the frame!) of as many pence as pounds were charged by the artist about thirty-five years ago, a time when Monet’s were not yet expensive, though he has been painting since the ‘sixties. The celebrated “Salon des Refuses’ was held in 1863.”

Rob Howard said...

Why is the pursuit of money inimical to the pursuit of art. Michelangelo wouldn't draw a line unless he was paid. He even walked out on the Pope when he wasn't paid on time. He was a very keen real estate investor and owned a successful horse breeding farm (the automile industry of the day). Read his writings and it seems that thoughts of money and making it appeared on every other page.

So, what's enobling about poverty, about starving for one's art and, more to the point what percentage of starving artists went on to that pantheon of greats to which Michelangelo, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Rubens, Carravaggio and on and on, belonged to.

Aside from not having the skills and talents to actually make any, what's the problem so many failures have with money? How many will admit that the reason they are less than successful is not because of their firm stand for goodness and light but rather because they make pictures no one wants to spend money on.

John Thompson said...

David, thanks for continuing to turn out such a thoughtful blog. In your posts you continue to circle a notion I've held for some time: that the best art comes from the interaction between a patron and an artist. An artist left to his own devices is not as powerful an instrument for creating greatness as an artist forced to meet the requirements of a patron.

After all, the canon of Western art is made up almost entirely of works created for paying customers, who saddled the artists they hired with any number of requirements and restrictions. Sometimes the customer is a true partner who provides guidance and help and support; sometimes the customer is just a pain in the neck, imposing restrictions, vetoing ideas, sending the artist back to the easel. Either type of patron may improve the work--what matters is the rigor imposed by having to meet a client's demands.

Of course the patron's influence may also diminish the final product. But that's another topic.

Eddie said...

Rob Howard,

What's your obsession with money?

Look, nobody here is opposed to somebody making a living from painting. It's when you try to conflate being employed as an artist with producing great painting that's the problem.

Just because you make a living creating paintings doesn't mean that you are a great artist. In fact, most people painting for a living aren't great artists, and never have been.

And since you have never created a great painting in your life, why should your opinions about great painting carry any more weight than anybody else who hasn't created a great painting? And that includes laymen and amateurs alike.

Congratulations on learning a trade and making a living! Now you can be one of the hundreds of millions of others who do the same thing every day.

But I guess that's the probem eh? That you don't want to regard yourself as being the same as others. Well, that's tough. You are not special.

I'm sure you have insights into the trade of the art world that are valuable, but most people have the same insight into their respective trades. By no means does that imply mastery or greatness, simply a knowledge of the market.

I find it amazing that people can go through their whole life thinking that they are uniquely exceptional while everybody else around them is worthless. You must have some sort of mental disease or be emotionally stuck in adolescence. I'll pick the latter explanation, as it seems a more probable.

The Rob Howard Show is truly an insufferable and stupid farce, and it doesn't age well in re-runs either. If you could constrain yourself to providing insight rather than dogma, everybody here would be a lot happier, including you.

norm said...

Re: bad's my favorite video that sums up the nightmare corporate clients artists sometimes have to deal with.

again, if the link doesn't work, just click on my name

norm said...

I've worked with nightmare clients and dream clients... art directors who knew how to use me and art directors who didn't.
I've also worked with great people on projects that were just a bad fit for me stylisticaly.

There are directionless artists and those with a clear vision, who can do it all on their own.

I think Ub Iwerks did his best stuff with Disney, even if Walt was a pain in the butt some times.
I think Jack Kirby did his best stuff with Stan Lee, even if Stan took too much credit for that work.
the comic book artist/writer Dave Sim did his best stuff on his own....and his worst.

I like the range Cotton had and his aparent ability to adapt to change.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this installment - I'd seen Cotton's Algonquin illustration some years ago, and now have a greater frame of reference. This is wonderful.

As far as the "Valentine" is concerned, I feel that flowers, babies, costumes and frills are fine - but the painting seems to convey nothing beyond a decent visual representation. There is no emotion, no soul to the thing - it's just "pretty". His illustrations/caricatures have a dynamic sense of visual movement and great character - they buzz from the canvas. Broun at poolside and Woolcott bobbing in the water... honest-to-god genius.

The flowery image is fine for what it is... but for a more developed sense of humanity, the illustrations are where it's at.

Rob Howard said...

>>>What's your obsession with money?<<<

It's hardly an obsession because it is so easy to make. What it is to me, is a tool that enables the artist to work in ideal surroundings, have a choice of equipement and materials that best suit his or her particular approach. With that choice comes the opportunity to compare and educate oneslf much more than if you had only one or two choices.

Money enables and frees the artist from the mundane things of everyday life. For that they can hire assistants. Money allows the artist to devote that time to what they are placed on this earth to do...make art, not field phone calls from overdue creditors, not have to go down to the telephone office with a money order in order to get the phone or lights turned back on. Having money frees the artist from having to suck up to the inevitable low-level predators who seem to draw sustenance from the artist's own lifeblood.

In short, having money is a moat that keeps at bay all those things that drain the creative force, not having to meet with all of those insensitive louts who hold your daily life in their hands.

In a society that simply doesn't know how to deal with artists or what their worth is, having money and all of the outward bourgeoise appurtenances such as nice car, clothes, house, etc. gives the average person (the ones we all come in contact with) a clear metric from which they can build a respectful attitude.

Having that comfortable level of respect is part of the moat. The actor who struggles, does a few voice-overs, maybe plays supper clubs is like Rodney respect. The same actor with the same talent but having appeared in several high profile pictures, driving a fancy car, living in some exclusive neighborhood and eating in expensive restaurants gets treated much differently from the same people who look down on him when he's doing voice overs for Fruit Loops commercials.

My obsession (if I have one) is with enabling me to use my nascent talent to the best of my ability and to be able to have ample time, shielded from mundanities, that allow whatever talent I might have to bloom. Do you have a problem with that?

From a personal point of view, I have been accused of being generous to a fault. Making ample money allows me to indulge in that fault. It allows me to take time away from a lucrative practice to be able to write books from which some artists might benefit, to operate an advice forum and never draw a cent from it...those are luxuries one can afford themselves when they're not on their arse wondering how to pay the rent or get the lights turned on.

Do you have a problem with any of that or are you just a tad envious because things have not gone that well for you? Trust me on is VERY easy to make. Thin people, fat people, smart people, not-very smart people have all managed to make tons of money. Talented people, untalented people, honest people and immoral people have all been able to make money. Sp what's your excuse? You know that you want it. And if you're honest you know that all those dodges about selling your soul or the root of all evil are just that...dodges, excuses for failure.

So what's you obsession with failure?

Rob Howard said...

Einbildungskraft, you bring ip some important points which bear scrutiny...the sort of studious scrutiny that is past the school of personal taste.

In the past twenty years, or so, some fascinating research has been done into the psychological underpiinings of visual art. No, I don't mean that awful amateur psychological profiling of artists. That's akin to fan magazines collecting pictures of soiled bed linens.

An interesting area of examination has been into the purpose of realistic art (past the "well i like it" school) and the purposes of more symbolic work.

This Valentine's painting falls squarely in the same field occupied by photography in that it is concerned with details. The simple overall message is a pretty mother and weightless child (no one mentioned that glaring failure in drawing and rendering)...No, just the details are what dazzled the eyes...mmm, pretty flowers, many petals, straw bonnet, many strands, and so forth.

As David says...piece like this are mercifully forgotten.

A line drawing is symbolic as are Cotton's caricatures. In both the line drawing and the caricature, the artist strips away detail, which is mere filler and eye-candy, and enlists the energies and imagination of the viewer. Including the viewer in the visual interaction is the hallmark of the art of the past 150 years. Previous to that, viewers were like good little students who never create a fuss in class, have their homework in on time and are exemplary and homogenized citizens.

That's how painter's like David rose to their heights...taking a well-known story and illustrating it with superlative hand skills. Sure, it doesn't matter to the homogenized student that The Oath of The Horatii is a horrid composition and the people are wooden and without any individuality that would make you care about them. The important thing is that David rendered in the stiching on the sandals.

In this country there used to be county fairs which were largely agricultural but also had non-agricultural exhibits such as an amazing replica of a Victorian house made entirely of toothpicks glued together. The local rustics would gather around it and stare with open jaws at this marvel.

What was informative is that the toothpick house had a legend attached. It told of 211,763 toothpicks being used, 67 tubes of glue and 2,672 man hours of labor. This was something those hard working crofters could understand...sheer physical work. The more work, the better the least to those unsophisticated rustics.

I find it interesting that so much realistic work is viewed in the same way..."Gollee, Ma. Just look at all those stitches he painted into the sandals...what patience!"

I say this as a realist painter who realizes the shortcomings inherent in that genre. I vastly prefer making drawings in order to escape an area that photography has already dominated.

Laurence John said...

"An interesting area of examination has been into the purpose of realistic art..."

Rob, i'm very interested in that area of visual image making and perception...(observational realism vs symbolic representation). if you have any links to the research you're referring to please post.


अर्जुन said...

Robz Howardz

From one straw man to the next. Nobody mentioned the evil of making money yet you prattle on as if someone had. Then you rail against minutiae technical rendering, but proceed to use that mind-set to criticize a painting of a different stroke.
Who would say that painting is about counting petals or hairs? Indeed, the notan, the woman's face in halftone, the secondary rim light, the brim of her hat, the arcing line of her arm and shawl, all frame and bring focus to the subject of the picture: the vibrant, buoyant, bouncing baby. Towards that end, only a twit would bemoan altering the "photographic reality".

Now that you have been free all these years, you must have a cornucopia of amazing works!
Seriously, noting your failings of subject, drawing, and notan, I would suggest you stop depicting good hair days and start depicting good ironing days, what with your penchant for tastelessly rendering all those wrinkles.

Be a good new money monkey and tell us where you bought that watch… and the price?

Rooster Shamblin said... would you please spend a few minutes checking out my blog. I am a farmer who has been raising over 50 breeds of chickens for forty years.

The TRUTH hurts said...

Rob, please stop lying. You don't have a portrait career to speak of, nobody has heard of you, and your wife supports you.

Take your meds, you nutjob!

Rob Howard said...

Laurence, a good introduction to the new findings is in a book, Visual Language for Design...about $25 on Amazon. Jung began to hit on some aspects of it in Man And His Symbols when he showed the images on Roman coins becoming more abstract the further from Rome they were minted.

The work in the above book takes that much further and, I find it can be applied to my work.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Nobody mentioned the evil of making money <<<

Buffoon! What was it about "obsession" that you thought was positive?

Time for more remedial reading.

Rob Howard said...

>>>nobody has heard of you, and your wife supports you.

For someone who has never heard of me you claim to have inside information. Please Mr. Merde...uck, tell us about your glowing career.

I suspect that you envy the fact that my son speaks to me.

Reality said...

Nobody envies you. Grow up.

अर्जुन said...

>>>Time for more remedial reading.<<<

Couldn't agree more.

>>Eddie said...
What's your obsession with money?<<

Asked only AFTER you devote 2 rambles to it.

अर्जुन said...

William Cotton(American, 1880-1958), oil on canvas full length portrait titled `Woman in Riding Habit`, signed lower left

Laurence John said...

thanks Rob.

Eddie/Brian/Thomas, you may as well stick to one moniker as your tone is unmistakably you.

Marcus said...

My personal opinion is that some of these caricatures are borderline anti-semitic.

Rob Howard said...

>>>your tone is unmistakably you.<<<

He's a sad little fella who follows me around, like a single-minded tick. The bane of my existence is that I do not have any good quality enemies who have wit. I am doomed to having no more than mediocrities carp at me. Hardly worth the occasional swat.

>>>some of these caricatures are borderline anti-semitic.<<< I didn't see that at all. I was taken with Cotton's ability to find the essence of the face, but more, with reflecting the aesthetics current with his time. That's admirable. Much more so than reflecting the aesthetics of 18th century Vienna or Paris.

John Laurence said...

Laurence John,

You got me! My name is actually John Laurence! I'll post under that from now on.


The bane of your existience is not that you don't have any good quality enemies--its that you don't have any good qualities! No more run-on sentences!

Yep, we're all your "enemies"! Anybody who disagrees with you is an "enemy"! Is this not the final proof that you are a mentally ill nutcase?

You are:

not rich
not well-known or regarded in your field
poorly educated
too stupid to know you are poorly educated
a pathological liar
a crappy painter

Not one successful anybody haunts internet blogs to proclaim their greatness, but you do! Every single good and successul artist that I've ever met (and I've met quite a few) has zero interest or time to devote to harassing and pissing on people in petty internet squabbles.

The final verdict on you is that you are a liar and a loser, finally coming to the end of his insignificant life, who is desperately trying to make other people agree with the false image he has created of himself in his own mind.

It's not working Rob, and it never will. The more you talk, the more everybody realizes what you truly are. And it is ablsolutley nothing to brag about.

At least that's what we decided at the last Enemies Meeting.

Marcus said...

Some of those faces look as if they could have come from a Nazi poster.Clearly racial caricatures.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

re: He's a sad little fella who follows me around, like a single-minded tick.
Rob, there are many of us that appreciate you, your writing, your expertise,...and your evil minded ticks/& your responses provide us w/endless amusement.
"This Valentine's painting falls squarely in the same field occupied by photography in that it is concerned with details." So photography has made detailed portraiture obsolete, a thing of the past, because there is no symbolism? Well, I'm not denigrating Cotton's illustrations at the expense of his fine portraiture!
Kudos to अर्जुन

John Laurence said...

How can he accuse me of "following him around" when all I ever do is call him on his crap at this single blog?

Do you see what a nutcase this guy is with his narcissism and persecution complex?

Will said...

I just encountered this idea of "art vs. portraiture" when reading about the Polish artist/writer Witkacy. Quoted from here: "In the mid-1920s, Witkacy recognised 'artistic work' to be barren, and established a one-person openly commercial Portrait Firm, which produced differently priced pastels 'made to order' in accordance with the wishes of the client -- 'smooth' portraits as well as deformed, vibrating images executed under the impact of narcotics."

Witkacy is something of an anomaly in *all ways,* but I thought this might add to your discussion.

Thanks for the intro to Cotton!


Rob Howard said...

>>>Polish artist/writer Witkacy. <<<

WOW! Thanks for the introduction, Will. What power! He has so many of the admirable qualities of the "naive" artists, most particularly, the courage to show himself as an individual.

This is stunning work and yet another example that many excellent artists fly under the popular radar.

Rob Howard said...

>>>So photography has made detailed portraiture obsolete, a thing of the past, because there is no symbolism? <<<

I wouldn't say that. Until the current economic downturn, I stayed booked ahead for 18 months of painting portraits. There is a felt need for them. Part of that is local tradition.

I have always done the majority of my painting of women in the Southern Atlantic states. There is a tradition of portraits representing particular periods in a woman's life. About 20% of my portraits were done of Northern clients, mostly men and usually for an annual report or as a retirement gift.

I don't know how much symbolism there is to that

Solipsism said...

Lies, lies, lies.

Mr. Howard, you are a liar. Why not shut up and advertise your fantasies elsewhere?

Laurence John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurence John said...

"...most particularly, the courage to show himself as an individual."

but by flitting between Christian Schad-style delicately-modelled portraits and raw expressionist stuff he seems to be mocking the idea that style is a personal signature, and exposing it as an affectation (which is fine).

interestingly, these seem to foreshadow Bill Sienkiewicz by 50 years...

and Bob Peake...

thanks for that link Will.

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन -- thank you for the additonal Cotton painting. I don't know where you found it, but I prefer it to the one I posted.

Marcus-- I understand what you're saying about one of the pictures, but I think it is a purely superficial resemblance. These were highly esteemed celebrities of the day. Cotton admired them and partied with them. I don't think there is any reason to believe there is hostility or anti-semitism behind these pictures.

Peter said...

Sorry if I'm a little late to comment.

1)Granted, that one portrait of mother and child isn't good. I'm guessing the need to flatter, and the difficulties in making portraits of infants, plus the elaborate women's fashions of the day, all magnified his technical weaknesses. He was definitely no Mary Cassatt or Lilian Westcott Hale. Even the following example, where the the child is older and the mother's clothes are simpler, looks pretty generic.

2)Thanks to whoever linked to the image "Woman in Riding Habit" which I hadn't seen before. If we are to pass judgment on his portraiture, more examples are welcome.

3)By the same token, check out the book, Painting and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, which has three small black-and-white images of Cotton's portraits of men (pages 116-117). It's available on Google Books.

Peter said...

Sorry, here's the correct link:

Peter said...

I don't know why the web address keeps getting cut in half.

Peter said...

Sorry I took so long since my last post, but I would like to make one more point. While I agree that Cotton's caricatures are more successful aesthetically than his straight portraiture, can't the converse also be true, that the skills he learned as an art student helped to make his commercial work as good as it is? I noticed that another of my favorite caricaturists, William Auerbach-Levy, also studied at the Academie Julian (though nearly a decade later than Cotton.)

Movieboards said...

Marvelous! Thanks again David for your insight, and thanks to everyone who contributes to the conversation...

Sara Widdicombe said...

Wondering if this group of comments is still active ..? will check back.

David Apatoff said...

Hi, Sara-- Yes it is still active (although "active" is a relative term.)

Something on your mind?

Sally said...

David, William Cotton was married to my grandmother Mimi (Mildred) Cotton on my mother's side. I have 3 original william cotton New Yorker artworks. Where could I get them appraised or could I sell them?

Sally S.

Sally said...

David. William Cotton was married to my grandmother, Mimi (Mildred) Cotton, on my mother's side. I have 3 original artworks by William Cotton for the covers of The New Yorker magazine. How would I get them appraised or sell them?