On March 9th Member David Hassard gave an illustrated talk sub-titled “Exploring aviation painting and drawing” covering the whole gamut of paintings, posters, illustrations, technical illustrations and advertising from the 15th to the 20th centuries.  The subject has been a life-long passion of David’s and he has built up a wonderful collection of examples of this class of art, a selection of which he brought to the meeting.  His talk was illustrated with digital scans from the collection.  Clearly the talk was essentially visual so a verbal report can only hope but to give a taste of the wonders revealed to the audience together with David’s astute observations.

For an introduction David showed works by masters of aviation painting: Frank Wootton who did beautiful atmospheric works for de Havilland, John Young, Terrence Cuneo who did many factory scenes and Wilfred Hardy - ‘head-on’ Hardy responsible also for many posters where the subject is flying out of the picture straight at the viewer.

A Picture's Worth Ten Thousand Words

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As with any subject, a successful  aviation artist must have in mind a clear purpose for his work, must research the subject, must create a pleasing composition and decide on the style choosing  the medium, colour palette and technique to be employed.

His idea must have inspiration, be executed with skill and have the required visual impact.

Art critics might ask “is it art?” Paul Klee, the renowned German abstract painter said that the purpose of art was not to reproduce what is visible but to make visible that which cannot be seen, so David set out to find aviation pictures that were the work of acknowledged  mainstream artists, for here there could be no argument.  There are not many who included aviation in their pictures but David showed paintings by several artists including Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Dame Laura Knight and Terrence Cuneo. Many styles or movements, from traditional through cubists, orphists and futurists to abstracts, were attracted to aviation motifs.

Next David turned to graphic design, or what used simply to be called commercial art. These illustrators picked up new ideas from mainstream art but continued their own stylistic progression. Many striking and bold examples of poster design were shown, the artists achieving quite remarkable results from the two or three colour printing processes used. The job of such illustrators is to blend the picture with text and lithographic printing gave the artist the freedom to design his own lettering. Outstanding examples were done for Shell Petroleum and many airlines in Britain, in Europe and in the USA.

Initially designs were centred on the aircraft and its attractions but gradually destinations were featured and eventually became dominant. Posters for events such as air shows were created from Edwardian times right up to today where ‘head-on’ Hardy thrives! Book and magazine illustration is a major field for the aviation art enthusiast.

Early newspapers used line drawings as striking illustrations packed with visual information and often employing artistic licence for effect. The Illustrated London News had large spreads of illustrations. Books featured paintings on their covers, good examples being the Wonder Book of Aircraft series, as did magazines such as WE Johns’ Popular Flying. In wartime the artist was free to create dramatic depictions of events where photographs were not available or were too bland.

Puffin Books were completely illustrated with paintings and drawings as were the later Ladybird Books. The Eagle comic introduced its young readers to engineering and technology with colourful cutaway drawings and Airfix kit boxes had, and have, excellent paintings to tempt the buyer. Battle Picture Weekly pocket sized ‘comics’ told war stories with accurate drawings of aircraft. Dust jackets of ‘secret projects’ books, very popular today, show irresistible lifelike renderings of what un-built projects might have looked like, and specialist aviation publishers such as Osprey use attractive colour art work on their covers.

Turning to technical illustration David started with Leonardo da Vinci who, besides being a master painter spent a large part of his life as a military engineer producing exquisite drawings of his inventions, many of which were aeronautical. He was the first to produce three-view drawings and ‘exploded’ views. A study has shown that every mechanical device known to Victorian engineers can be found in da Vinci’s work - except rivets. All he lacked was engines and had to rely on man power.

Later work was illustrated by a Sopwith Dolphin fuselage side elevation showing the location of all the equipment, a full colour Hawk fuselage ‘inboard profile’ and an airbrushed project drawing giving a fine three dimensional impression. Illustrated Parts Catalogues demonstrate the practical value of three dimensional renderings which make the identification of parts so much easier than from a three-view.

Other example are the detailed cutaway drawings in Flight or Aeroplane, aircraft recognition manuals with perspective views of the subject and Chris Wren’s Aircraft Oddentification cartoons where salient recognition features were accentuated and made memorable.  

To illustrate graphic design and advertising David showed examples of what he had gleaned from Flight and Aeroplane, starting with the Sopwith School of Flying. He then showed how style and content changed and how different aircraft and aero engine companies devised and developed their individual styles. For instance Hawker advertisements were initially rather old fashioned whilst Fairey’s were modern and dramatic.

In the 1930s Art Deco influence became apparent and gradually colour printing was introduced - two colour, three, then four - a Hart ad. being an early example of two colour. In the 1950s drawings built up from parallel lines of varying thickness became popular, a fine example being an ad. for the Sea Fury. As the clean jets came in so the paintings and drawings used became more aesthetically pleasing, a stunning example being a beautiful pale green Hunter ad. with the strapline “the World’s finest fighter aircraft.” It is notable that many of today’s famous aviation artists started their careers as illustrators.

David finished his talk by showing modern ‘enthusiasts’ paintings, some being portraits of aircraft with little artistic appeal, others with the aircraft set in a context adding to their merit. The examples shown covered 100 years of aviation. In closing David hoped he had shown convincingly that a picture really is worth ten thousand words, a phrase he attributes to a modern advertising executive since he had been unable to identify any earlier usage! The vote of thanks for this wonderful presentation was given by Les Palmer. (To borrow the DVD of David’s presentation call him on 020 85462715.)