On 13th July David Hassard entertained the Association with a talk
aviation paintings and drawings illustrated with many slides of his
large collection taken from books, vintage magazines, brochures and
prints. It has been a lifetime interest starting when his father worked
at De Havilland’s at Hatfield and David’s introduction to aircraft came
from the brochures and in-house magazines that were brought home. David
found the paintings in these even more fascinating than the
photographs, like a soft-focus Frank Wootton painting of the sleek
Comet prototype. He could imagine being up there with the gentle
whistle of those four Ghost engines. Through Frank Wootton’s eyes he
saw the sunny future and liked the look of it. Terence Cuneo’s
industrial studies for De Havilland probably had some influence on his
choosing a career in aircraft engineering.
Despite claims that the phrase “A picture is worth 10,000 words” is of ancient Greek or Chinese origin, David could not find it on record until a speech by an early 20th century advertising executive. Whatever the origins, reading any number of words would never have left him with such enduring impressions of aircraft and aviation as those early images.
He contended it would take more than 10,000 words to adequately
describe a picture; to explain the shape and size of each element and
how the sunlight glints off the surfaces and subtly changes colours
would take thousands of words and still not instantly convey the
atmosphere, the sights, even smells and sounds that a painting does.
What is probably equally true, however, is that creating a picture requires 10,000 decisions and any one of them could ruin an otherwise promising effort. If you have tried it, David said, you will know that setting out to produce a painting is a daunting and often frustrating task, not to be undertaken lightly. The subject has to be researched. An interesting composition has to be worked out. Your style must be chosen. Your medium, colour palette and technique selected and if you have sufficient hard won painterly skill, you could eventually produce a picture with some impact. However, like most things in life, if the purpose of all that effort is clear, and some inspiration and originality is thrown in, then the impact is likely to be much greater.
It is largely irrelevant whether the pictures seen this afternoon were “Art” but some undoubtedly were. Paul Klee said that “the purpose of art is not to reproduce what is visible but to make visible what most people do not see”.To test this, David searched for paintings by internationally acclaimed and recognised artists. Surely most of that would be art with a capital A. He found very few. The earliest one was by post-impressionist Henri Rousseau in 1907, in his naive style, which included a Wright Flyer presumably from a newspaper photograph as the Wright Brothers did not come to France until 1908. By 1910 Andre Devambez was seeing the beauty of early flying machines, like the Antoinette, and emphasising their fragility in the face of nature. The colourful French Cubist, Robert Delauney, used stylised aircraft and the Eiffel Tower in his“orphic” cubism attempts to capture movement, rhythm and the play of light. During the first world war, established artists were recruited to record the war. Second world war official war artists included Eric Ravilious who had also been a war artist in the first world war and was sadly one of three who died in service in WWII. As an art teacher in Eastbourne one of his pupils had been David’s favourite, Frank Wootton. Other famous artists including Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Terence Cuneo worked in this field.
After the war it is difficult to find any aviation subjects depicted by internationally renowned artists. A more rewarding place to look for contemporary aviation paintings is on posters.
This is the world of commercial art or graphic design. It is interesting in that it picks up on artistic fashions but has its own stylistic progression blending the pictorial with the written word. Shell petroleum famously used well respected artists in its 1920s advertisements. The constraints of poster design in low-cost colour reproduction and clarity from a distance brought new forms of illustration. The airlines were major users of aviation posters and it is fascinating to see how these reflected or ignored the artistic styles of the day. Lithographic posters allowed illustrators to include their own often bizarre lettering and the lithographic device of reversing the lettering and background colour.
By 1928 a more picturesque style had developed, drawing the viewer to alluring sunny climes and emphasising the attractive destinations and the speed of air travel. American advertising was typically more straight forward than the European, being simple and striking; very modern and effective. British Imperial Airways chose the French artist Albert Brenet for beautiful 1930s depictions of their HP 42s, whilst in France they were wavering between realism and symbolism by choosing American illustrator R de Valerio. The Germans however chose Teutonic bold images of the Junkers Ju52. In contrast a Zeppelin advertisement was dramatically artistic, beautifully simple and to the point.
Destinations became the focus for airline advertisements. There are fewer and fewer aircraft shown as flying becomes more commonplace and airliners less distinctive.
As graphic design replaced depictions of aircraft themselves there was an emphasis on key services and the repetitive use of distinctive logos and standard house styles.
Posters for aviation events are another interesting source of illustrations. Pre-world war one French aviation posters may appear charming to us but offered dramatic novelty in their day. Between the wars poster design reflected all the trends and fads in art and illustration. For the last few decades Wilfred Hardy seems to have had the lion’s share of poster design for British aviation events, almost always with head on views.
Another source is books and magazines showing great diversity of styles and subjects. In the early days of aviation, newspapers and magazines used illustrators to make more dramatic pictures than their photographers could. .
By the late twenties stylish magazines like the Illustrated London News were beginning to introduce their readers to the delights of flying London to Paris and implying some luxury. The “Wonder Book of Aircraft” used paintings on its covers and through the 1930s WE Johns, of Biggles fame, published “Popular Flying” and “Flying” magazines with multi-coloured cover paintings.
With Second World War came a lot of work for illustrators, giving magazines and newspapers newsworthy quasi-photographic depictions of what was happening. Wartime Puffin picture books served a similar purpose using the limitations of just a few colours to create interesting and memorable images.
There were plenty of illustrated children’s book about aircraft in the 1950s. The1954 Eagle comic cutaway pictures were some the first illustrations that David really studied as a boy. Ladybird books had their own particular style and colour palette. Comics are another source of aircraft illustration and some of them were quite well done. The Commando comics from the 60s, 70s and 80s are still being reprinted.
Specialist aviation books require particularly accurate paintings like the covers of the “Aircraft of the Aces” series. In addition to these books there are those dedicated to aviation paintings, compilations of various artists and increasingly, individual painters publishing their own work.
Technical illustration is one area where it should be easy to convince this audience that the picture is worth 10,000 words. It is easy to take for granted the amount of information conveyed by clever draughtsmen and illustrators.
In the late 1920s major companies began to employ accomplished illustrators for their advertisements. By 1929, Art Deco had taken hold with airbrushed smooth bold shapes. Hawker advertisements were very safe but nicely drawn. By 1931 Hawker’s confidence with the Hart showed in their adoption of bolder more dramatic advertisements. A Hawker Fury advert is one of the earliest colour printed Flight covers David has found.
Many wartime advertisements were rather banal. However, illustrators can come up with fascinating original ideas. Hawker’s cartoonist created a brilliant strong image of Winston Churchill as a falconer (or hawker) releasing Hurricanes and Tempests. Late in the 1940s, when most military aircraft advertisements were for sleek jet designs. R. S. Franklin created really exciting attractive drawings of the Fury and Sea Fury for Hawker. Terence Cuneo, with his history of factory paintings as a war artist, produced a whole series of workshop drawing to advertise Airwork’s activities at Dunsfold. By the late 50s and 1960s more and more advertisements were using photographs but where they are not practical, illustrators have always come to the fore, advertising guided missiles, for instance.
The golden age of aviation paintings and drawings in advertising was 30 or so years from 1925. By the late 50s the best UK aviation illustrators were mixing advertising with book illustration and individual commissions. There is a strong market to satisfy nostalgia and create in colour events only recorded in black and white photographs or situations which could never have been photographed - David calls them “enthusiast’s pictures”. The compositions are typically dominated by the aircraft and historical and technical accuracy is a fundamental requirement. There are many important events which did not get photographed. The first flight of the Hurricane at Brooklands in 1935 is one of those but our President, Colin Wilson, recreated the scene for us in his 1985 painting. To see more David recommended visiting the Guild of Aviation Artists annual exhibition in July.
In conclusion David rested his case that, at least in the aviation world, “pictures are worth 10,000 words”. Do go to the Association video library to see the many examples of aviation art that David showed.