Saturday, March 1, 2008

Matania: Without a Net

Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) was a historical illustrator and war correspondent who worked for the British magazine Sphere and other publications.

He had a wide range of interests, and his command of historical detail was unrivaled. He could render costumes, weapons, architecture, and furnishings with authority and assurance. He was equally at home in ancient Rome, in the Italian Renaissance, or in the world of the Aztecs. But his specialty was World War 1.

His instincts for composition and staging came from years of studying the old masters, yet for the most part he managed to avoid conventional compositions or formulaic poses in favor of a relaxed truthfulness to nature and a vivid sense of action.

But his gifts went beyond the pedantic accuracy of documentary detail. He brought a sympathetic heart to his characters; nowhere is this more evident than the unforgettable painting of a World War I soldier lingering behind on a battle-scarred road to comfort his dying horse.

Matania’s ability to paint realistic tableaus from the pages of history would be impressive enough had he approached his craft in the normal way¬—that is, by producing dozens of preliminary studies, gathering actual props, sketching on location, and posing models.

He was fully capable of this kind of comprehensive method, but he more typically worked under tight deadlines, dispensing altogether with preliminaries, and laid down a final rendering on a white surface, guided by a vision fully formed in his head.

This would have been hard to believe were it not for eyewitnesses like Percy Bradshaw, who watched him paint a complex scene of a [] cavalry soldier breaching a [Belgian] barricade. He started with a blank board with no sketches, and just started rendering. This is like tightrope walking without a net.

Here’s the finished picture. Bradshaw documented the process photographically in stages and published it in a portfolio that stunned Matania’s contemporaries.

Thanks to the work of Stuart Williams and Geoff Gehman, an art book on Matania is in the works from FHD Publishing's Book Palace imprint—with much higher quality reproductions than I’ve shown here. They've pushed back the pub date because they keep finding great new works. It will be worth the wait.

Detailed bio and collection of color illustrations, Link.
More from Book Palace, Link.

Other GurneyJourney posts
Matania at Work
Matania on Mary Ann Talbot (we own these originals)
Matania's Models and Props


Erik Bongers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Bongers said...

Dear Mr. J. Gurney,

Please tell us that this man was an autistic "idiot savant" like Rain Man : someone with one exeptional gift, but unable to tie his own shoelaces.

If however the man was considered normal, the publishing of this book should be forbidden on grounds that the demoralizing effect on us, poor contemporary illustrators would be devastating.

Furthermore I would like to kindly ask you to remove this post, or at least the unfinished picture in the middle, where you can clearly see that the-artist-that-shall-no-longer-be-named just painted it all straight out of his head. Hopefully this way the damage can be controlled.

Yours sincerely,

E. Bongers,
spokesman of the Self-help Group for Contemporary Artists that Fear we can Never Reach that same Level of Mastership Again.

Erik Bongers said...

Errrm...sorry to interrupt again but...isn't the center picture a German soldier breaching a Belgian barricade rather than v.v.?
Hey, you're talking about my forefathers here !

James Gurney said...

Oops, thanks for the correction, Erik--I have made the edit. The piece is called "A Belgian Barricade." Unfortunately there is no comfort for us mortals. Bradshaw says" "I have watched him working and I believe that the drawing part of the work has absolutely no difficulties for him. He will chat to you all the while his little brush is outlining a figure or washing it in...I was almost convinced that drawing was no more difficult than lighting a cigarette."

Meredith D. said...

Like Erik, I suspect that Matania may have had the gift of photographic memory much like autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire only with formal art training. From his website: "In 2001 he appeared in another BBC documentary, Fragments of Genius, for which he was filmed flying over London aboard a helicopter and subsequently completing a detailed and perfectly scaled aerial illustration of a four-square-mile area within three hours..."

Erik Bongers said...

Bull's eye Meredith. This was exactly the 'savant' I was thinking about. I saw him drawing Rome in a docu.
But I'm sure that the-artist-that-can-no-etc... was not a savant because he composes theatrical settings that requires social and emotional understanding of the world.
Quite unlike savants that just 'zerox' the world, without cognition.

DeWolfe said...

One of my favourite artists. I can't wait for the book!

Jared Shear said...

Without a net indeed!!!...and over a pit fill with spikes, Alligators, and the bones of all of those who have tried before them and failed miserably.

The work that was produced by artists in the mid to late 1800's and up through the early 1900's is by far one of my favorite time periods. There are many artists from that era who created an astounding body of work to help feed the publics appetite through illustrations of what the war was like, the west, deep jungle, space, etc... Those artists of who's works are now long forgotten, or who never received the credit they deserved. Quietly producing week after week masterpieces for newspapers or other publications, that in some instances numbered into the 1000's.

I've always enjoyed the work of Albert Brenet....again, another great artist, but one on who's work is hard to find. Also the work of Achille Beltrame and Walter Molino from their long work on the Sunday Courier

It's great to be turned onto another one of these amazing artists.....once again being both extremely humbled, but also inspired as well......thanks James!

Anonymous said...

some of his paintings seems to be watercolors, do someone know the media ?

James Gurney said...

Jared, thanks for the links to the other reporter artists. Brenet is new to me. His work really sings!

Anonymous, I believe most of Matania's work was drawn with transparent ink or watercolor washes applied with a brush--without an extensive preliminary pencil drawing.

Christy said...
Stephen Wiltshire is pretty incredible, I remember someone showing me this video of him at work.

Thanks for showing me a new artist today, I'm going to look into getting Matania's new book.

gator said...

"guided by a vision fully formed in his head."

this quote remind me of another one of my favorite artist, frank frazetta.

i know you and thomas kinkade workded on fire and ice with frank frazetta. were you a big fan of his before you got to work with him on that animated film?

his fantasy work is awsome, second only to the tron master...haha.

keep up the great blog james, i hope you dont plan on slowing down anytime soon, this is such a fresh way to introduce art methods and other great artists. i havnt been this interested in art and technique since college....and thats been far too long.

thanks for boosting our art appreciation and skills with your blog!

James Gurney said...

Actually there's a connection between Matania and Frazetta. Matania also illustrated some of the same Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy novels that Frank later did covers for. Frazetta's good friend, the collector and artist Roy Krenkel, most likely showed Frazetta those Matania ERB illustrations. While I was working with Frazetta on Fire and Ice, he always told me proudly that he "pulled off" his paintings at the last minute without any reference.

Christy, thanks for the link to the incredible Wiltshire video. The only thing that's different about Matania's pictures was that he never saw the scenes at all in the first place, and had to assemble them in his mind based on interviews, often with soldiers recalling battles from their hospital beds.

jeff f said...

This is great stuff, amazing illustrator, artist.

Do you know Ivor Hele the Australian war artist from WW2?

Dillon Thompson said...

This is an awesome post. I think I speak for all when saying this blog is an amzing resorce. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

It seems a shame and a waste that this great illustrator spent so much of his gift doing pictures of war. Though I don't know what else he might have done....

KKincaid said...

Rarely have I been so moved by a painting as I have by Matania's portrayal of the dying horse and soldier. I'm still wiping my tears. You've done it again, Mr. Gurney. Thank you for expanding my horizons.

Erik Bongers said...

saying he WASTED his time on war pictures is like saying it's a shame that Mahatma Ghandi wasted his time on trying to bring peace to his country : with his slim figure, he could have been a great dancer !

At most you could say the artist 'wasted' his time on romanticizing war rather than showing the true horror of it.
But I'm preaching again, sorry.
'Nough said.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bongers,

I hate to tell you this, but i do wish Ghandi could have danced.

Paul Allan Ballard said...

We lately seem to be thinking in the same circles...
Recently I have been studying early Burroughs illustrations and Matania's washes, it led me to the Great War website.

Then the other day I was thinking of the Monitor because of the anniversary...

So if the pattern follows you'll soon have a post on Schoonover or Godward in the coming days. (and maybe a zombie thing since that's my current job I'm working on)

Teresa said...

You don't have to posit that Matania was some kind of autistic genius. Some artists are just like that -- they know where everything goes. I remember seeing penciller Kevin Kobasic ask Keith Giffen how much underdrawing he did. Giffen said, "None -- I just start with a foot or something, and work from there." Kevin's reaction was not unlike Erik Bongers' take on Matania.

I believe Alphonse Mucha was another one of those. I heard a story once about him running test prints of one of his elaborate multi-pass lithographed posters. You know how lithography works -- make one error, and you have to grind the stone down and start over.

Mucha decided his new print needed more yellow in the mix. He walked over to the yellow stone, laid in additional color freehand with a grease crayon -- and it came up in register.

It's no use. You can't kill them all.

vm said...

Apologies for the intrusion, I am trying find any books or printed articles on Fortunino Matania and would greatly apreciate it if anybody could point me in the right direction.
Vincent Matania.

James Gurney said...

There's a book in the works on Mr. Matania, and I think it's 6 months to a year away. I'll certainly announce it on this blog when it comes out, and I'm sure it will be available from Bud's Art Books. There's not much else in print that I know of. Are you a relative?


vm said...

Yes I am a relative but when I was younger and this topic arose around the dinner table, I had little interest. Sadly, now I'm older and I do have an interest, many of my family are now no longer here to talk to. I am trying to track down my family tree. I know there was a rather grand one in the family but I have not managed to find it so far!

Dario T. W. said...

Hello, has the book been published yet?

James Gurney said...

Hi, Dario, no, the book on Matania hasn't been published yet. I ask the publisher every year or so, and he says it's in the works --and he keeps finding new Matanias. When it does come it will be worth the wait.

Luci Gosling said...

Thought you might be interested that I have written a short book on Matania's WW1 illustrations, due for publication November this year. I work at Mary Evans Picture Library and have written other books and articles on illustration (& WW1) based on content in the archive. We house and manage the ILN Picture Library here which of course contains The Sphere. It has a 7000 word intro and around 150 pictures with captions. Anyway, here's the link.

James Gurney said...

Thank you, Luci. That looks really interesting. I know which painting you mean by "Goodbye Old Man." If you'd like to send me a review copy, I would be happy to review the book for the blog.

Luci Gosling said...

Yes, oddly, the publisher decided to keep the title, but not use the classic image on the cover! It sort of works, but I daresay some people will want to know where the real 'Goodbye Old Man' is (it will be inside, don't worry). I will make a note to get the History Press to send you a copy when it's out. Is your address somewhere on the site here?

James Gurney said...

Luci, thanks. Yes, I love that painting of the dying horse by Matania, and I gather it was well known and loved in his day. Look forward to seeing a copy. My mailing address is PO Box 693, Rhinebeck, NY 12572.

Ο σκύλος της Βάλια Κάλντα said...

If you search in youtube about Korean Kim Jung Gi (born 1975) you shall find one more beast of an artist without the need for safety nets.