Thursday, May 23, 2013

Famous artists paint Samson and Delilah

In 1949, ten members of the faculty of the Famous Artists School correspondence course were commissioned to paint their interpretation of Samson and Delilah, based on the 1949 Cecil B. DeMille production at Paramount.

The artists pictured include: (back row, from left to right) Harold von Schmidt, Norman Rockwell, Ben Stahl, Peter Helck, and Austin Briggs. (Front row): John Atherton, Al Parker, Al Dorne (on the ground, who apparently didn't contribute a painting), Steven Dohanos, Jon Whitcomb, and Robert Fawcett. 

Rockwell did a big painting of Samson pushing down the columns of the temple.

He shot reference of actor Victor Mature, and did the color study at right.

Austin Briggs showed Samson slaying a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.

Al Parker portrayed Delilah cutting the lock of Samson's hair, thus robbing him of power.

Austin Briggs (Edit: Jon Whitcomb) also showed a romantic scene, with Delilah looking the part of a regal but dangerous female.

Harold von Schmidt, known for his dramatic action illustrations, showed Samson wrestling with a lion.

Peter Helck illustrated Samson doing the ignoble work of grinding at the mill. To my knowledge this is the only one of the ten finished paintings that has surfaced. I wonder if anyone knows what became of the others.
Images courtesy the Famous Artists' and Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collection. All Rights Reserved.


jeff jordan said...

Hey Jim, isn't the romantic scene Jon Whitcomb?

Victor said...
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Victor said...

I'm a big fan of Rockwell and have a lot of respect for illustrators of that era, but these are all surprisingly clunky.

I always imagined that some of the best illustrators of yesteryear would be able to compare not wholly unfavorably against painters of previous centuries when tackling similar subjects, but the results of this event seem to suggest otherwise.

Perhaps this and the Sargent vs. Abbbey sketches you posted on earlier are demonstrations of how even highly skilled artists can stumble when tackling subjects different than what they normally specialize in.

James Gurney said...

Victor, I agree. Maybe the movie requirement hamstrung the universality. I can't help but imagine that Lovell, Abbey, Leyendecker, Pyle, or Cornwell would have flattened the competition.

Kevin Mizner said...

I saw Rockwell's painting of Samson in a promotional video for The National Museum of American Illustration. ( The video was posted on youtube back in 2009.

I agree that it wasn't one of his best. But on a side note-- man would I have loved to have been in that room with all those fantastic artists in the prime of their careers!

Tom Hart said...
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Rich said...

Why did they choose "Samson and Delilah" for the contest?
May have to do with ancient Greeks and the cultural heritage we Westerners still own to them.

Anyhow; finding me once more enjoying one of those multiple Gurney-Journey-Entries.
Also like that well composed photograph here. All those artists in their suits (there were no jeans yet in those times;-)) posing besides the framed pieces of their art work; kind of a pictorial symphony, with everything admirably interwoven: just wondering who's been the director of that photo symphony: Al Dorne?

Andrew Sonea said...

Interesting post! I also have to agree with Victor that the paintings for the most part are surprisingly clunky given the calibre of the artists...

Anyways, since there seems to be some trouble locating better images of the paintings, I immediately recognized the Austin Briggs painting and found it in my files on my computer. It is used as an example in a chapter on folds from the FAS. I've uploaded the image here so you guys can see, maybe James you can edit this image into the main blog post?

James Gurney said...

Thanks for helping improve the post, Andrew and Jeff. I've made the edits.

RobNonStop said...

I was very lucky to get the Famous Artist Course (complete) for about $140 in very good condition.

It’s exceptionally well designed. Beautiful drawings, high quality photo paper for the few photos, sophisticated typography (that was hip at the time).

Definitely worth getting.

kev ferrara said...

Seems like. from the illustrators' perspective, the whole thing was a publicity stunt, probably (if I were to guess) for far less money than they usually got per job. Maybe they did it purely as publicity for the FAS, so they weren't paid at all. That would certainly explain not only the lackluster results, but also why Al Dorne didn't bother at all! ;)

I think it would be a real mistake to think that Rockwell and Von Schmidt couldn't make a better effort on this subject than shown here.

As well as Pyle and Leyendecker, I bet Dunn, Frazetta, or Coll would have made killer pieces for this subject.

Smurfswacker said...

I agree with Kev Ferrara; most of the pieces look kind of like they were knocked out as a favor. Austin Briggs is the one who seems to have really given it all he had. I would have loved to have seen Dorne take a crack at it. His knack for action and exaggeration would have served the subject well.