Friday, May 29, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Abbott Handerson Thayer's Angels and Camouflage

Abbott Handerson Thayer, I'd never heard or read the name before. Even had I encountered one of his paintings in a museum or gallery I'd have passed by quickly I suspect, as most of his best known works depict angelic winged figures - not my tha-a ng!

I noticed this artist's name among a list of deaths for today, 29 May, in 1921. He was born on
August 12, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts.

I skimmed a few articles online to discover more about him. It turns out that he should be remembered for more than his angel figures (which, by the way he insisted were not meant to be angels, as angels are usually perceived). He was no follower of organised religion, but was a "spiritual" type, a follower of his generation's
"in thing": transcendentalism.

First of many of Thayer's paintings of chaste, lovely young women, usually winged, sometimes with halos was the painting below of his 11-year-old daughter Mary as personification of virginal, spiritual beauty, giving her a pair of wings and calling the canvas "Angel". The wings, he said, were only there to create “an exalted atmosphere” — to make the maidens timeless. Other of Thayer's winged female paintings, as well as some of his portraits and landscapes, can be seen via Google Image.

Digressing! The other, quite different, facet of Thayer links to his early interest in birds and nature in general. He and his family lived for many years near Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, an area with which he fell deeply in love. Thayer's love of the countryside, wildlife and nature was what gave him an early idea - possibly the earliest - to point out that, as a form of camouflage is present in much of nature, something similar could be used in wartime for military personnel and for equipment, as protection, disguising their position, confusing the enemy.
He is credited with being the first to write about disruptive patterning (he called it 'razzle-dazzle'), which breaks up an animal's outlines; about masquerade, as when a creature mimics something in its environment; and about countershading, such as the white undersides of animals that make them seem less round and less solid. He became obsessed with the idea that all animals are camouflaged.
(New England Historical Society, here)
Thayer's ideas on camouflage (a good piece on this is at Order Rhythm and Pattern, here) were not initially well-received. Eventually, though, they were taken up as experimental, and in some cases improved upon during World War I.
Camouflage, patterns are now familiar to everyone, from military combat uniform, as well as from similar patterns transferred to items of casual clothing and accessories, embraced mostly by young people as a way of standing out as "cool" (though the irony probably escapes 'em!)

Abbott Handerson Thayer suffered from what's now labelled "bi-polar disorder". He described the affliction himself as "the Abbott pendulum," two extremes: "all-wellity" and "sick disgust." He also suffered from “oceans of hypochondria,” blamed on his mother, and from an “irritability” he claimed to be inherited from his father. Plagued by sleeplessness, exhaustion, anxiety, petty illness, bad eyes and headaches, he struggled constantly. Loss of his wife, Kate, at a young age to a lung infection affected him, and his work, greatly. Left with three children, he soon married again, to a family friend, Emma Beach, who had been helping to care for the children.

Personality-wise, Thayer is described in this Smithsonian piece as
Impractical, erratic, improvident, Thayer described himself as “a jumper from extreme to extreme.” He confessed to his father that his brain only “takes care of itself for my main function, painting.” Later he would compose letters to Freer in his head and then be surprised that his patron had not actually received them. Though Thayer earned a fortune, selling paintings for as much as $10,000, an enormous sum in those days, money was often a problem. With wheedling charm he would pester Freer for loans and advance payments.
Thayer cut a singular figure. A smallish man, 5 feet 7 inches tall, lean and muscular, he moved with a quick vitality. His narrow, bony face, with its mustache and aquiline nose, was topped by a broad forehead permanently furrowed by frown lines from concentration. He began the winter in long woolen underwear, and as the weather warmed, he gradually cut off the legs till by summer he had shorts. Winter and summer he wore knickers, knee-high leather boots and a paint-splotched Norfolk jacket.


I think the artist's extremes of temperament mentioned above must be reflected here in Neptune's loose fogginess intensified by its position, in its own sign Pisces, opposed by Jupiter in organised meticulous Virgo. The configuration astrologers call a T-square shown in the small chart links the opposition to Mars and/or Moon in Gemini intensifying an ongoing challenge to balance that pesky opposition.

Venus, planet of the arts, is in a nicely harmonious trine aspect to creative Neptune, as well as in helpful sextile to Jupiter. Jupiter links to the religious/spiritual, which links back to Thayer's signature angelic-seeming figures.

Thayer's interest in camouflage - where might that be found in his natal chart? In the square aspect Neptune makes to Mars, maybe Moon too? Neptune's cloaking fog challenges Mars, planet of aggression and war? Saturn in Mars-ruled Aries squaring arty Venus in gentle Cancer could also be seen as a co-ordinating reflection.


mike said...

Thunderstorms moving through and I keep disconnecting from the internet, so I'll have to be quick here. Interesting fellow...never heard of him, either. His Moon could be in late Taurus or early Gemini, and I suspect Gemini from descriptions of his mercurial disposition and mental conditions suffered...I've always thought Moon in Gemini to be a difficult placement. His Venus is in favored angles to Neptune and Jupiter, as you indicate, but is square Saturn, which could hinder his sociability, relationships, and add to eccentricity...likewise, it could add a need for detail and endurance to his artistic expressions. He lost two children then his wife, which I think would push one to the edge of sanity, specially if sanity was already ill-defined. The T-square you mention is very interesting, too, as it involves his Nodes, and while Venus relates well to the Jupiter-Neptune opposition, Mars does not. A complex fellow with complex relationships, yet left a decent mark in the world!

Twilight said...

mike ~ The thunderstorm season seems never-ending this year doesn't it? There's hardly been two days together without one or two storms here too - and flooding - a lot yesterday in Lawton. We get emergency calls from the Weather Center in Norman almost daily. We've had the tornado siren sounding twice, in recent days, and the weather men on double-time on TV (one hopes they do get extra pay!) We've had only one power outage so far though. I hope yours holds up through it all. Water rationing has been part-suspended here, possibly could even be loosened all the way shortly.

Re Thayer - yes, an interesting guy. I wish we had a time of birth for him but nothing online.
Thanks for your additional pointers.