The Sad Burlesque

Artist:Mahlon Blaine
Date:1939
Medium:Goauche on illustration board
Dimensions:Sight Size 6" x 16" Framed 14" x 24"
Condition:Mint
Original Use:Proposed Mural design for Paul MacAlister
Price:$4000.00

Full view of gouache painting

The artist's initial lower left for "G. Christopher Hudson"

In the late 1930s, avant-garde illustrator Mahlon Blaine, working under the pseudonym G. Christopher Hudson created a series of illustrations which were intended to become murals for the studio or showroom of noted New York City interior designer Paul MacAlister. Offering a dark and pessimistically erotic commentary on the skyscraper landscape that was taking over Manhattan, it's unclear if Blaine and MacAlister believed these murals would ever be approved, or if the preliminary artworks were exclusively created as an oblique social satire. Blaine treated each individual painting in the series as its own completed stand alone artwork, with painstaking detail. It's unlikely Blaine or MacAlister ever truly expected the murals to be completed, but perhaps he did. By the following year Blaine was under extensive psychiatric care and dropped completely out of the public eye for the better part of a decade. We are offering the complete series of ten original concept paintings, each illustrating a nude underworld goddess in sordid intimate engagement with manifestations of modernism, industry and the machine age.

Detail

In this work, the first of the series and the image that was to greet visitors as they entered the room, a nude showgirl dancer does a sad burlesque, her shadow duplicated in silhouette in a Coney Island funhouse style. Both evoking and critiquing the sordid and semi-underground world of Depression-era girlie shows, the artwork lures the viewer into the underbelly of the city that is explored in the nine images that follow. Marked on verso design #1, beautifully matted and framed from the estate of Paul MacAlister.

Framed and matted behind glass in handsome gallery frame

Corner frame profile

In the late 1930s, Blaine began work of one of his most ambitious projects (or did one of his most ambitious projects begin work on him?) With the noted interior designer Paul MacAlister, Blaine created a series of (never executed in full scale) mural studies for a proposed New York City showroom MacAlister was working on. Featuring haunting and surreal takes on the hypersexualized and industrialized culture of modernist Manhattan, the images feature giantesses in coitus with skyscrapers, and nudes on "gadgets" that demonize the ongoing machine age and warn of the perils of an industrialized modernist society. Haunted by his own demons, Blaine spent the early 1940s under the psychiatric care of Greystone Hospital's Dr. Archie Crandall. This period marks the only known break in Blaine's working life. After ironically completing illustrations for a reissue of E. Thelmar's 1909 autobiography of madness The Maniac in 1940, Blaine slipped out of public view, before returning to the New York art scene late in the decade.

These are some of the most detailed and colorful works that have emerged by the artist to date. Though, it's hard to imagine that even Blaine could foresee these images becoming part of the midtown Manhattan cityscape, the project gained at least some traction, and MacAlister created a 1:12 scale miniature room with his rough tempura sketches of the Blaine's proposed murals featured in diorama.

MacAlister room design with proposed murals

Please visit our gallery for other examples which comprise the entire collection of the ten proposed works.



 

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