Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Haddon Sundblom and the 'First Stroke'

Along with his night school art lessons and his early days as a commercial art studio apprentice, the young Haddon Sundblom had some other extremely important influences that informed his painting technique.


Among others, Howard Pyle, John Singer Sargent, Robert Henri, Anders Zorn and Joaquin Sorolla were all practitioners of a kind of painting adapted from the Impressionists called "alla prima" or "first stroke," The technique involved "laying down the fewest strokes in the quickest time to sufficiently describe moving targets," as Roger T. Reed explains in a fascinating, informative article on Sundblom at the Illustration House website.


Sundblom acknowedged Zorn as his principle influence but in his June '56 article in American Artist, author Frederic Whitaker writes, "There never could have been such a Sundblom had there never been a Howard Pyle, for the Pyle concept is easily seen in the Chicago artist's work."


Whitaker further credits Sorolla for "[unlocking] for Sunny the secret of the sun-lit glow that pervades all his work."


Other painter/illustrators who Sundblom acknowledged as being an influence on his style include J.C. Leyendecker, Pruett Carter and Walter Biggs.


* I encourage you to read the Sundblom "all prima" article by Roger T. Reed at The Illustration House website - its really explains the topic succinctly and includes a terrific gallery of early Sundblom paintings.

* Many thanks to Tom Watson, who generously provided all of today's scans!


  1. Charlie Allen2:12 PM

    Thanks to Tom and Leif for the great blogs on Haddon Sundblom. What an amazing, amazing artist!

  2. Anonymous3:13 PM

    Thank you for introducing me to the wonderful pre-coke work of Haddon Sundblom.

  3. It funny to see this great post-- I just mentioned the obvious influence of Sargent on Sundblom's work. At the Sargent show I just visited at the Adelson gallery in NYC it was really apparent that the "alla prima' approach in Sargents work was there in Sundblom's.

    The influence was there on Loomis as well, especially when you look at those "mugs' or quick charcoal portraits Sargent did.

  4. There is a nice site dedicated to SAIC and American Art Academy life drawing instructor Antonin Sterba**, whose notable students include; Haddon Sundblom, Gil Elvgren, Howard Terpning, & Tom Ryan.

    Perhaps Mr. Gagliardo could provide more names of interest?

    ** studied in Paris under Laurens and Constant

  5. Loomis-Sundblom-Elvgren...

    the Chigaco 'mayonnaise' school is THE oil painting style as far as i'm concerned.

    if you look near the front of Taschen's book on Gil Elvgren you'll see a couple of nude studies devoid of the cutesy poses and peachy faces he's known for that are the equal of Sargent (who they appear indebted to).

    alla prima, when done well beats the more laborious dutch/flemish style for me, because it looks that much more spontaneous and fresh.

  6. Just happened upon this page when looking for info on Sundblom's technique. I can't get the link posted (Sundblom "all prima" article by Roger T. Reed at The Illustration House website) is gone/ I can't find it Does anyone have a link that works or know of any info on his technique?