It’s surprising we don’t talk of stripists and stripism because so many 20th artists, and especially American ones, worked with stripes. Barnett Newman, Myron Stout, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Jasper Johns, Dan Flavin, and Frank Stella are some.
Striped cloth and flags, rows of text, shelves of books, prison bars and uniforms, and skyscrapers could be things behind the stripes, but stripes in themselves, without reference to striped things, became enough of a subject for many artists—and for their publics.
Egon Schiele’s approach to stripes bridges traditional and modern art. Schiele and Schiele’s subjects were fond of stripes. The drawing just below, its title, Reclining Nude Girl in a Striped Frock [Liegender Mädchenakt im gestreiften Kittel] has arresting stripes.
They work as pattern fields, much the way Klimt used richly encrusted cloth—they’re not there to define the body underneath. The title, and I do not know if it’s Schiele’s title, is apt since it echoes the two-sided character of stripes—that they’re neither one thing nor another, and the girl is described as both being naked and in a striped frock. It is an ambiguous title and subject. I wouldn’t know how to title the drawing.
Another drawing of Schiele’s that features stripes is the one below of his wife Edith. (There are at least two photographs of Edith wearing the dress of the drawing.) Here the stripes, and the breaks in the stripes, do more to define Edith’s figure and this makes it closer to the traditions of 19th century and earlier art.
Closer, say, to the 18th century Watteau drawing of a reclining woman in British Museum, where the direction of the stripe segments give full meaning to what’s below. They are a kind of hatching.
Watteau’s drawing of a Persian in a turban is especially wonderful because of the zigzags and hatching that make up the bold stripe of the man’s jacket. Watteau did his drawing in France, but the slightly younger Swiss artist, Etienne Liotard, lived in Constantinople and saw turbaned Ottomans firsthand. Many of his sitters, both men and women, wear opulent striped clothes and rest on comfortable-looking sofas. Domenico Tiepolo, a near contemporary of Liotard’s, also drew turbaned people dressed in stripes, Venice being a crossroads for east and west. Examples of Domenico Tiepolo’s stripes can be found in an earlier post.
Michel Pastoreau wrote a book on stripes, engagingly titled The Devil’s Cloth: a History of Stripes. From a quick look, I understand that he concentrates on striped cloth in France, beginning in the Medieval period, when stripes were associated with the devil and such outcasts as prostitutes and lepers. This continued, at least in France, until the 18th century, when stripes became favored throughout society because of flags/patriotism/nationalism. This must be a terrible oversimplification, but it is interesting because in the 18th century, there was this burgeoning of stripes.
Neither relating to flags or the east, are these two drawings by Giuseppe Maria Crespi. They are illustrations for a tale about a boy named Cacasenno and his family. It’s a story about three generations of country people, who lack sophistication, but who are at times terrifically sensible (very close to the storylines of TV sitcoms). The whole series of drawings is in Bologna and viewable online here. The watercolors are derived from a series of drawings and etched illustrations. They were probably for a deluxe edition commissioned by a collector, although the Genus Bononaie site relates that Roberto Longhi had the idea that they were for ceramics. The Metropolitan has a preparatory drawing for the etching, where Cacasenno’s mother wears a plain dress, as in the etching. To enliven the richly ornamental watercolor, Crespi added the stripes.
Finding drawings with stripes before the 18th century becomes more difficult, even in Italy. There are frescoes and paintings, such as Raphael’s Mass at Bolsena, with the Swiss Guards in their wide stripes; Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola with stripes that make one think of Palestine; and the Master of the Pala Sforzesca’s painting at the Brera, where Beatrice d’Este wears wide devil-may-care stripes.