Sunday, August 24, 2014
The Austro-Hungarian Albatros D.III / Oeffag 253 in Art, by Ron Cole
When I was a kid my family and I had been close friends with Dr. Marty O'Connor for years. He was, among other things, the world's best known scholar and author on the subject of the Austro-Hungarian air forces in World War One. Even though he died tragically over twenty years ago, his name and his work remains some of the best material available on any of the Great War air services. And he was a great friend; my unofficial Godfather.
I recently came into the possession, through a trade, of an original J.J. Muller aircraft fuel gauge. Made in Vienna in 1918, it was used in several Austro-Hungarian aircraft including their licence-built Albatros D.III - known in Austria as the Oeffag 253. The first thing that I thought of was Marty. If he were still around he'd tell me the name of the guy who designed it and some anecdotal story about having met him many years before. Probably! In any case I was excited by the excuse the instrument had provided: I'd always wanted to paint something dedicated to Dr. O'Connor, and I started doing research.
I found a great color scheme for a late-war Albatros D.III. I remembered what Marty had told me about how these aircraft were painted in the field. He told me all about the paints used and how they didn't usually cover well and soon weathered. Unit markings were often painted atop older crosses, which bled through, and late war crosses were added in different places. I put all of that information to use in my painting.
I'd always been hesitant to weather or show crudely-painted markings in my work because the effect might look sloppy, but I disregarded those fears here. I thought that if I rendered the majority of the aircraft in very sharp detail, then things like the sloppily-hand-painted white fuselage markings would 'read' as intended: as accurately-depicted wartime markings.
The plywood fuselage was fun! And the hammered metal cowling parts were an interesting challenge. I put a lot of effort into making each material component look authentic.
The end product would be a one-of-a-kind piece printed on canvas at 24 x 36 inches, framed, and combined with the original fuel gauge.
I hope Marty would be proud!
- Ron Cole