I really wish I hadn’t started this post now. It was meant to be a simple one about stuff on eBay, and now it’s gone and turned into a mystery.
The beginning was this poster, which ended two days ago. Along with a confession.
Which is that I didn’t actually mention it while it was on sale, on the off-chance that it went un-noticed and we could pick it up for a pittance. Some chance – six bidders and twenty bids pushed it up to £412. I almost wish that we’d gone that high.
So, piqued, I started investigating Denis Constanduros. It turns out that he also did this rather lovely rendering of Llanthony Abbey (one of my favourite places anyway) for Shell.
As well as this Farmers Prefer Shell poster too. Which, although very pretty, I find a bit odd because looks as though someone’s just being eaten by the machinery.
But that’s about it. His only artistic remains seem to be those three Shell posters, all probably pre-war. So what’s the problem, you say?
Well there’s also a Denis Constanduros who wrote a 1940s radio serial called ‘At the Luscombes’ about West Country village life (by coincidence, set no more than ten or so miles from here, in a place I drive through quite regularly). Who then – unless there’s a third Denis Constanduros which I have to say seems pretty unlikely – worked throughout the 1960s and 70s on adapting classic books for television, particularly Jane Austen. That Denis Constanduros died in 1978. But is it all the same one? Did he just do a few posters and then go off into writing, in the style of an earlier Patrick Tilley? I do not have the foggiest idea, the internet is just confusing me and the Shell Poster Book says nothing at all. Can anyone else shed any light?
I’m bothered not just because it’s not making sense and so needs sorting out, but also because these three posters are all really rather good. They’re very much of their late-1930s period, but in a good way, with echoes of Ravilious in the style and colours. And also in the subject matter of course; Ravilious wasn’t just a painter of chalk hills, but also drew the Long Man himself too.
So it seems a pity that Constanduros never painted much more than his Shell posters. But then, if it was him who went on to write ‘At the Luscombes” and adapt classic novels for television, his journey was very much that of his times. Before the war, the poster was king. But afterwards, the new, shiny, exciting broadcast media took all the glory; if you had the talent for it, who wouldn’t have made the switch. Posters were no longer the place for a smart young man to be any more, there were new and more exciting furrows to plough.
One final note, and that’s the price. Its not remarkable for itself – it’s a fine poster and well worth the money. But it is remarkable for having been achieved where it was – I can’t remember having seen a poster match the price it would have reached at a specialist poster auction on eBay before. Not that many of that quality turn up, but still, it’s an interesting precedent. (I can’t be bothered to do the maths, but I wonder how the eBay selling fees compare to Christies charges. Not that well, I should have thought…)
And, having said that these things don’t turn up very often, there in fact a couple more classics out there right now. This Henrion,
And this John Bainbridge too.
They’re both from the same seller, and it will be interesting to see how they go.
The Bainbridge, meanwhile, is also being offered by Sotherans at the moment. for £895. If eBay can scale those heights, that really would be a turn up for the books.