I called up this book out of our library’s reserve stores the other day (you can easily enough find it on Amazon if your library isn’t so obliging).
It’s from 1972, so I wasn’t hoping for too much from it, but actually I was surprised. There’s a short introductory essay, but then the bulk of the book consists of short biographies of some of the designers who produced propaganda posters during World War Two – not just those from the UK but also Russians, Europeans and Americans as well.
Reading them has been a salutary lesson for me. I tend to assume that all of the knowledge in the world is out there on the internet for me to find. And if it isn’t there, it’s not known. Well I’m wrong. Because there is plenty of information in here which is new to me. Like a proper biography of James Fitton, for example, which told me that he left school at fourteen and worked on the docks in Manchester, attending art school in the evenings. All of which makes me admire him even more.
So today’s post was going to be all about the these biographies. But then I got distracted by this.
Which is fabulous, and by FHK Henrion. In fact it’s so fabulous that it’s currently on display at MoMA in New York, along with some of its brethren. (Well rabbits will breed, won’t they).
The exhibition is Counter Space : Design and the Modern Kitchen and if I could get over to New York to see it, I would. Every bit of it, from early functionalist design to artworks about domesticity sounds brilliant. And it’s on until early May, so if you do get the chance to go, please do and let me know all about it.
But for the purposes of Quad Royal, the really interesting thing is that there is a whole section of British Home Front posters about food. Hence Mr Henrion and his rabbits. There are in fact three, as they also have the pair of the first poster, which explains why that rabbit is looking behind so nervously.
Now under normal circumstances I’d just go on about these, but MoMA themselves have written an excellent blog post about these posters, which I really couldn’t improve on.
But fortunately for those of us who aren’t going to make it to New York this month, there is at least a handlist of all of the exhibits online. Which means that I can tell you that, in addition to the Henrions, they are also exhibiting a few old friends like the Vegetabull.
Which means that we have something hanging on our wall which is also up in MoMA. Get us.
By Herbert Tomlinson about whom I know nothing.
This pattern of absence and presence is really interesting. On one hand, it’s easy to see why these posters have ended up in MoMA; they fit very easy into the narrative of International Modernism which the museum itself has done so much to construct.
What I understand less is why these posters seem to have disappeared over here. This may be no more than random chance: these weren’t posters that anyone much wanted to collect or keep, by a designer that no one much remembered so they disappeared into oblivion as soon as they were torn down. Or perhaps a rat and mouse-infested world isn’t how we want to remember the war?
Whatever the reason, it’s yet another reminder of two important facts about posters. One is that the history which does exist is very much constructed, and that the story may differ wildly depending on who’s doing the telling. The other is that all of these histories are made from a very partial and unrepresentative sample. So few posters survive, and for such random reasons, that it will perhaps never be possible to tell the complete tale of posters at any point in time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lot of fun trying in the meantime.