The auction season really is upon us; no sooner do I promise you the Christies highlights, than the Swann Galleries catalogue also pops into my email box. And to my surprise, the American auction is, I think, the winner. But let’s take a quick canter through both of them, and then you can make up your own mind, starting with Swann’s offering.
There are of course a lot of classics in there, which is all you’d expect from a catalogue calling itself Modernist Posters.
In amongst those classics are a considerable quantity of Zeros, which is always nice.
Even better, there are some that I haven’t seen before, like this quiet and understated design, also for London Transport.
There are some other interesting posters in there too, like this Willy de Majo for B.S.S.A.
B.S.A.A. split from the British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (B.O.A.C.) to operate in the South Atlantic. Founded in 1946, it merged back with B.O.A.C. in 1949, after a series of unlucky incidents, in which two of their planes disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.
All of which rather leaves me wanting to know more, both about B.S.A.A. and William de Majo, who has featured on these pages before. Other questions are also raised by this rather out of the ordinary London Transport poster.
Fortunately, the catalogue is here to answer them.
An extraordinary montage of photographed letters and numbers designed by Maurice Beck. He was both a designer and a photographer, often incorporating photography into his work. In the 1920s he was the head photographer for British Vogue, and he is credited with designing 18 posters for the Underground, all photomontages. One in a series of four posters based on the unusual premise of informing the public how much “the Underground group (U.E.R.L.) pays in petrol tax. The information highlights the success of the company, still profitable in spite of so many taxes, and the fact that U.E.R.L. contributes significantly to the Treasury and therefore to the London’s economy” (http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk).
I have to say, I really do like this catalogue. While I’m not normally a fan of online catalogues,with their pretend turning pages and interminable loading times, I am prepared to make an exception for this one, which is well worth the investment of time and bandwidth. This isn’t just because of the layout, which makes almost every poster desirable.
Including that McKnight Kauffer at the left, which I don’t remember having seen before now.
But even better is the text, which, as the examples above demonstrate, is consistently interesting and informative. Take this BOAC poster by Henrion, for example.
In post-war Britain, competition between the different airlines was fierce, and as a result, the airline companies hired the best graphic designers in the field for their advertising, such as F.K. Henrion, Ashley, and Abram Games. At the time when Games was creating a series of posters for B.O.A.C., the trend among artists was not to illustrate the actual airplanes (as had been the style in the thirties), but instead, to advertise the advantages of flying, such as saved travel time. They did this by creating beautiful, symbolic and surrealistically inspired images that captured the abstract concepts poetically. Here, Henrion incorporates the company’s Speedbird logo into the design.
All poster catalogues should be like this, why aren’t they?
You may be feeling that you saw that Henrion poster quite recently, and you did; there is a lot of overlap between the various auctions. Like the PosterConnection sale mentioned in my last post, Swann also have a fair number of airline posters of one kind and another.
But there’s an even more interesting overlap between the Swann Galleries and Christies sale, which is this.
It’s by McKnight Kauffer and dates from 1931, but it’s worth $12-18,000 if you’re Christies, $15-20,000 if you’re Swann Galleries – and the Christies one is purportedly in slightly better condition, too.
It will be interesting to see how that pans out. Will the existence of two depress prices? Or does the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the Atlantic mean that this doesn’t matter. I shall watch with interest.
Sadly, that’s about as much excitement as I can muster up for the Christies catalogue. While there are plenty more unseen gems at Swann, where I can even get enthusiastic about German posters that I’m not supposed to be interested in.
At Christies, everything feels a bit more familiar, with only a very few exceptions. Best of all, I like this Herbert Bayer.
And I probably would like this Night Scotsman classic if only I could afford it.
Alexeieff, 1931, est. £15-20,000
Ditto this Paul Nash, which I suspect will go for a bit more than the estimate. If only suburbia had ever looked like that.
Paul Nash, 1936, est.£800-1,200
But other than that the catalogue seems to be both rather thin, covering the same old ground, and without pithy texts to make me care about particular posters. So there are railway posters, of course.
With an honourable mention going to Frank Newbould for his impressive impersonation of McKnight Kauffer.
And London Transport too. But a lot of these are similar to or even the same as items from the last sale, and so feel like they’re riding on the coat-tails of that last set of high prices.
Of course no auction this year would be complete without airline posters, particularly those for BOAC.
The only good news is that there don’t seem to be too many multiple lots this time, which is a relief. But I wonder if this is policy or accident? And where are all the nice, inexpensive London Transport posters going to be sold these days? Surely they can’t all be on eBay?