The forgotten man

I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt get around to saying it again, but Harry Stevens is a very underestimated poster artist.  That thought is mostly provoked by this 1954 poster, which we bought a copy of recently, (although one which I have to admit is slightly more battered than this picture).

harry Stevens address mail clearly vintage GPO poster 1954

It’s good, isn’t it?  And so’s this.

harry Stevens vintage southport coach poster 1950s

And indeed this.

Harry Stevens vintage east anglia coach poster 1950s

Mr Crownfolio wonders every so often whether that poster is Harry Stevens gently taking the mickey out of Daphne Padden’s sailor types.

2 x Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach posters

Or perhaps fishermen were just picturesque visitor attractions all over the 1950s.  Who can say.

But back to Mr Stevens.  There are two things to say about him really.  One is that he is so thoroughly overlooked that there is very little out there on the web about him at all.  In fact pretty much the only biography I can find is that on the London Transport Museum website, and even that is pretty short.

The other is that he wasn’t overlooked at the time.  He regularly turns up in annuals of good taste like ‘Designers in Britain’ and, as the LTM biography says, won the Council of Industrial Design Poster Award in 1963.  So why is he so little known now?

It can’t be because his work has disappeared, beacause he has to be one of the most prolific poster artists of his generation, working right through into the 1970s.  This somewhat perplexing poster dates from 1971 for example.

Harry stevens male staff quite perplexing vintage ish gpo poster

He did quite a bit of this cartoon-style work for the GPO.  Some of it is as good as anything he ever did, like this owl from 1960.

Harry Stevens vintage GPO poster owl 1960

By the end of the decade, it goes get a bit repetitive and less appealing, probably just because he produced so many of the things.

Harry Stevens correct addressing cartoon poster GPO 1969

But don’t let that put you off his work, because he did do some really good posters too.  Perhaps some of his most adventurous designs were for London Transport.  Here are two he did in 1961 and 1963 respectively.

harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster 1961 Winter

Harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster Country walks 1963

But he could also do a much more graphic treatment for them too – I keep mistaking this particular poster for an Eckersley, although it does in fact date from 1976..

Harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster 1976

In terms of sale prices, even his later work is now starting to fetch higher prices and be sold by posh dealers, as I’ve mentioned before.

HArry Stevens litter vintage 1974 London Transport poster

But he’s still not really a name, and I do think this is an unfair omission.  Possibly he is just a bit too jovial for modern tastes. Then Tom Eckersley can tend that way too, particularly in the 1950s.

Stevens’ work definitely deserves better.  He was capable of producing a good poster right into the 197os.

harry Stevens vintage LT coach tour poster 1970

But for me, the posters he did in the 1950s and early 1960s are still some of my favourite things.  Interestingly, he seems to have done relatively few for British Railways – this Porthcawl is one of the very few  I can find.

Harry Stevens porthcawl poster vintage British Railways

Along with this artwork of yet another salty sea dog.

harry stevens vintage British Railways poster artwork 1955

In contrast, the coach companies kept him very busy indeed.

harry Stevens 1957 coach poster

Harry Stevens vintage coach poster

On the basis of those alone, he deserves to be better appreciated.

A final addendum, the London Transport Museum lists him as a designer and fine artist, but the only trace I have been able to find of the latter is this, ‘Spirit of Southern’.

Harry Stevens BR painting

The painting was commissioned by BR Southern Region in 1969 (not something that would ever happen now) but wasn’t very popular apparently and rarely got displayed.  But if anyone knows of any more artworks of his around and about, please do let me know as I would love to see them.

  • Harry Stevens was my uncle. I’ve always liked his artwork, but sadly have inherited none of his artistic talent. I too would love to see more of his work, especially the poster he painted for the film “Saturday Night, Sunday Morning”. My father used to tell an amusing story of Harry’s meeting with Albert Finney. Anyway, if you have any further information about any of his works email me.

  • Thank you for getting in contact – I would love to hear your father’s story about Harry Stevens and Albert Finney if you wouldn’t mind telling it!

  • My Uncle Harry grew up in Miles Platting in Manchester. He had two siblings, one of whom was my father, who died in 1996, and four half-siblings. They grew up in a poor working class environment typical of that time and location. Harry was best man at my father’s wedding, but thereafter they saw little of each other. There was no animosity that I was aware of, it was simply a question of them living their own lives in different parts of the country. My father remained in Manchester whereas Harry moved to the New Forest, exactly when I don’t know. I only met Harry twice – once when he attended my father’s funeral, having made the journey up from Hampshire by train, and once when I visited him at his home, where he had his studio, a year later. Ths story my father told was that when Albert Finney arrived for his sitting he was in actor mode and spoke in an accent that was presumably meant to impress. However, as soon as he discovered where my uncle was from he dropped the pretence immediately (Albert Finney is from Salford) and reverted to his original accent. The story may, of course, be apocryphal. I have not had chance to hear Mr. Finney’s version of events.

  • One more thing that has just occurred to me. Harry drew a number of posters for the “Guinness is good for you” campaign(s) back in the 60s/70s(?). I remember seeing them, but where or when I can’t recall.

  • Thank you for that, I appreciate it very much. In fact I may well mention it on the blog proper, as it deserves a wider audience.

  • Hi

    I seem to of inherited a Harry Stevens original sketch/watercolour along the lines
    of ‘spirit of southern

    any ideas what I can do with it. It seem it might be of interest

  • That does sound interesting, although sadly original art works don’t usually fetch as much as posters.

  • Try Googling Salford Museum and Art Gallery (I haven’t tried this myself yet — I’m on the way.) for a beautiful piece of his fine art. I’ve only seen it in repro, taken from a website I think. It looks like a watercolour: “Saint Paul” 1949.

  • I can’t find that, but it sounds really interesting – if you can post a link to it, I’d be really grateful.

  • Dear Trevor,

    I am a student currently working on a project for TFL London rereleasing past posters onto the Underground as a curation project. One of our choices is Harry stevens 1973 Windmill sightseeing poster. My group was wondering whether you had any information about the artist and his links with TFL and any interesting facts?

    Kind regards,

  • Everything I know is on this blog, I’m afraid. Can anyone else help?

  • Hi
    I inherited a couple of Harry Stevens paintings he did in the 40s i think. My father bought them many years ago in Manchester ( where I grew up) and I always loved them and still do.. For years I could never find anything out about him until the Transport Musuem went online! I then bought another less interesting painting of his on eBay. I would love to buy an original poster by him to complement what I have: one can see the roots of his subsequent poster work…any ideas where I could source an original?

  • I have just looked at St Paul and another painting in Manchester City Art gallery. Mine look to be of same era, in fact i think they are different interpretations and view of St Paul..

  • Hi there,

    It depends on what you want, but Harry Stevens’ small bus posters do come up quite regularly on eBay. The railway and coach ones also turn up quite a bit – if you take a look around the dealers on the links page, there ought to be one or two about.

    Hope this helps!

  • Now I know it’s an old blog entry, but I have a poster which I can find very little about, but which the National Museum of Wales say is by Harry Stevens, but it’s not signed (he normally did didn’t he), and their pic they say is copyright NRM/SSPL, which is always impossible to search.
    So, just wondering what you think:

    The style is reminiscent of his “Yorkshire Dales by United” and LTM’s “Country Walks 1977”.
    But as you said in the blog, he’s not an easy man to find out about online.

  • No, feel free to resurrect old blog posts, it’s nice to know they are being read.

    As for the poster, I have no idea whether it is by Stevens or not. I don’t think it’s in the collection of the NRM, as far as I can tell – but it would still be copyright to them anyway, as they legally own the rights to all railway posters that are still in copyright.

    So in your situation, I’d probably drop and email to the NMW and ask how they know the poster is by him? He may, after all, have left it to them. And do let me know when you find out…

  • I came across this blog by accident and I do not know if it is still active. Reading the first entry from Trevor Stevens made me realise that he must be my cousin ! Harry Stevens was also my uncle, although I last saw him some 50 years ago in London. Harry was a half brother..with Trevor’ father Albert to my own father Robert Stevens.
    I remember when I was a boy in Manchester I was taken to see Harry’s first exhibition at an art gallery in (I think) Moseley Street. He moved from there to London and ultimately to Lyndhurst in the New Forest.
    His wonderful poster art design was always eye catching, particularly his use of colour.

    Godfrey Stevens, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada

  • Godfrey, you’re right, I am your cousin! Would be very happy to get in touch. Trevor

  • Hi Trevor, I came across this blog and your reference to Harry Stevens having s=designed the poster for Saturday Night Sunday Morning – is this the one with the photo of Finney in the centre, fists raised, with the turquoise and orange ‘banners’ cross-crossing? I;d post a pic but I can’t seem to find anywhere to do that. Many thanks, Mark

  • I’m not sure that Trevor will see this, and I can’t seem to find any other reference to the design. I’ll have a dig around in the poster annuals and see if I can find any clues.

  • Hi Mark. I was contacted about this a few days ago and replied that I didn’t know if it’s the one in question. I assumed not as it contains a photo of Albert Finney rather than a drawing but that may be a red herring. Sorry I can’t confirm one way or the other. Trevor

  • Thank you for a great blog post. The work of Harry Stevens is quite new to me and it helped fill in a lot of blanks.

    I recently picked up a Harry Stevens ‘Gt Yarmouth’ poster from a antique shop in todmorden. It’s in lovely condition and I’ve had it reframed for my partner. We on an art/design bookshop in leeds and blog on illustration and I wondered if it would be okay to use some of the images on your blog page? Being also a librarian, I’m aware of digital copyright and wouldn’t like to step on any toes or cause offence to whoever owns the copyright.

    All the best


  • The more Harry Stevens fans there are, the better! I will email you about the images, but thanks for asking.

  • Hi all, I thought I would add to the information on Harry Stevens, that I have a Harry Stevens watercolour dated 1947 – ‘Boats at Anchor’ .

    It was in the Whitworth Art Gallery but sold off I imagine at some point.

    I will try and add the photo … /Users/francescabarratt/Desktop/DSC08621.JPG

  • Hi Andy. Congratulations on acquiring the poster by my Uncle Harry. I’d be interested in getting hold of any of his original works but have no idea how to go about doing so. I have only ever bought one piece of art in my life. If you have any tips where I might look please let me know. Trevor Stevens

  • They do come up at London Transport Auctions, and you could also ask Twentieth Century Posters to keep an eye out for one for you.

  • Well done for finding that. I’m still on the look-out for his work to buy. My brother recently sent me a link to one of his posters on ebay for the film Only two can play with Peter Sellers. I had no idea he’d done that.

  • Hi to all Harry Stevens fans! I’m having a loft clear-out and found a newspaper cutting from the “Daily Dispatch” which appears to have been a Manchester newspaper in the first half of the last century. Harry’s age is given as 27, so the article must have been published around 1947. Here is what it says:
    Soldier-Artist Sells Pictures To His City.
    Harry Stevens, aged 27, Manchester artist whose talent found vivid expression when, as a wounded machine-gunner, he was given a base job in Algiers, is a happy man today.
    In four days he has sold 20 pictures – two of them to the Manchester Art Galleries’ famous Rutherston collection – through an impromptu one-man show in a Manchester bookshop.
    In his attic-studio on the top floor of a rambling old building in Grosvenor Street, All Saints, he told me last night: “The two purchases for the Rutherston Collection are an honour I never expected. In fact, I thought the show was a flop because it opening (sic) during the bus strike, and for three days few people came in.”
    Harry considers himself lucky – and says luckiest (sic) break was when, as a child at St. Augustine’s, Newton Heath, he found an art mistress – Mrs. I. McGlynn – who, besides teaching the children, introduced them to modern painting and even to the Rutherston Collection which is now to include his own work. Mrs. McGlynn’s training was all he received until, after four years’ service – during which he never touched a brush – he found himself in North Africa with a group of French refugees from Paris. He attended life classes with them and painted 150 pictures.
    “Nomads of Bou Saada”, one of the Art Galleries’ purchases, was painted in a desert village 150 miles from Algiers, and the other, “Dancers”, from sketches of dancing girls made there. He is an artist with ideas of his own. One is that most artists need a stable occupation to free them from financial anxiety and enable them to do their own work in their own way. He finds it in commercial work. Another is that artists should be prepared to sell their pictures at prices within the reach of the general public – at from four to five guineas instead of five times that sum.

  • Hello,
    I came across this blog after purchasing one of Harry’s paintings at an auction.
    I believe the painting is from the one-man art show at the book store in Manchester that @Trevor referred to as a business card from the store came attached with the paining. A lovely piece of history.
    If anybody would like to see it I will be uploading it to my Instagram page (@modernistaalmare) later today.

  • Although Harry Stevens was my Uncle, it seems the artistic genes in our family skipped a generation. Although my father, Robert Stevens did do a few watercolours, his art was nowhere close to Harry’s prolific output, and sadly any artistic endeavours did not surface in me !
    However, my daughter Susan is Head of the Art Department at Woodstock Collegiate Institute (High School) in Woodstock, Ontario….about 50 km from her home in London,Ontario.
    So maybe there is an ongoing connection !

  • I inherited this from my mother. I know nothing about it but the landscape suggests Southern England to me and she lived in Hampshire so my guess is it is from when he was in the new forest. I just love it

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.