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).
It’s good, isn’t it? And so’s this.
And indeed this.
Mr Crownfolio wonders every so often whether that poster is Harry Stevens gently taking the mickey out of Daphne Padden’s sailor types.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
Along with this artwork of yet another salty sea dog.
In contrast, the coach companies kept him very busy indeed.
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’.
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.