English School

I am in the middle of trying to construct a post about the afterlife of World War One posters, which is too complicated and thus taking me longer than I thought.  But in the meantime this has popped up at auction.

Weetabix poster original oil painting


It isn’t a poster, but the original (and somewhat battered) oil painting for a poster.  And it arrives accompanied by several others.

Bathchelors foods original oil painting for poster

Swan vestas original oil painting for posters


What particularly tickles me, though, is that the auction house is resolutely describing them as though they were normal oil paintings.  20th Century English School.  Oil on unstretched canvas.  A description which might lull you into a false sense of security, and even bidding given that they are all estimated at £50-100 each.

Because unlike an ordinary oil painting, these are huge.  Gigantic in fact.  The two below are each more than two and a half meters high.

Allenburys Throat pastilles original oil painting for posterRoyal Exchange Assurance original oil painting for poster

Most of the rest come in at well over two meters.  It’s insanity.

Prudential original oil painting for poster

But it would be a great shame if these disappeared for next to no money, because while they are not the most beautiful images I have ever encountered (I may be understating things here), they are rare survivals and thus important documentation about how advertising worked between the wars.  To my mind, rather than being knocked down for next to nothing because no one has the wallspace for them, these paintings belong in an archive or a museum.  Let’s hope they get there.


  • Don’t you think these are more likely to be mounted (and probably varnished) billboard posters…Onslows have had quite a few over the years. Not sure what they would have been used for. Teaching? Exhibitions? Lectures?

  • It’s very possible. Being a naive and generally trusting person, I assumed that when the auction house wrote ‘oil on canvas’ that they had looked at it and ascertained what they actually had in front of them. But at that size, your explanation is more likely, isn’t it!

  • I was interested in the two Pru insurance pictures, which, if possible fading is ignored, appear identical, which seems unlikely for original artwork, and would support the above comments. This insurance was apparently introduced in the early 1930s, and lasted at least into the 1960s. I would guess from the fashions that these two pictures/posters date from the 1930s. The sizes of all the sale items, if accurately reported, would suggest that some cropping has occured – to remove damage, possibly?

  • Yes, I agree with you about the dating, although the style of the Batchelors one is I think quite late on in the decade, as it could almost have passed muster after the war too.

    And yes, I can’t see how they can be original artworks now. Hey ho.

  • Typical John Nicholson’s behaviour. Their Ts & Cs make it quite clear they expect to be ripped off by their customers. Yet given their own attitude to their purchasers – or at least to cataloguing – they deserve it…

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