I am what I am

Sigh.

I really, really didn’t want to be right about Lilian Dring; that she was forced into the female arena of needlework after being pushed out of the world of poster design.  But I am.  That’s exactly what happened, and I am furious.

David Bownes, of Twentieth Century Posters fame, scanned and sent over images of the (small) catalogue for what I believe is the only exhibition of her work, at the Orleans House Gallery in Richmond in 1989.

The very first paragraph sets out the stark truth.

It was never Lilian Dring’s intention to be an embroiderer.  She has not in over fifty years ceased to think like the graphic designer she was trained to be and which circumstances beyond her control prevented.

The biography gives the exact details of how this happened.  She was a very able art student, who excelled at Kingston School of Art and then got a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, as one of the first four students on the Poster Design course (has this course ever been studied, or do the archives not exist?  If anyone can tell me the answer to this, I would love to know).

Some of the pictures reproduced in the catalogue may be of her student work, although the book, I think, was published.

Lilian doing student work 1920s

She studied at the RCA for three years and, as a promising talent, was offered a fourth, but had to turn it down because of her mother’s failing health.  Men, I will note, aren’t often expected to make this kind of choice.

The next section of the catalogue is entitled ‘What Might Have Been’.

For Lilian the 1930’s were “the lean, mean years”, when all the talk was of depression, recession, dole queues and the gathering clouds of war.  It was the worst possible time for a young free-lance graphic designer to establish herself.  She had done some fine work at College and now, lugging her portfolio up and down Fleet Street, she showed her stuff to anybody who could be persuaded to look at it, but the answer was always the same: they liked her work but could not use it – at least not at present.

The catalogue seems to suggest that the only two commissions she ever received were the Youth Hostelling posters preserved at the V&A and the London Transport poster which was never produced.

So instead she got married, made toys for her friends’ children out of scraps and gradually turned this craft into a way of making a living.  (She divorced after the Second World War and so supported herself by her work all her life).

I’m not going to talk much about her needlework, because plenty of other people have and it’s not really the business of this blog.  But I would just like to show you one of her works from 1947.

Lilian Dring 1947 embroidery.

It melds together past and present, eighteenth century and twentieth.

The text on the left is by the Countess of Winchelsea and reads:

My hand delights to trace unusual things/And deviates from known and common ways/Nor will in fading silks compose/Faintly the inimitable rose.

On the right is Dring’s own response to this.

O Kindred Spirit, I do agree/Expressions should be unhampered, free/Admit few conceptions, keep less rules/Be individual, not set in schools.

On the one hand, quite literally, this is her artistic manifesto, her statement that she can do what she likes with embroidery – and she did, kettle fur and all.

But the texts can be read in more than one way; at the same time, there seems to be to be a mourning, and perhaps even a rage against her lot..  Because composing in fading silks is exactly what she did end up doing.  Her expression was never unhampered and free; instead she was put into a box marked ‘suitable artistic expression for women’  and made to stay in it.

The story is all too common: the most unusual thing about Lilian Dring was that she told the truth about what had happened to her.  And every single one of you should be as filled with feminist rage at this as I am.

It’s 1949, OK

I was, of course, on the trail of something else altogether when I found this.

New Posters Exhibition 1949 Moma

It’s an exhibition at MoMA, New York in 1949, displaying – as the wall tells you – new posters from sixteen countries.

Second view of new posters exhibition Moma 1949

I’m very taken with the sparse layout.  If this show had been appeared in Britain in 1949, I’d have assumed that the design ended up this way because of the privations of post-war austerity.  But in fact it doesn’t work like that at all.  Britain, in 1946, with no money, raw materials or time to expend on exhibition design, produced Britain Can Make It.

Shop Window Street at Britain Can Make It 1946

Which was, in truth, mental.

America, with all the plasterboard, paint, metal and ingenuity it can want, produces this instead.

MoMA 1949 poster exhibition

Go figure.

The pictures here are all from MoMA’s website, but perhaps even more interesting is that they have also reproduced the exhibit checklist from the show as well.

So I can tell you that in the middle picture above, the posters on the right hand side are all RoSPA posters, just as they look to be.  But better than that, we can start to seek out some of the exhibits.

The brief for the exhibition was to show non-commercial designs, in part as a response to the use of posters for propaganda purposes during the war.  Their publicity notes that there is increasing use of well designed posters, particularly in England.

The British are well-represented in the exhibits, predominantly by RoSPA posters like this Schleger.

Hans Schleger Wait Till It Stops ROSPA poster

Along with this less well known George Morris example.

Dermatitis George Morris poster for ROSPA 1949 ash

There’s also a Manfred Reiss GPO poster about helping the export drive, which might well be this one, although there is at least one more in the series.

Manfred Reiss, vintage GPO poster 1950 helps the export drive

Others are harder to track down.  There’s an Abram Games poster whose only description is ‘London Transport’.  This doesn’t narrow things down very much, but given that this one is of the right date and in the MoMA collections, I’ll take a punt. (If you want to know more details of the punt, it looks as though lots of the works in the 1949 exhibition entered the MoMA collections as ‘gift of the designers’ in 1953.  Which this one did as well.  So there.)

Abram Games LT poster 1947

It’s also sparse enough.  The more I look through these posters, the more I can see that the aesthetic of the exhibition design is also that of the exhibits as well.  The curators have chosen minimalist posters, with some elements of photography in places.  The whimsy of the British early 1950s is hard to find, although traces do exist.

Peter Hatch come to the design fair poster

If only just.  That’s by Peter Hatch, and you can see it on the right in the first picture.

But British neo-Romanticism is almost nowhere to be found.  That’s not what posters do, at least not in MoMa-world.  The only exception is this wild card, by Nora Kay for London Transport.

Nora Kay London Transport Pair poster 1948 wild flowers

Nora Kay went to the Royal College of art, that’s all I can tell you about her.  (The picture is similarly anonymous, as it came from Pinterest, although I think via Rennies, but it’s not on their website any more so I hope they don’t mind.  The poster seems to be as elusive as its designer.)

If I had more time, I’d try to reproduce the entire exhibition, if only so that I could walk round it in my head and see what late 1940s America thought the future might look like, at least in terms of graphic design.  But that will have to wait for another day.

Untitled

I’ve been thinking a lot about hoarding recently – of various different kinds – which reminded me that this post probably deserved another airing.  Two questions, has any more been written on this subject, and just what is the etymology of a poster hoarding anyway?

 

What do these four posters have in common?

John Burningham for London Transport vintage poster autumn
John Burningham, London Transport, 1961

Andre Amstutz Camping Coaches poster British Railways
Andre Amstutz, British Railways, 1956

Royal Blue Daphne Padden Coach Poster c1957
Daphne Padden, Royal Blue Coaches, c. 1957

McKnight Kauffer for Shell 1934
Edward McKnight Kauffer, Shell, 1934

Well, three out of the four of them are on the walls here, but you’re not really expected to know that.  Perhaps more to the point is that they represent four out of the five areas of ‘collectable’ posters: railways, London Underground, Shell and coach* posters (the fifth for me would be World War Two posters, for what it’s worth).

*This may be wishful thinking on my part, but we do seem to have quite a lot of them now (thanks to Malcolm Guest, mainly) and so they are at very least collectable by us.  Anyone else?

But those four areas also share something more than just being collectable.  In each case the companies they are advertising owned the hoardings that the posters went on.

South Kensington Station January 1938

That’s reasonably obvious for the bus, tube and train stations – but Shell posters were also designed to be displayed on the vans which delivered petrol to the garages.

Shell van displaying poster on side 1925

Now set down like that it doesn’t seem like so much of a blinding revelation.  But it isn’t, as far as I know, something which has been much commented on.  And yet it had a big impact on their posters.

The most obvious example is that all of these companies had a much greater incentive to produce posters than anyone else.  Not only was this in effect a subsidised form of advertising for them, but they also needed to churn them out in order to fill up spaces when they hadn’t sold enough commercial advertising.

Enfield West station with advertising visible

Here’s Enfield West Station in 1934, with a McKnight Kauffer poster for Eno’s Salts clearly visible on the hoardings.

They also continued to produce posters in great numbers later on, when the poster had ceased to be the main medium for advertising, because the spaces were still there and still needed filling.

In addition, there may have been more reason for the companies  to produce ‘artistic’ and possibly also more subtle posters, because this will have a very direct effect on the station environment.  Although this probably worried Frank Pick more than it did the owners of Victoria Coach Station.

Victoria Coach Station 1962

I’ve also read an interesting suggestion that in the early days, London Underground commissioned lots of posters of wide open spaces to counteract the perceived claustrophobia of the tube, but I don’t think there’s any proof of that.

Burnham Beeches walter spradbury 1912
Burnham Beeches, Walter Spradbury 1912

Now originally this was going to be my only point, that all of these people owned their hoardings and so had to invest more in posters and poster design than other companies, which in turn may be one reason why their posters are collectable.  And that this hadn’t really been noted until now.

But then I found a really interesting article by David Watts (insert Jam or Kinks record into your head here as you wish) about pre-war depictions of Yorkshire in railway posters.  It’s an exemplary look at how posters worked and were consumed, rather than just what they looked like, and backed up by a ton of research.  The world of posters could do with a lot more of this kind of rigorousness (not that I’m volunteering to read 200 volumes of railway company internal correspondence, you understand).

One of his points is that the context of railway posters is all-important.  They didn’t need to have pictures of trains on, because they were posted up in stations.  The fact that they were advertising railway travel rather than just the location pictured could be asssumed.

Woodhall Spa vintage railway poster
Andrew Johnson, no date

The same is true of London Transport posters.  They can just say Go to Uxbridge.

Uxbridge London Transport poster Charles Paine, 1921
Charles Paine, 1921

That you’d use the underground to do so is implicit in the fact that the poster is displayed at a tube station.

But, as Watts points out, this contextualisation of the posters has other implications.

…omitting any visual reference to rail travel allowed posters to be detached easily from their ‘mundane commercial purpose’.

So the companies, as I’ve mentioned before, could promote their posters as examples of good design for the masses, and even as fine art, in part because they didn’t need to say Go By Train in large letters at the bottom.

Now Watts argues that this made railway posters at least a rather poor form of advertising.  And he does put forward some evidence that the train companies themselves thought this way by the early to mid 1930s too.  Images of trains, or at least the idea of train travel did become more prominent after then – as in the Tom Purvis that is coming up at Christies next month.

Tom Purvis 193o LNER poster

But he also says – and I think that this is entirely right – that the fact that the posters were semi-detached from their commercial purposes is one of the factors that has made them so collectable.  They exist in a limbo between fine art and outright commercialism, and are so more appealing than an advertisement for Eno’s Fruit Salts or Gilette Razors.

Although it is worth remembering that it’s only because the companies were promoting them as ‘art’ that these posters are available to collect at all.  Shell, Underground and railway posters were all available for sale to the public when they were first produced, so they do survive in attics and collections, while the most commercial billboard posters weren’t and so aren’t.  (I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but really ought to pull together all the sources on this one day, because it’s not said often enough.  Even here.)

But I think there’s also another way in which the context affected railway posters in particular (although the same is probably also true of London Transport and coach posters to some degree as well).  Watts points out how much the railway posters are selling an image of ‘deep’ England, by which he means an archaic, un-modernised and highly rural vision of the countryside.  Now whenever this vision is called up at this time, it is almost always intended as a direct contrast to the modernity, ribbon development and speed of the 1920s and 30s.

Edwin Byatt Vintage railway poster 1940
Edwin Byatt, 1940

But in the railway station, that contrast is always there anyway.  Most of these poster would have been displayed in an urban setting, and even where they were put up at local stations, there was the machinery and bustle of the railway itself.  So the posters are also using their context to suggest that there is an alternative, an escape.  And that’s something else that they don’t need to spell out in words at the bottom.

A sight surprising

I was going to try and say something clever about this auction that’s coming up at Bloomsbury/Dreweatts first thing tomorrow, but there isn’t really much point.  Because what’s coming up – at least the interesting part of it – is a collection of posters designed by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, and almost every single one of them is a gem.

One or two of their series of different bird habitats for London Transport appear relatively often at auction.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Wood (Woodpecker) Colour lithographic poster, 1932, printed by Sanders Phillips & Co. Ltd, The Baynard Press, London

But this one is almost entirely new to me, and it’s the best one of all.

Colour lithographic poster, 1932, printed by Sanders Phillips & Co. Ltd, The Bayard Press, London Underground Electric Railways Company Ltd

Of course this has the entirely predictable results that a) I want it and b) it’s too expensive to buy because everyone else is likely to feel the same.

Also for London Transport is this slightly odder image.  I’m not entirely sure what it wants me to do, and I definitely don’t know where it’s suggesting I go.  Except possibly mad.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Travels in Space on your Doorstep Colour lithographic poster, 1937, printed by Curwen Press 102 x 64cm (40 1/8 x 25 1/4in) Unframed Commission by London Transport

Only slightly less peculiar is this variation on the ‘Shop Early’ posters which suggests that we should shop earlier in the month.  Why?  Can anyone explain?

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis It Is Better To Shop Early Colour lithographic poster, 1935, printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd. London & Dunstable 101 x 63.5cm (39 3/4 x 25in.) Unframed Commission by London Transport

Lovely though they are on their own, the LT posters are just a small slice of what’s on offer.  You could, for example get yourself almost an entire set of Empire Marketing Board posters.  Here are just two of the five, to give you the idea.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Empire Buying Begins At Home (Tomatoes) Colour lithographic poster, printed by Jordison & Co Ltd, London & Middlesborough 101 x 63cm (39 3/4 x 24 3/4in.) Unframed Commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board.

I have two things to say about these posters.  One is that the latter one is described in the auction catalogue as ‘The Market Stall’ when it is clearly a County Show, and as these are some of my favourite things in the world I will not be gainsaid on that.  Secondly, if you want more info about how the full set fitted together on a billboard, I’ve posted about it not once but twice; and if you’re worried about the ethics of Empire promotion – although these are fairly inoffensive examples – you can find my thoughts here.

That’s not the end of it either.  The Ellises designed posters for Shell, and these are in the auction too.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Antiquaries Prefer Shell Colour lithographic poster, 1934 , printed by Vincent Brooks, Day & Son Ltd, London 76.5 x 114cm (30 1/8 x 44.5in.) Unframed Commissioned by Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Angler's Prefer Shell Colour lithographic poster, 1934 76.5 x 114cm (30 1/8 x 44 7/8in.) Unframed Commissioned by Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd.

Along with some more Shell posters.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Lower Slaughter Colour lithographic poster, 1934 76.5 x 114cm (30 1/8 x 44 7/8in.) Unframed Commissioned by Shell-Mex and B.P. Ltd.

Although just for a change there is a – rather wonderful – BP poster as well.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis Whipsnade Zoo By Car Using BP Plus

With a final garnish of GPO posters too, including this one.

Clifford (1907-1985) & Rosemary (1910-1998) Ellis A Miserable reflection, why aren't we on the telephone? Colour lithographic poster , 1935, printed by The General Post Office, GPO

Which I have been forced to mention in despatches before, on account of its slightly deranged title. Why indeed are we not on the telephone.  Except we are.

Clearly I owe the Ellises a proper blog post of their own, and even more now that I have discovered – thanks to a newspaper article about this auction – that they came from Bath, just up the road from Crownfolio HQ.  Here they are in Lansdown, being artists in 1937.

Clifford and Rosemary Ellis in Bath

They’re sitting amongst their work for the British Pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition.  I will come back to this, I promise.

 

Owls in the kitchen

A mysterious package arrived in the post a few weeks ago.  Unannounced and anonymous, it turned out to be  a small selection of materials about one of my favourite artists and people, Barbara Jones.

There’s a couple of booklets – one a catalogue of an exhibition in Marlborough in 1999, the other a review of her life and works published in the journal of the Private Libraries Association.  (I think my new aspiration may be to own a private library).

But best of all are a pair of cuttings.  One is her obituary from – possibly – a Hampstead newspaper.  (This is very brown as well as fragile, so I’ve scanned it in black and white for easier reading.)

Barbara Jones obituary

Apologies for the slightly insane scale, but I wanted you to be able to read it.

The other, is even better, because it’s an article about Barbara Jones and her immensely quirky and desirable kitchen.  Which of course includes the owl dishwasher, as featured on here (and BBC television) before.  I think this dates from 1966 or so, as she mentioned having just finished Design for Death.

Barbara Jones kitchen newspaper cutting

Click on this and it will get bigger.  Living in an old house, I particularly like her approach to damp patches, which is just to cover them up with plastic daffodils.  It’s an example we can all follow.

I really have no idea who sent me this at all.  The very short note that came with these gems simply says that they were found in the clearing of a relative’s house and otherwise would have been recycled.

Whoever you are, thank you so much for not recycling.  This package has given me an enormous amount of pleasure and I hope that in sharing it, a few more people will be delighted as well.

It’s no secret

Today’s auctions are of the general railwayana type, which means that I am likely to get distracted by glittering treasures such as ticket inspector’s hat badges, armchairs and, naturally, giant gherkins.

Heinz enamel sign, in shape of gherkin

The sign is 51 inches across, a figure worth bearing in mind before you buy it.  Although I do think it would look rather wonderful above my desk.

This is on offer at Great Western Railwayana, along with a quite extensive selection of posters, none of which, as usual, have estimates.

A brief survey of their last sale reveals them to be not quite as expensive as GCR, unless you are buying very old posters.  Although there were a couple of anomalies, like this 1961 mermaid who went for £380, which was rather more than some ‘conventional’ railway posters.

Kenneth Bromfield Eastbourne railway poster mermaid

While this went for a mind boggling £420.

Poster GPO 'This Is Stanton In The Cotswolds' by R.O. Dunlop RA, 36 x 29 inches.. 1951.

I don’t know what that goes to show really.

To my joy, the new sale includes a Tom Eckersley I’ve never seen before.

Tom Eckersley Railway poster Blackpool

This may not be quite as good, but it is still fun.

Porthcawl Railway poster children on beach 1962

The way prices are going at the moment, it will probably end up as one of the most expensive items in the sale.  Although it might get pipped to the post by this Bromfield from 1963.

Bromfield Kent coast Railway poster 1963

Or even this Bromfield from the very same year.

Bromfield dorset railway poster 1963

As far as I can tell, there aren’t that many railway posters for Dorset at all, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one for Weymouth on its own.  Presumably this is because the civic authorities didn’t want to cough up for a poster campaign.  But I’d love to be corrected if anyone does know of any posters.  (Double points for anything that’s not by Bromfield, as he did do at least two for Swanage, possibly more)

All of those ought to be knocked into a cocked hat, price wise, by this Eckersley, but may well not be.

Eckersley Paignton Railway poster

Such times, my friends, such times.

Other than that, there are various views of town, country and seaside, a handful of bathing beauties and this RM Lander of Bath.

Lander Bath railway poster

Also this piece of wild optimism – just look at those continental parasols –  which looks as though it might be by Lander but at the same time has odd lettering.

Aberdeen railway poster

Can anyone shed any light?

All I have managed to turn up is this, from 1958, which suggests that they had previous for dodgy lettering in Aberdeen, along with an artist who’d set his style very nicely in 1937 and wasn’t about to change for just anyone.

aberdeen2

Apart from railway posters, there are also these three World War Two posters.

careless_talk

I’ve written about the top and bottom posters before, when a set were put up for sale by the family of the artist, Freddie Reeves.  I was surprised to see them then, but this auction puts them a bit more into context, as apparently they have gummed backs and were intended for use inside carriages.  But there are still some interesting questions that need answering here.  Were the Railway companies printing their own propaganda posters, being the main one.  Because if they were, it’s not mentioned in any of the books.  There’s some research there for anyone who wants it.  Just don’t ask me to do it.

Furthermore, there are these coach posters.

Newquay and racing coach posters
Something terrible seems to have happened to Newquay though, but I can’t work out if it’s atomic fallout or acid rain.  Whichever, it’s probably best avoided.

There’s lots more, but you’ll have to go and look for yourself.

Also coming soon is an auction from Transport Auctions of London, but so far they’ve only sent me a PDF with teeny-tiny pictures in, so small that I can barely tell what poster they are talking about, never mind show on here.  So that’ll have to wait for the moment.