Bear necessities

Earlier this week, I made it down to London to take a look at the British Murals and Decorative Painting exhibition, as mentioned a few weeks ago.

I still love this.

Barbara Jones Out in the Hall 1960

Although I have faced up to the fact that we have neither the funds nor a wall space large enough.  Mind you, it was tempting; it was starting to look cheap, at least next to the Edward Bawden which, it turns out, was for sale.

Edward Bawden SS Oronsay Mural 1951

For £165,000.

But as ever, exhibitions never appear quite as you expect.  Two things really grabbed my attention, and they’re the biggest thing on display and one of the smallest.

The biggest is the John Piper mural from the Festival of Britain.  It’s unimaginably huge.  Even on Bond Street they could only find a space that would fit two thirds of its panels.

John PIper Festival of Britain homes and gardens pavilion mural

Its size is also its undoing, because a reproduction condenses it so much that you simply can’t see how good it is.  Take this detail, a cupola which is in part from Castle Howard with a bit of the Sheldonian thrown in.

John Piper detail of Festival mural

Or even these houses behind Owlpen Manor, which just disappear in a reproduction.

John Piper Owlpen detail from Festival mural

Really it’s brilliant – a contender for one of the best things Piper ever did, and I could have looked at it for hours.  And it really, really ought to be in a museum so that everyone gets the chance to do that.

The other object that caught my attention is tiny.

Kenneth Rowntree design for mural british restaurant in acton

This is a sketch by Kenneth Rowntree for a mural design for the British Restaurant in Acton in 1942.  I like it as a piece of design, but I love it even more for what it represents.

The British Restaurants were set up by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War as places where people could get a reasonable meal (well, within the confines of rationing) at a fair price.  They were set up in schools, in village halls, and, as Rowntree’s design shows, in churches too.  But what absolutely astounds me, and fills me with joy, is that the Ministry of Food decided that it was important that the restaurants were decorated, and not just by anybody, but by some of the leading mural artists of the time.

British Restaurant inspection visit

Here, thanks to the Imperial War Museum, are some bureaucrats, examining a British Restaurant with a view to getting it decorated.

A flick through the book which accompanies the murals exhibition reveals that it wasn’t only Rowntree, a conscientious objector, who worked on the British Restaurants, many other of his contemporaries did too.

There is so much that is good about this scheme, but what I love most is the vision, the sense that even in a world where food and supplies are rationed, where every man and woman is being directed to where they can best support the war effort, art is important.  But this isn’t an elitest intention, far from it; this art is designed for the most democratic of public places, it is genuinely art for all.

It’s a spirit that makes me thing that there was a country that I would have liked to live in.  I know there were disadvantages, and I probably wouldn’t have liked the bombing and the deprivation, the constant fear of death.  But even so, in its pride and its sense of what mattered in life, it’s a far better place than where I find myself living now.

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Industrial

You arrive here today to find me eating my own words.  To be specific, these words – and these as well – about the lack of posters depicting the industrial North.

The cause of this is the catalogue for the new Talisman railwayana auction, which has just arrived in the post,

Talisman March 2012 auction cover

By far the best thing in the auction is the poster which is part shown on the cover, lot 321.

LNER quad royal pictorial Poster “East Coast Industries served by the LNER”. A dramatic image by Frank H. Mason of a blast furnace in full production. Folds, minor edge tape stains and nicks and two very small corner losses. A superb poster otherwise.

Such a superb poster that I wanted to find a proper illustration of it to post on here.  I couldn’t, so this, from the catalogue, is the best I can offer.

Frank Mason East Coast industries smelting poster

On my travels, however, I found  another one from the series in the National Railway Museum collections via the NMSI.

‘East Coast Industries’, LNER poster, 1938.

While this depiction of a blast furnace has been sold at various times by both Onslows and Christies.

Frank Mason East coast industries blast furnace poster

They all date from 1938, so we have ourselves a series here.

There is a fourth one in the NRM collections, although it’s less overtly modern and mechanised than the rest.

'East Coast Industries’, LNER poster, c 1938.

There’s also one further poster, a kind of post-script to the series, which is this World War Two effort.  It’s also by Mason and was produced just a couple of years later with a very different message, although a somewhat similar aesthetic.

The Lines behind the Lines’, BR poster, 1939-1945.

From all of which, two conclusions.

The first is that there is more to Frank Mason’s work than I’ve previously given him credit for.  I’ve always known he was good. but somehow never found him interesting.  Those top three posters, however, really are triumphs of modernism in the most pernickety sense of the word.  Mason isn’t just using a modern sttyle, he is also trying to make these industrial processes heroic and glamorous.  And I think he succeeds.  (Note also the almost complete absence of people in these posters, the industries are so modern that they practically run themselves.  I’ll be coming back to this idea in another post one of these days.)

The second conclusion is that I was wrong about the absence of Northern industry in the visual language of railway posters.  Clearly, these places and industries are represented, at least in the period between the late 1920s and World War Two.  What instead has happened (as in the very similar case of World War Two posters) is that people later on have chosen not to reproduce, or buy, or sell these posters in any great number.  They have in the main not been written into the later narrative.  So perhaps it’s not the 1920s and 1930s I should be complaining about at all.  It’s us that have chosen to forget the steelworks and the collieries and the Midland s and the North.  The attitude is almost understandable now, when they’ve been eviscerated.  But perhaps the forgetting was where the problem started to begin?  Either that, or it’s the way in which we were persuaded that what happened to these places in the 1980s was OK.

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Is Your Letterbox Efficient?

I was just thinking that it had all gone very quiet on the auction front, when what should come along but a whole auction full of posters at Bloomsbury.

It’s an interesting hotch-potch with almost every form of poster you can think of represented in the mix.  So there’s foreign posters and railway posters.

PIPER, Raymond NORFOLK BROADS railway poster
Raymond Piper, est. £200-400

Alongside ski posters and London Transport posters.

FITTON, James (1899-1982) CIRCUS, London Underground lithograph in colours, 1937 London Transport poster
James Fitton, 1937, est. £200-300

UNGER, Hans (1915 - 1975) PIMLICO, London Underground offset lithograph in colours, 1972 poster
Hans Unger, 1972, est. £200-300

I’ve never seen that Unger before, although it’s not, in my book, one of his best.  The pricing is a bit, well, interesting as I can’t see that the Unger and the Fitton are in any way comparable in quality, but according to the estimates, they are.

In addtion, there are plenty of poster types that have been mentioned on here before, such as David Klein posters and aeroplane posters with lots of blue skies in them.

Note the increasing prices for David Klein; had I had the foresight and money to buy some a few years ago, I would be thoroughly quids in.  But I didn’t, and anyway, I would only have wanted to keep them.

KLEIN David (1918-2005) SAN FRANCISCO, Fly TWA offset lithograph in colours, c.1958, poster
David Klein, 1958, est. £1,400-1,800

LEWITT-HIM LEWITT (1907-1991)HIM (1900 - ) AOA USA lithograph in colours, 1948 poster
Lewitt-Hi, 1948, est. £150-250.

Another poster that I keep mentioning on here is this McKnight Kauffer from 1938.

KAUFFER, Edward McKnight ARP lithograph in colours, 1938,
McKnight Kauffer, 1938, est. £140-180

As ever, it turns up with the matching Pat Keely.

KEELY, Pat Cokayne (?-1970) ARP lithograph in colours, 1938 poster
Pat Keely, 1938, est. £140-180

My theory about this – and I have said this before but I think it’s worth repeating – is that these posters come up so often because they were deliberately saved.  They were, I believe,  the first propaganda posters issued by the government in advance of World War Two.  So they were a novelty, and also a harbinger of a great event that I am sure quite a lot of people could see coming.  So, if the chance arose, they saved them for posterity, or the grandchildren, or for all the other reasons that make people keep otherwise insignificant pieces of paper.

Move forward two years and the whole British population is drowning in slogans and propaganda, coming at them from newspapers, leaflets and the radio, as well as from posters.  So the last thing they want to do is keep one as a reminder.  In any case, there are so many, which one to choose?  So the latter posters survive in dribs and drabs, mostly saved by accident.  But these first ones, people knew they were important and they kept them.

Fortunately, not everything in the auction is something seen before.  This, for example, has to be one of the least obvious posters ever.

ANONYMOUS BETTER BROWN THAN LILY WHITE offsetlithograph in colours, c.1960ANONYMOUS BETTER BROWN THAN LILY WHITE offsetlithograph in colours, c.1960 poster
Anonymous, c. 1960, est. £200-400

Artist not known, but more than that I have no idea what it is on about either.  Nor, it appears, does Bloomsbury.  Any ideas anyone?

Most exciting, for me at least, are these.

ECKERSLEY, Tom (1914-1997) POST EARLY. GPO lithograph in colours,  poster
Tom Eckersley, est. £150-200

This is just one of five, yes count ‘em, five sets of GPO posters, each with ten posters in them.  Including, in this lot, a reminder of what a good designer Harry Stevens is at his best.

STEVENS, Harry (1919-2008) BY AIR MAIL. GPO lithograph in colours, 1951,  poster
Harry Stevens, 1951, est. £150-200

I would bid on them, but judging from our last experience with the Dorrit Dekk lots, these will go for a lot more than the estimates.

AITCHISON YOUR LETTERBOX…GPO lithograph in colours poster
Aitchison, est. £150-200 

And I’m not surprised.  This values them at £15-20 a poster; I reckon they’d go for more than that on eBay.  Although I don’t, to be fair, know what the other posters are, they may all be dogs of the first order.

BROMFIELD FOREIGN LETTER. GPO lithograph in colours, 1951 poster
Bromfield, 1951, est. £150-200

We’ve emailed Bloomsbury to ask what they are, and when we get an answer, I’ll let you know.

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The Seen

Today, a miscellany of stuff which has arrived here over the last few weeks and around which I may or may not be able to construct a narrative thread.  Watch and see.

To start with, lots of you responded to Paul Durham’s request for images of posters from Heals’ Mansard Gallery.

Heals Mansard Gallery potters posterHeals Mansard Gallery prints and glass

So thank you to Kiki Werth, Martin Steenson and Mike Ashworth, as well as other people who have offered other kinds of help.

Heals Mansard Gallery poster from McKnight Kauffer Art of the Poster

The image above is by William Roberts and is taken from McKnight Kauffer’s Art of the Poster Book.

Martin Steenson, who sent that one to me, also included this rather wonderful image with it too.

H S Williamson London Transport exhibition poster 1922

It’s by Harold Sandys Williamson and dates from 1926 (the London Transport Museum have it on their website).  Now quite apart from being a lovely poster, and an exhibition I’d rather like to have seen, it’s also further evidence of Underground Posters being exhibited quite heavily during this period, and in a more varied set of galleries than I had imagined.  Was it because Frank Pick had the contacts, or where gallery owners and curators (and furniture store owners) genuinely inspired by his vision of a popular form of modern art.  Perhaps someone will come along who knows more about this and tell me.

Of course there are still exhibitions now.  I haven’t bothered to mention the London Transport Museum’s current one. on 150 years of Underground design, simply because it has been in every newspaper in the country, and so I assumed you would have heard by now.  What you might not know, however, is that as a result you can now buy poster stamps.

London Transport posters on stamps

Which is a novelty.  And I’ve always liked the James Fitton on the right below.

More London Transport posters on stamps

If you want to know more, there is a full and factual BPMA blog here.

Finally – and this has no link to anything else at all apart from just being interesting – a leap back to a post from nearly two years ago, in which I rhapsodised about some wonderful drawings of shops by John Griffiths, from Motif magazine.

motif smith umbrella

Any excuse to show them again.

But the most mysterious and intriguing, despite being in black and white, was always this one, for an animal costume shop off St Martin’s Lane.

Theatre Zoo John Griffiths Motif 3

I got an email the other day, from someone who, as a big Beatles fan, was very pleased to see this.  It turns out, you see, that the costumes for Magical Mystery Tour were purchased here in 1967.  And what’s more, the receipt is floating around out there on the internet.

Theatre Zoo beatles receipt

One walrus mask, hood, feet and flippers.  I am the Walrus indeed.

 

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Him and Her

Do you want to see one of my birthday presents?  Or at least the illustrations contained within.

Zuleika dobson illustration George Him

The book is Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm – for a change it is a book I’ve always intended to read –  and the illustrations are by George Him. So of course they are wonderful. As is Mr Crownfolio, who gave it to me.

Zuleika Dobson illustration George Him

The book itself, however, is less easy to classify.  It’s published by the Heritage Press (who even write about their edition here), but with a slip case that makes it look like something issued by the Folio Society, which is why I haven’t bothered to show it on here.  Why bother when I can fill the page with illustrations like these instead?

Zuleika Dobson illustration George Him

Puzzle one is that the book does not appear on the bibliography on the George Him website.  None of which matters, but is all a bit odd.

Zuleika Dobson illustration George Him

A further mystery is that when you have a look at the Wikpedia page on Zuleika Dobson (should you, say, happen to be Googling that book along with George Him), the illustration is of a 1961 Penguin Classics version of the book, cover design also by George Him.

Zuleika Dobson Penguin Lewitt Him cover

There must have been a craze for both the book and Him round about them.  Understandable, but still a bit peculiar.

Zuleika Dobson illustration George Him

All of which does rather frustrate my googling though and means that I may never be able to find out exactly what this copy is doing and why.  But never mind, because it is absolutely delightful to look at.

Zuleika Dobson illustration George Him

(There are loads more illustrations, by the way, but I didn’t want to crush my lovely copy on the scanner. Sorry about that.)

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Add To Cart

I could quite happily just give you this single picture and consider it a complete post, because it’s just fantastic

Barbara Jones Out in the Hall 1960

What I’m showing you here is a three and half metre long mural by Barbara Jones called ‘Out in the Hall’ from 1962.  I have no idea what it was painted for – although given that it was still in her studio in 2010 she may just have produced it for her own pleasure – but it was displayed in a Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition called Mural Art Today in 1962.

The truly extraordinary thing about it, though is that it is for sale through Liss Fine Art.  There’s a button on the page which just says ‘Add to Cart’.  I’m so tempted. The only drawback is that it costs £12,000, which means we’d have to choose between a bear on a yellow background and a functioning kitchen.  I took this vote to Twitter, where the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the bear.  I’m not entirely convinced yet though.

To be honest, that one mural would be quite enough for me, but there is much, much more where that came from too.  Because Liss have organised an exhibition called British Murals & Decorative Painting 1910 – 1970, and what’s on display, and in many cases on offer, is really quite extraordinary.

Highlight – simply for the fact that it still exists in any shape or form at all – is the John Piper mural called ‘The Englishman’s Home’, which he designed for the exterior of the Homes and Gardens Pavilion at the Festival of Britain.

John PIper Festival of Britain homes and gardens pavilion mural

Here it is in situ, with a bin.

John Piper mural in situ festival of britain

Amazingly, this too is for sale, although for ‘Price on Request’, which I always translate as, ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’.  I imagine they’d also want to vet you too, if only to make sure that you actually had the space to keep over sixteen metres of John Piper under proper conditions.  But that really ought to be in a museum, don’t you think?  Is there a campaign to get it for the V&A do you know?  And if not, shall we start one?

While we all consider that, there are other gems to eye up too.  This Edward Bawden was produced for the SS Oronsay in 1951, but is now in a private collection.

Edward Bawden SS Oronsay Mural 1951

Or this Claude Francis Barry, produced for nobody knows quite what or why during the war but unbelievably evocative.

Claude Francis Barry wartime london mural

I could go on almost indefinitely until I reproduced the entire collection, but I won’t, for a few reasons.

The first is that there is, I think a lot more to say about these works and right now I don’t know enough to say it.  A book has come out to accompany the exhibition and I think I’m going to need to absorb that first before I come to any definite conclusions.

But there is definitely something interesting going on here that hasn’t really been described properly before, and to me it looks like a graphic and representational style which is half way between fine art and posters.  This Mary Adshead could nearly come from a Shell poster of some kind.

Mary Adshead English Holiday puncture

It was intended to be one of eleven designs, but I’ll let the catalogue tell you the history of the piece, because it’s rather wonderful:

The Puncture and The Village Inn were two of eleven scenes in the series An English Holiday, commissioned by the British-Canadian business tycoon and politician Lord Beaverbrook, early in 1928, for the dining room at Calvin Lodge, Newmarket. The commission for An English Holiday was withdrawn by Lord Beaverbrook in August 1928, apparently after the intervention of his friend Lady Diana Cooper who felt that Beaverbrook would quarrel with most of the people (his friends and acquaintances) who served as the models for the scheme.

These murals also, perhaps, let us into another way of discovering a very British strand of art, one which stands so far outside the mainstream of continental modernism that it hasn’t properly been described yet.

There’s a good reason, too, for why very little of this has been described.  A note in the catalogue estimates that at least 90% of the murals of the period have been destroyed.  Barbara Jones, for example, produced at least 29, of which only two are known to be still extant.  The other one is in the exhibition too – produced for the International Labour Exhibition in Turin in 1961.

Barbara Jones International Labour Exhibition 1961

Price on request.  Sigh.

Finally, I don’t have time to think about this now because the exhibition isn’t on that long – only until 9th March, so you do really need to go and see it while you can.  As do I.

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