Modern Tendencies

Reader request day today on Quad Royal.  This isn’t something I often do, but Paul Durham has asked for some help from you lot.  He’s trying to find as many images as he can of the posters that were issued by Heals for their exhibitions in the Mansard Gallery.  This was right at the top of the Heals Building in Tottenham Court Road, and they held exhibitions there from 1917 until the late 1970s.

It’s an interesting request on several fronts: partly because the posters are good and aren’t something I have ever covered on here until now, and partly because it doesn’t seem that anyone really knows how many there are and who designed them. Not even Heals can say for sure exactly which exhibitions were held there.  So we can, perhaps, add to the sum total of human knowledge.  Here’s one I dug up that was auctioned at Onslows a few years ago, by Rhoda Dawson, and for one of their less assertively modern exhibitions.

Rhoda Dawson flower paintings heals mansard gallery

There’s also the fact that I’m sympathetic to anyone in the grip of a completist collecting mania.  These things need to be encouraged.  So let’s see what we can do to help.

Paul has sent me a few over as starters.  This is by McKnight Kauffer from 1918, and is the earliest one he’s managed to track down so far.

McKnight Kauffer London Group Mansard Gallery 1917

There were earlier exhibitions though.  The second one ever, Poster Pictures, in June 1917, displayed the original paintings for many London Transport posters, in aid of prisoners of war in Germany.  Which is very interesting as it proves that the dissemination of posters as art wasn’t just limited to what LT themselves put on show.

When I first read about the Mansard Gallery, I thought, oh, art exhibitions at the top of Heals, fair enough.  But actually the idea was a bit more interesting than it initially sounds, being as it was part of the great between-the-wars project of making everyone like elitist art.  (I’ve posted about this so often that I simply can’t put all the links on; one day I must index this monster).

Obviously the Mansard Gallery held art exhibitions, it’s what galleries do, after all.  But the aim of having them in a furniture store – and of displaying the art in the first place – was to persuade people buying furnishings that they might benefit from art work as part of the house decorations and how it may work within the home.   That’s another McKnight Kauffer below, by the way, from 1918 this time.

McKnight Kauffer Mansard Gallery London Group 1918

Part of me thinks this is all a bit, ‘books do furnish a room’, but that’s probably unfair.  Not least because Heals really did want to persuade you that art would improve your home.  So much did they want to persuade people of this, that there was not merely a gallery up in the top of the building, but also the Mansard Flat, which was furnished to the very apex of Heals taste, and was used to show how art might work in a domestic setting. Which then makes sense of a picture I have seen (but don’t ask me where) of a McKnight Kauffer London Underground poster being used in a Heals furnishing display.  I wish I could find that, as it would tie up all the loose ends quite neatly.

Heals Mansard Gallery posters

But as you can see from the posters above, the demarcations were nothing like as neat as that; just as art crept into the furniture displays, so did furniture make its way into the gallery.  I’d be intrigued to know what furniture too, presumably the stuff that was a bit too advanced to actually sell to the English, even in London.  That’s what seems to be on display here; it’s another poster by Rhoda Dawson, from the same lot at Onslows.

Heals Mansard Gallery Modern tendencies poster 1928

But of course these divisions aren’t so neat and tidy outside of the gallery either, because Heal’s also produced rather good posters for their furniture as well as the gallery.  These are rather outside our remit, but then they are so good that I can’t leave them out entirely.

Heals contemporary furniture 1950s poster

They’re also quite liberally scattered over the web as Heals produced reproductions a few years ago.  How did that pass me by?

That however is by the by.  Can anyone point me, and more to the purpose Paul, at any more.  I have a feeling that there will be more lurking in books and catalogues than there will be out there on the net, so if you know of any, please do let me know.  For myself, because I’m interested now, if there are any pictures of the exhibitions, please send them along too.


Here’s another one, by William Roberts, which Martin Steenson found in McKnight Kauffer’s Art of the Poster.

William Roberts Mansard Gallery poster from McKnight Kauffer art of the poster


Thank you for that one.

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Love and money

A proper post is brewing and will follow tomorrow, but this is just a brief appearance to let you know that all your Valentines poster needs are solved.

Dorrit Dekk post office savings bank love poster

I’ve mentioned this Dorrit Dekk poster before, and now it has appeared on eBay, not once but twice.  It ought to go really, it’s just the kind of thing that would sell for a lot more in the right kind of shop, even if it is mounted on some kind of board.

While we’re on the subject of eBay, can I also just remind you that the Quad Royal Daphne Padden prints are also now available on that esteemed shopping site.

Daphne Padden gardener print to buy

They’re very competitively priced, especially when compared with this little gem.

New milton vintage british railways poster

The auction has ended, but until last week it has been on offer for £1,350.  A figure which completely boggled my mind because in the auction at which we bought the Eckersley last week, a copy of this went for, I think, about £300.

Now normally, I would laugh and point, saying that this hasn’t even been restored and how much do you expect me to pay for a frame?  But that’s not going to work here.  For one thing, the auction has been ended because the item is no longer available, which I suspect means they have sold it.  More tellingly than that, they received a Best Offer on it of £1,200.  Really, truly I do wish I had the sheer gall to be a dealer.  I’d make a fortune.  But I have no such ability in me, so you’re all safe.

All of which means that I can make no comment on their one remaining poster, except to say that if you would like to buy this Norman Wilkinson poster for £1,850, you know where you can go.

Norman Wilkinson Harrow School LNER poster

Meanwhile, for those of us without the best part of two grand burning a hole in their pockets, this National Savings poster of Shipping through the Ages currently has no bids at just £3.99.

National Savings shipping through the ages not pretty poster

Or this slightly more appealing example of the National Savings genre could be yours for £6.99

National Savings Club poster

Or we could all just give up and collect thimbles.

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Line tint screen

Given how much this blog loves Ashley Havinden and his immaculate 1930s style, it’s a wonder that this book has been sitting next to my desk for so long without any comment here.

Ashley Havinden Line drawing for reproduction cover

Or at least that’s what I thought until I actually picked it up this morning.  Mr Havinden may have been a very dapper gentleman with a wonderfully fluid style, but the king of interesting prose he is not.  What’s more there are nothing like enough of his drawings in the book either.  To be fair this is because he is a very generous author who spends much of his time praising other people’s work, but I still can’t help being disappointed.  This GPO delight is pretty much the only one which isn’t already on the cover,

Ashley Havinden GPO press advertisement dove

With apologies for the slightly dodgy scan.

The book also does what it sets out to do very well, which is teach an aspiring illustrator how to create good drawings which will reproduce well in newspapers and magazines.  So I am now much better informed about print technology of the 1930s (the book was originally published in 1933, but my copy, interestingly, was reprinted in 1941, so the subject was thought worthy of some very limited wartime paper).

In particular, I know now what scraperboard art is (I’d come across it in the Artist Partners brochure, where it has a whole section of its own, but had no idea what was actually involved).

Ashley Havinden scraperboard illustration

If you’re also wondering, it’s a chalk covered paper.  To quote our guide and instructor,

The advantage of this paper is that one can paint on it with black ink and with the use of a scalpel knife or sharp penknife white lines can then be scratched across the part covered with black ink.

Quite apart from just doing it because it looks good, apparently the real purpose of this is to create something which looks like a woodcut but can be reproduced more easily and without the trouble of having to make a woodcut in the first place.  So now I know.

But the other really interesting aspect of the book is that it is a reminder that the advertising and graphic design of the period wasn’t all about posters, far from it.  A great deal of artist and agency time would have been spent on the central subject of Havinden’s book, black and white print advertising in newspapers and magazines.

Ashley Havinden Marsh's York Ham Ad

That ad isn’t from the book by the way, but borrowed from Mikey Ashworth’s photostream, which I am starting to believe is the repository of all graphic design in the world.

I don’t have any peace-time figures to hand, but certainly during the war the biggest chunk of the Ministry of Food’s budget wasn’t spent on posters or even nicely-designed leaflets.  Rather it went on press advertising.

Ministry of Food Food facts press advertisement Carrots

What’s more these images reached people all across the country who would rarely see an advertising hoarding and might never come across a London Transport poster.  For much of Britain, this is what the design of the times would have looked like, before, during and after the Second World War.

It’s not like these adverts have disappeared without trace either; read any edition of Modern Publicity or Designers in Britain and good press ads are singled out just like the posters (albeit in a form which is so blurry as to be impossible to reproduce on the blog).  But nowadays we skip over them.  They are ephemeral, yellowing – and perhaps more to the point they don’t frame nicely and look good on the wall.

All of which means that artists like Ashley Havinden, who mostly drew for newspaper and magazine advertising and did very few actual posters, tend to get forgotten when we are writing the graphic history of the period.  Havinden mentions others in the book too, like Robb, W.G. Easton and De Lavererie.

De lavererie illustration havinden book

There’s also a section on Barnett Freedman too.  He’s not exactly forgotten, but the drawings that Havinden has chosen are just the kind of work that does disappear.

Barnett Freedman brewers soc ad from havinden book

Havinden also makes an interesting comment on how Freedman has transferred his distinctive lithographic style into newsprint without losing its character.

When Barnett Freedman is working for newspaper reproduction, he used a paper grained by himself to resemble the surface of a lithographic stone.  This gives his chalk work all the crispness and openness of texture suitable to the making of a line block, while containing as much tone value as a fine-screen half-tone.

And because he’s talking about both good examples for artists, like Picasso, Cocteau and Henry Moore, as well as other disciplines such as book illustration, there are plenty more well-known artists in there too; you just don’t need me to tell you about them.

The point of all of this is not to suggest that we start believing that these drawings are the new posters.  But when we’re thinking about posters, I think it is always worth remembering that they were by no means the only forms of visual design on offer before and after the war. For very many people, they weren’t even the dominant one.

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Location location location

I’ve said  this many times before, but what makes a poster valuable or not is not just a mystery to me but a source of constant puzzlement. As far as I can tell, condition, fashion, the name of the designer, the kind of auction and much else besides are all fed into a whirling vortex and a price pops out the other end, but how the process actually works I do not know. But I do now know a bit more about at least one of the variables, and that, bizarrely, is house prices.

Mr Crownfolio and I were watching an evening auction go by at the end of last week (if you are wondering why it’s not one I’d mentioned before, more later). Everything was going for a bit more than the estimates, which were rather pleasingly cheap.  Then we were very surprised to see this seemingly unremarkable poster go for £400 (I don’t have the exact prices I’m afraid as the auctioneers don’t list them online).

Sheringham british railways posters 1950s

This was a bit mystifying as it’s not a known poster, not by a known artist and generally didn’t have a huge amount to recommend it it over any of the other similar posters which had already gone past.  Until we started to wonder whether it was down to the location.  That bit of North Norfolk is now Notting-Hill-on-Sea.  So, we figured, there must be lots of very rich people with the pressing need to buy a poster to decorate the holiday cottage.  Fortunately, the very next lot allowed us to put our theory to the test.

Colwyn Bay British Railways poster

As a poster it’s neither better nor worse – the colours are perhaps nicer but I’d probably mark it down for the rhodedendrons.  But the big difference is that Colwyn Bay doesn’t get that many visitors from West London.  So we watched, and lo and behold it went for £150.

There were lots of other posters of that ilk in the auction, which mostly went at around about the £200 mark.

Whitstable British Railways poster 1950s

And then there was this one.

Paignton British railways poster Tom Eckersley 1950s

A rather lovely Tom Eckersley which  just happens to be the reason that I wasn’t flagging up the auction on here in advance.  For a change, too, it’s good news as we won it.  And for £160 too.  Which only goes to show that however much I generate theories, there’s just no telling with poster prices.

For more proof of that, do you want a look at another auction from today?  Up for grabs were five out of the six Sunday Times posters by Patrick Tilley.  (These by the way are old pictures for illustration, not the ones that were actually for auction, but they don’t look much different to me.)

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Perceptive

We either have one set of these (Mr Crownfolio’s theory) or one set and some spares (my belief) but anyway, we thought we’d put a low bid in, just in case they went for very little (and there’s always an appeal in cornering the market).  But I’m not going to tell you how low a bid because we were very, very wrong.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters provocative

The posters went for a somewhat boggling £1550.  Which is actually only £300 per poster but is still a lot of money.  Especially when the estimate was £150-250 for the lot.  I wonder where this lot came from?  And the bids too come to that?

Posted in auctions | 3 Responses

Northern return

Last year, I wrote about depictions of the industrial North of England in posters, or rather I pointed out their rather conspicuous absence.  At which point I got quite a lot of comments, mostly saying that I was wrong, and pointing me at posters like this.

Norman Wilkinson Sheffield Steelworks LMS poster

Which is, I am forced to admit, is exactly what I was complaining didn’t exist, a railway poster of Northern industry.  There are, as it turns out, a whole series of Norman Wilkinson posters doing the same sort of thing, including the Runcorn design that I included in the original post, and  a few more to boot.

‘Grangemouth Docks’, LMS poster, Norman Wilkinson industrial  'A Midland Coalfield', LMS poster, c 1935.

'Lanarkshire Steel Works', LMS/LNER poster, c 1935.

I have to say that that last one is the best Norman Wilkinson I’ve ever seen, and if anyone wants to send me a copy feel free.

But Wilkinson wasn’t the only artist working in this series – this poster is by Frederick Cayley Robinson.

Frederick Cayley Robinson Cotton poster LMS 1924

Now on the one hand I clearly am wrong, there are quite a few posters of Northern Industry.  At the same time, though, I don’t think this changes the argument.  The Cayley Robinson poster is dated to 1924, which is the same date as I have seen given to a couple of the Norman Wilkinson posters.  Railway poster dating is not an exact science – the NRM itself dates them to 1923-48 – but I’d hazard a guess that these are all part of the same series.  Which means that putting these kind of images on a poster was, possibly, tried once as an experiment and then never done again.

Now this might have been because the Board of Directors of the LMS thought it unseemly, but it might be because they discovered that this kind of poster didn’t play well with the public.  And at this time, they were able to be reasonably certain about what was and wasn’t popular, because not only did the company sell copies of its posters to the public, it took some notice of how they were doing too.  In 1924, they were able to comment that this poster, by Maurice Greiffenhagen, was selling to the public “in large numbers” (more on this here if you’re interested).

‘Carlisle, the Gateway to Scotland', LMS poster, 1924. Maurice Greiffenhagen

There may be an implicit comparison here with the industrial scenes, or at least I’d like to think so.

None of this can be proven, of course, but what is the case is that this series does seem to have been the only one, which I think means that my overall point about the scarcity of these images (and especially after World War Two when a new technological and manufacturing Britain was going to take over the world) still stands.

But what about the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, people complained in the comments.  What about posters like this (any excuse)?

Lander (Eric dates unknown) The English Lakes, original poster printed for BR(LMR) by Waterlow

Or indeed these, and many others like them?

Edwin Byatt Vintage railway poster 1940

Lune Valley 1950 poster Percy Drake Brookshaw

They are northern, granted, but they aren’t industrial which is the real gap in the imagery.  But as ‘mm’, who commented, points out there is another interesting divide to be found between northern and southern landscapes.  It’s a diversion, but it’s one well worth taking.

Maybe the northern landscapes are too wild and untamed to be fondly remembered in the sense you mean. Perhaps it is a safe, cultivated landscape we yearn for or think of as British!

I think this may be true, and it’s worth remembering that the Lake District only became popular, rather than being seen as a rather frightening and uncivilised wildness at the start of the eighteenth century.  There is definitely an ‘otherness’ to these places.

There is something else going on here too, which is a kind of conflation.  Englishness becomes a shorthand for Britishness.

Britain Land of Gardens poster for American tourism early 1950s

While England in its turn tends to be represented by the Southern.

Old england National Savings poster heritage

I thought we should have a few dog-ugly posters by the way, as it was all getting a bit safe and pretty further up there.

All of which means that, however much we admire the Lake District, or Scotland, or the Peak District, it would look a bit odd to have one of the images of these areas with ‘Britain’ or ‘England’ stuck at the bottom.  Although like all good generalisations, there are of course exceptions.

Come to Britain for motoring vintage tourist poster

All of this is covered in much more depth and complexity in David Matless’s peerless book Landscape and Englishness, and now that this has emerged from storage (hurrah) I will have to reread it and, I suspect, post on the subject again.

For the last word, however, I must return to the comments.  Nick S posted this wonderful bit of writing by Harry Pearson which comes, it turns out from a book about football.  But bear with me on this one, it’s not simply relevant, it sums the whole thing up to perfection.

In the North-East, England, or the notion of England, seems a long way off. The North-East is at the far corner of the country but it is separated by more than just miles. There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North Yorkshire moors to the south and to the north, the Scottish border. The nearest major city to Newcastle is Edinburgh, and that is in another country. Sometimes the North-East seemed more like an island than a region. And there was more. As a boy, I can remember looking through one of those colour illustrated encyclopaedias and coming upon a full-page picture that caught my attention. There were cottages festooned with hanging baskets, burgeoning gardens, white picket fences, a village green, a duck pond, a cricket match, a district nurse on a bicycle, and, doubtless, a future prime minister sitting outside a thatched pub sipping warm beer. The caption underneath read ‘An Everyday English Village Scene’…. this caption was clearly a mistake. Because I lived in an English village and it didn’t look anything like that!

“Twenty years later I went to see a friend of mine in Sonning-on-Thames. It was a hot June day and as we walked across the churchyard I realised that this was, spiritually if not figuratively, the village in the encyclopaedia…. This was England. England, their England. It wasn’t like the North-East at all.

Which is why you won’t often find a picture of a Northern scene with the caption ‘England’ or ‘Britain’ on it.  And even if you do, it definitely won’t be showing their industries.

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Over-modern, over here

I know I mentioned it in passing, but what with one thing and another, the 1950s Modern book that I wrote for Shire hasn’t really had much of an outing on here, despite having hit the shops before Christmas.

1950s Modern cover image Shire books

You can buy it on Amazon if you like, but the nice people at Shire have promised me a couple of copies to give out as prizes, so if that’s not an excuse for a post and a competition, I don’t know what is.

The book takes a look at the many and various ways in which that nebulous concept ‘the modern’ took shape in design during that decade.  Everything from the obvious, like the Festival of Britain.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide skylon biro

To the more ambiguous.

Barbara Jones expo booklet inside

This rather interesting mix of trad and modern is by Barbara Jones, by the way, and is one of her illustrations for the British exhibit at the 1958 Brussels Expo (more here if you’re interested).

One of the many things that amuses me about the design of this period is the strenuous efforts people made in pursuit of the modern.  Take this plate, for example, made by Stoke pottery firm J&G Meakin.

1950s Meakin checked plate

These kinds of designs are pretty familiar to us nowadays, but at the time they were strikingly different.  And this wasn’t just because the designs and colours had come over from America, it’s also because it’s a determined effort to be as different as possible to a conventional plate as it could be.  Shall we list the charges against it?

First is the shape.  Most plates are round; this one is squarish.  Plates aren’t round by accident, they are round because they are thrown on a wheel.  You can’t throw a square plate (well, you can, but to break it rather than make it), you have to cast it, a much more difficult and expensive process.  The same is true of the decoration; round plates tend to have circles on them because they’re much easier to paint that way – again you spin the plate round, hold the paintbrush still, Bob’s your uncle.  These straight lines take a great deal more effort.

Finally, there’s the kind of decoration.  1950s ceramics acquire their motifs from pretty much anywhere except traditional tableware motifs.  In this case they’ve used a tablecloth pattern, which is actually not entirely unreasonable, but I’ve also seen Formica designs and dog-tooth checks.  Then of course there are the pictorial ones.  The most famous tableware of all from this period has to be Homemaker.

Homemaker plate designed Enid Sweeney

Looks fine, doesn’t it?  It’s so much a symbol of the times that we’re accustomed to it.  But wait a minute, how much do you really want to eat your food off a picture of a television?  And a television that’s staring back at you, to boot.

Homemaker is of course a visual dictionary of all the most up-to-date things that you could possibly put in your sitting room: so that modernity outweighs any scruples you might have about eating off the furniture.   And if it’s modern, it almost certainly appeared on a plate.  Everything from the Continentally modern aubergine to spider plants, New Look fashions to sharp colours that can’t have made the food look appetising, they all appeared on plates during the 1950s.  You can say what you like about the results, but they were definitely trying to be modern.

Terence Conran midwinter pot plants ceramic design

That digression into tableware, quite apart from being one of my other obsessions (I will refer you to my MA thesis unless you’re careful) is by way of demonstrating the sheer, teeth-gritting commitment that designers had to modernity in the 1950s, even in the face of what would seem to be common sense.

Your mission, if you want to win a copy of the 1950s Modern book, is to find a poster which illustrates that same, barking, modernism in graphic form.  Here’s one I quite like.

Henrion KB day view television poster.

But I still don’t think that quite encapsulates what was going on.  Although it does have a television on it, and there wasn’t much that was more modern than the television in those days.

So, can you do better?  If you can, post your thoughts in the comments box and the winner – chosen by me according to my own prejudices – gets a copy of the book.  Entries close on Wednesday 30th January.  British posters probably score more highly than furrin, too.

If that all sounds a bit taxing, there will also be another competition on the brand new Quad Royal Facebook page at the end of the week.  Why not pop over and like that now, then you won’t miss it when it happens.  In the meantime, I await your entries.

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