Highs and lows

So, as previously advertised, it’s time to consider the Christies London Transport Sale.  Mostly this boils down to just one thought which is that is was really very expensive, and if things carry on like this we won’t be buying very many posters in the future.  A large chunk of what sold could be put up in support of this proposition, but the prime example has to be the Edward Wadsworth Imperial War Museum poster.

Edward Wadsworth Imperial War Museum poster 1936

£37,250 of your pounds for that, which was the highest price in the sale.  And an awful lot of money for a poster if you ask me.

Other winners include Charles Paine, with these two Boat Race posters going for £25,000 and £10,000 respectively.

Charles Paine (1895-1967)  BOAT RACE  lithograph in colours, 1921 London Transport poster

Charles Paine (1895-1967)  BOAT RACE  lithograph in colours, 1923 London Transport poster

Another popular choice was Andrew Power (aka Sybil Andrews), noted by Mr Crownfolio, who was watching the whole thing go by, as doing particularly well.

Andrew Power (Sybil Andrews, 1898-1992)  WIMBLEDON  lithograph in colours, 1933 London Transport poster

Andrew Power (Sybil Andrews, 1898-1992)  EPSOM SUMMER MEETING  lithograph in colours, 1933 London Transport poster

The top poster went for £25,000, the lower one for £13,000.

I’ve heard from a couple of sources that the London Transport Museum ‘are very pleased’.  Well they would be, wouldn’t they.

I’m not sure if I’m pleased though, and this isn’t just because I might never be buying a poster again (and if I do, the odds are that it won’t be from Christies).  I’m also bothered because I can’t make head nor tail of the results.  There seems to be no pattern at all.

You see I look at this Misha Black/Kraber poster and go, ooh, prices for Modernism are up, given that it reached £5.250.

Misha Black (1910-1977) & Kraber (John Rowland Barker, 1911-1959)  LONDON TRANSPORT AT LONDON'S SERVICE  lithograph in colours, 1947 poster

But then this pair goes for only £625 and blows my theory out of the water.

Laurence Bradshaw (1899-1978)  'IT'S EASY BY GREEN LINE' & 'IT'S QUICK BY UNDERGROUND'  two lithographs in colours, 1935 London Transport posters

I’d like to say that Art Deco is going out of fashion, given that this Marty went for just £1,625, much lower than many posters.

Andre Edouard Marty (1882-1974)  AS WE DANCE AROUND  lithograph in colours, 1931 London Transport poster

But then others are holding their prices – thisDupas, for example fetched £5,625.

Jean Dupas (1882-1964)  THERE'S A TRANSPORT OF JOY AT THE ZOO  lithograph in colours, 1933 poster

I could therefore conclude that people are silly, perhaps, as the Marty posters are much better, but that’s just my opinion and clearly not borne out by actual prices.

The same is even true in the case of individual designers – or pairs.  This Eckersley Lombers was £3,500

Tom Eckersley (1914-1997) & Eric Lombers (1914-1978)  BY BUS TO THE PICTURES TO-NIGHT  lithograph in colours, 1935 poster

But this one went for just £688.

Tom Eckersley (1914-1997) & Eric Lombers (1914-1978)  EPSOM SUMMER MEETING  lithograph in colours, 1938 poster

They’re both teeny-tiny bus posters; admittedly the cheaper one does have mad staring eyes, but I’ve never seen it before, so it’s more interesting.  Isn’t it?

There was the same variation in prices for McKnight Kauffer too, with this 1931 design fetching £12,500.

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954)  Shop Between 10 & 4  lithograph in colours, 1931

While his Buckingham Palace design of three years later went for just £688, and earlier works fetched even less.

McKNight Kauffer Buckingham Palace London Transport poster 1934

What is it possible to conclude from all this confusion then?  Mostly it looks like people who are considerably richer than me throwing money at posters and seeing what sticks, in a sale where mass hysteria had the upper hand over exhaustion.  A few people have emailed me with examples of posters which sold for way over their ‘usual’ prices in the sale.  One obvious one for me was this pair of Wadsworth designs for the South Kensington Museums, posters which are dear to my heart.

Edward Alexander Wadsworth (1889-1949)  SOUTH KENSINGTON MUSEUMS  two lithographs in colours, 1936 posters

These have been up for auction recently, in good condition, and fetched well under £1,000.  Go, as they say, figure.

Before the sale, I wondered on here whether the London Transport Museum was selling because they thought that the market for this era of posters was at its peak.  I have no idea whether they believed it or not, but the sale would seem to suggest otherwise.  What was also interesting was the number of foreign bids too.  So I don’t think we can call the top of the market yet.

But a different question is whether these prices now set the standard, or whether this sale will be a one-off freak event in which people have paid over the odds because of provenance, over-excitement or whatever.  Interestingly, we won’t have to wait too long to find out.  The next Christies Poster Sale is, to my surprise, on 1 November.  I’ll take a look at that next week.  In the meantime, please put your thoughts on this sale in that nice box beneath.  Thank you.

Where Fish Comes From

I need to write about the Christies’ sale and will do that tomorrow, but in the meantime I have to show you this, because it is one of the oddest posters I have come across in a long while.

Milford Haven - Where Fish Comes From, GWR poster, c 1925.Artwork by John Hassall.

It’s a GWR poster by John Hassall (him of Bracing Skegness fame) and, well where to begin?

The caption isn’t the most obvious way of enticing visitors to anywhere, I would have thought,.  But what really fries my brain in this picture is the faces.  They look like people pushing their heads into one of those a seaside attractions, or as though photographs have been glued onto the artwork and then painted in.

In short it is weird and inexplicable and not like anything else, which is why you needed to see it.  End of broadcast.

Other Ways of Seeing

Today is going to be an interesting challenge.  As no one seems to have been able to track down the poster I was asking about last week, I’m now going to try and write a post whose culmination is going to be a poster that I don’t have a picture of, well except in my head.  Let’s hope my powers of description are up to the task.

But there is plenty of ground to traverse before we get there, because today’s subject is how we look at railway posters.  I’ve covered a small bit of this terrain before, in talking about David Watts’ work on railway companies displayed posters and how this affected their design and reception.  Today, however, our guide is John Berger, and the subject gender and the railway poster.  Posters like this to be precise.

'Woolacombe & Mortenhoe', 1960.Artwork by Harry Riley.

The subject is something I’ve been wondering about for a while, but it was only when I mentioned John Berger in a post earlier this summer that the idea finally clicked together.  His Ways of Seeing was one of the books that profoundly influenced the way I thought in my teens and twenties.  I can’t actually remember when I read it, but his ideas about the male gaze permeated the atmosphere when I was a student.  To squash quite a lot of complicated thought into a very small paraphrase, Berger’s argument is that in both fine art and popular culture men look and women are looked at.  The viewer is always presumed to be male, while the image of the woman is always aware that she is being viewed.

Berger was writing in 1972, and I’d like to think that things had changed a lot since then, but he’s still as right as he ever it was.  Take the business pages of the Guardian for example, a newspaper that I would like to think knows better.  This is a section of the newspaper in which women don’t feature very heavily, but their images are still everywhere.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen stories about chairmen or company boards which are not illustrated by pictures of the people concerned, as you might expect, but of models on a catwalk or a female pop star.  Because the reader of the business pages of a newspaper is very strongly presumed to be a man, and so these pictures serve to reaffirm this.  A prime example was when Guy Hands’ investment company took over EMI.  Much of the story revolved around Hands’ management style and personality, but did we ever get a picture of him? Not much – far more often the illustration was of Katie Perry or Kylie Minogue , like the example below which illustrated a story in 2010.

Kylie Minogue picture from Observer story

As a result of reading Berger, I spent quite a bit of my MA research trying to see if I could find examples where women simply looked, rather than with the constant double-think awareness that there will always be a man looking at them.  To this end, I trawled through acres of 1950s women’s magazines in the British Library’s archives in Colindale, thinking that as no man would ever have deigned to read Woman then, this might be the place.

As it turned out, I was completely wrong.  The defining image in advertising and editorial of the period is of a woman giving or serving, either to a man, or to children, or sometimes to the invisible viewer, who is, therefore, presumed to be a man.   Far from being a safe haven, the women’s magazines were actually proof of how right Berger had been: even in an entirely female space, women are always intensely aware that that they are there as objects of a man’s gaze, not the subjects of their own.

Infuriated, I gave up on the thought for a while, apart from occasional bouts of resentment towards The Guardian.  But gradually over the last few years, I’ve started to realise that post-war railway posters might just be the place I had been looking for.  I don’t think for a minute that they were meant to be looked at by women alone, but I would argue quite strongly that these posters are a place where men and women are at least looking on equal terms.

Tenby, GWR poster, 1946. Artwork by Ronald Lampitt.

Of course very many railway posters of this period are of landscapes, and whether a male gaze can be said to apply to depictions of the countryside is a whole can of theory that I really don’t want to open.  And pictures of trains probably are designed for the male gaze.  The posters I’m interested in are the genre which depict family holidays on the beach.  Here,  just who is looking at whom?

Clacton on Sea artwork scarf 1962

As a rule, the whole family is shown having a good time.

'Clacton-on-Sea', BR poster, 1958. Anon

Quite often right down to the dog as well.

Roker and Seaburn BR poster, 1953.Artwork by Alfred Lambart (1902-1970).

It’s worth noting that this genre doesn’t arrive out of nowhere in the 1950s, here’s a pre-was LNER example, also with contented dog.

Hunstanton, LNER poster, 1923-1947. Artwork by H G Gawthorn.

Now you could argue that the imagery of some of these posters is designed to resemble a snapshot, and so the implied viewer is the father of the family looking down the lens.  I’d argue that the majority are more informal than that; but it’s also true that some of the layouts are not anything like a photograph.

Hunstanton; Queen of the Norfolk Coast, BR (ER) poster, 1948-61 Artwork by William Fryer.

Who is doing the watching here, and from what perspective?  Hard to say, but it’s certainly not a family photograph.

Now you could argue that the viewer in this case is nonetheless intended to be male.  It’s true that shapely women in swimsuits do tend to be foregrounded in some of the beach scenes, as in this Harry Riley, where the girl with the beach ball is the undoubted focus.

Aberystwyth, BR (WR) poster, 1960. Artwork by Harry Riley.

Then of course there is the whole sub-genre of swimsuit pin-up on the beach, which again suggests a male viewer.

There are plenty enough of these about, but in looking at them, it’s worth remembering the Alan Durman series, which I’ve posted about before, although not in any serious way.

The first poster from 1955 is a definite pin-up.

Alan Durman vintage travel poster Ramsgate 1955

But as the posters progress, the red-bikined bombshell is gradually drawn into the conventional narrative of the railway poster.

Alan Durman vintage Ramsgate poster 1958

One in which families are happy together on the beach, and men and women are both meant to be viewing the posters.

Alan Durman Vintage Ramsgate poster 1950 British railways

All of which suggests that the pin-up approach is the deviation from the norm, but also that it perhaps does not work and so has to be brought back into the ‘normal’ terms of reference for these posters.

There are other clues which suggest that women are very much part of the intended audience.  One is who is entertaining the children?

Hunstanton British Railways poster 1960

In quite a few of these posters, it is actually the husband who is doing most of this while the mother stares vaguely away into space in a manner which I imagine is meant to imply relaxation.  All of which rather suggests to me that it is women who are being targeted here.

'Lowestoft and Oulton Broad', BR (ER), 1960. Artwork by Bradpiece.

The same is true in the poster above, where it’s the man holding the little girl’s hand.  But this doesn’t just mean that women are being sold to – these images are also imagined from a woman’s point of view.  One in which they are seeing themselves as they would like to be, not just seeing themselves being looked at.  Taken this way, these posters are far less conventional than they look – in fact they are revolutionary.

As an aside, there is also a sub-genre of these posters which just involve the children being entertained with no adult visible.  Again these can be found both before and after the war, as excemplified here by the Toms Purvis and Eckersley, both advertising Mablethorpe.

Mablethorpe & Sutton-on-Sea, LNER poster, 1923-1947.Artwork by Tom Purvis.

At this point in time, I don’t think it would be wrong to argue that children are very much the mother’s responsibility, and so selling a holiday on the basis that the children will like it is a tactic aimed mainly at women.

'Mablethorpe', BR poster, 1960.Artwork by Eckersley.

Now here it does get more complicated, because images of happy children, designed to appeal to women, do appear elsewhere, most notably in women’s magazines.  So it’s possible to argue that a woman’s own gaze has been present all along.  There are ways of seeing in which she is an agent, not an object, but only when she is acting as a mother, in a space in the culture where there are no adult men involved.

In the railway posters, which are out there in the world where the viewer would normally be expected to be male, these images of children work very differently.  Here they are reminding us that these posters are designed to be looked at by both sexes, at the very least on equal terms.  But I would argue that these posters are if anything aimed more at women than at men.  It’s just unfortunate that one of the best arguments for this is the poster that I can’t blooming well find.

So, the picture is something like this.  A classic beach scene – a small cove with cliffs and various families on the beach having fun.  In the foreground are a mother and children sitting around on the sand.  At the very front, just entering the frame is the husband, who is bringing some tea and cakes over from the beach cafe for his family.  With china cups and plates too, those were the days.

Now, back before I had children, my idea of a good holiday involved traveling to new places, sightseeing, good food – all the sort of things that you get in the Sunday supplements.  Since the advent of Small Crownfolio, however, my requirements are much more simple.  I would like to relax, perhaps even read a bit of a book, but most of all I would like not to have to think about where every single meal is going to come from.  From the point of view of a mother, that railway poster looks like absolute bliss.  So don’t tell me that poster is designed to be viewed by the male gaze.  Or I’ll eat the entire cream tea.

All Quiet on the Home Front

It’s all very quiet on eBay at the moment.  I’d thought that this was due to the summer, but it is now wet and October and there is still very little on the market.  So little in fact that I am going to point you at precisely two things.  One is this very expensive Robin Day poster for the RAF.

Robin Day poster photomontage RAF

But then it is a rare Robin Day poster and so probably deserves something in the region of £175.

The other is this Bromfield poster for Windsor, which I mentioned in passing earlier this year.

Windsor poster British Railways Bromfield

It’s noteworthy because at the time, I could only find an image of the artwork, which suggests that the National Railway Museum don’t have a copy.  Perhaps they’d like to buy this one.  It’s also unique in being the first poster on eBay -or indeed anywhere else – that I have ever seen being held down by bananas.  Proof that there will always be something out there to surprise me.

Fortunately, the eBay-shaped gap in my life has been filled by a couple of auctions.  The more sensible of the two is the Great Central Railwayana auction next weekend.  Where you can buy lots of sensible railway posters like this one of Whitstable.

Whitstable Briitish Railways poster Anonymous 1950s

Or this one of the Scilly Isles.

John Smith Scilly ISles British Railways poster 1950s

Apologies for the lack of information, but most of these posters are anonymous – apart from the one above which is by John S Smith.  And of course this is a railwayana auction, so they haven’t seen fit to provide us with anything useful like estimates.

Anyway, back to the posters.  Slightly more idiosyncractic is this Frank Mason poster for the Yorkshire Coast, which is mining an unlikely seam of pre-war psychedelia.

Frank Mason Yorkshrie Coast vintage LNER 1930s railway poster

The auction is also offering a fine selection of 1950s kitsch for your delectation.

British Railways Rhyl poster 1950s

Morecambe poster British Railways 1950s beach

Fleetwood whale British Railways poster Carswell 1950s

The pun above is by Carswell, the other two are anonymous.

But poster of the week award has to go to Harry Riley, for his magnificent reimagining of Aberdeen.

Harry Riley Aberdeen poster BRitish railways 1950s

It doesn’t really look like that, does it?

Our next auction, though, is much odder in itself.  The sale is advertised as Two Day Sale of the Contents and Exhibits of a Heritage Museum, which means you can buy a 1950s rug-making kit, a big heap of ancient toys and a reception counter, amongst many, many other things.

But they are also selling some World War Two Home Front posters.

Mothers let them go World War Two propaganda home front poster

They’re all a bit plain for my taste in home fromt propaganda, but with estimates (set by someone who has never seen a poster of this kind before I can only hazard) averaging £20-30, there must be some bargains to be had.

He talked this happened world war two propaganda poster britain home front

Especially as one or two are quite rare.

Keep it under your hat ww2 home front poster

Finally, a quiz.  I once saw a railway poster of a beach scene where a father was taking a tray of tea over to his family who were on the sands.  I remember it vividly, not least because the cafe was allowing him to take real china cups onto the beach.  But now I can’t find it again – can anyone track it down for me?  I will be very grateful if you can.



Do you remember I said recently that we weren’t buying anything because we needed carpets and curtains?  It turns out that there are exceptions to this.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Catalogue cover curated by Barbara Jones whitechapel art gallery

Which is not a poster but the catalogue for the Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1951, curated, of course, by Barbara Jones.

Now we paid the money for something which is, if I am honest, not that pictorial.  There are a couple of images of popular graphics from the exhibition.

Molassine advertisement from Black eyes and lemonade catalogue barbara jones

Along with one Barbara Jones drawing of a doll.

Black eyes and lemonade doll drawing by barbara jones 1951

But that’s your lot – the rest looks like this.

Black Eyes and lemonade barbara jones inside text

From all of which I can tell you a few things.  One is that at least a third of the exhibition belonged to Barbara Jones herself; I wish I could have seen her house.

The second is that, more than anything else I have ever seen,the whole miscellaneous variety of human life is present, from bread to postcards of ‘Dressing up the cat’, a milk float to a stuffed chub, a beer pump to crochet-work mittens.  The only way I could give you the full picture of its oddity would be to type the whole thing out.

But fear not.  Chapter 27 of my world domination plan still includes a complete restaging of the entire Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition, and with this in my hands I can at last make a start on it.  Even if I do have to live without carpets in the meantime.

Typewriter dream of elysian fields

Less eBay, more auctions today, which makes a change.  The main excitement, at least it is if you are me, is a pair of Graham Sutherland posters up for sale at Wooley and Wallis in Salisbury.  This is the catalogue image.

Graham Sutherland How Sweet I roamed London Transport poster 1936

From the text, it appears that the other poster on offer is this (image from the London Transport Museum site).

Graham Sutherland field to field London Transport poster 1936

While I am sure that the catalogue knows what it’s talking about, it’s nonetheless a bit odd, because both of these designs were originally conceived as London Transport pair posters.

London Transport how sweet I roamed pair poster 1936 Graham Sutherland

Graham Sutherland from field to field London Transport pair poster 1936

Given the choice, I think I’d rather have the two on offer.  Not that this opinion is in any way relevant, because the estimate is £2,500 to £3,500, a sum of money which is completely unaffordable if you are currently pouring all of your savings into restoring a knackered old building.

I have to say, though, that if we weren’t being so daft, I’d be tempted.  I don’t know why – after all we’ve never spent anything like that much on a poster before.  So then I doubt my motives for wanting these; is it because it is they are lovely posters, or is it because I like the status of owning not just any old poster, but a Graham Sutherland London Transport Poster.  Am I still in thrall to the idea of the artist even despite buying mass produced images?  Quite possibly.

All of which navel-gazing sent my mind back to the mahoosive Christies London Transport Sale, where the other great Graham Sutherland poster is on offer for £1,500-2,000.

Graham Sutherland London Transport poster 1936

Which I also love, but am also not going to buy, because we need carpets and that’s the end of it.  Except to say that I should probably return to Graham Sutherland’s posters on here one of these days.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand.  Lockdales, an auction house in Ipswich, have a handful of British Railways posters coming up in October.  They are actually quite to my taste, as they’re mostly post-war and just a little bit quirky.

British Railway poster, Broadstairs, The resort with a charm of its own
est. £150-250

British Railway poster, Frederick Griffin, Southend on Sea, Westcliff on Sea, leigh on Sea, Thorpe Bay, Shoeburyness
est. £150-250

Lune Valley 1950 poster Percy Drake Brookshaw
est. £100-150

The third one is by our old friend Percy Drake Brookshaw, and rather fine it is too.

I am mildly amused by this lot, which has been subject to some rather comprehensive cropping and so is described only as “town by an ocean”.

town by ocean auction lot British Railway poster, Alasdair Macfarlane

Shall we turn this into a parlour game?  Can anyone name that railway poster?  (I can’t).

To round this off, there are one or two things on eBay that are worth your time and attention, starting with this.

Derrick Sayer London Transport artwork

Which is a piece of artwork for a London Transport poster, by Derrick Sayer and dating from, so the listing says, the 1940s.

It doesn’t look as though it was ever produced, as there’s no trace of it in the London Transport Museum collection.  Mr Crownfolio says that it reminds him of this Schleger.

Hans Schleger 1937 Highway Code exhibition Charing Cross

I think he has a point there.  The colours also remind me of James Fitton’s work at about the same time.

James Fitton World War Two blackout poster London Transport

I could go on, but I won’t.

Finally, this.  A classic architectural work, with an early Tom Eckersley, well Eckersley Lombers cover to boot.

THE MODERN HOUSE IN ENGLAND Marcel Breuer WALTER GROPIUS Tecton cover Tom Eckersley

Currently at £12.50, but with four days to go, I think it will go higher.  And I have some more Eckersley for you in a week or so too.