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.

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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.

 

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Extravagance

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.

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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.

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Not a poster

Exhibit A is a pair of recent acquisitions from eBay.

Frys chocolate varieties ephemera from eBay

The second one is, to my mind, a rather good bit of graphic design.

Fry's chocolate snowdrops ephemera

Now these are in lovely condition – they apparently came from the printer’s own archive – and so we thought we’d got a bit of a bargain.  Until they arrived.  They’re, um, quite small, as you can see from my cunning Minifigure + cat hair scaling device.

size of frys chocolate snowdrops poster thing

Now this is not the fault of the seller, although I could perhaps argue that they are not in fact posters; mostly the surprise is entirely of our own doing for not reading the dimensions on the listing.  So today’s moral is, read those eBay listings carefully otherwise you may not get what you think you’re getting.

All of which does rather beg the question of what in fact we did actually get.  I’m not even sure what the pieces of paper are for – Mr Crownfolio reckons that they are labels for sweet jars but I’m open to other suggestions if you have them.  Then there’s the matter of who designed them?  A brief investigation hasn’t come up with anything.  And what is a chocolate snowdrop anyway?  I have no idea.  But I do like their label.

While I am here, you might as well see a few other things we’ve bought recently, starting with a whole heap of GPO posters.  These three came from the same seller.

GPO evening calls poster brings you together 1963

USe the Household delivery service poster GPO 1964

Harry Stevens GPO poster sherlock holmes 1980

You won’t be too surprised to learn that the last one is by Harry Stevens.  What’s a bit more amazing is that it’s from 1980.  I think we may have a date for the last gasp of the classic GPO poster there.

This one only dates from 1966, but it’s a double winner, partly because it’s by Andre Amstutz, and partly because I love these Properly Packed Parcels Please posters and can’t get enough of them.

Amstutz properly packed parcels please poster 1966 GPO

While the last exhibit is, in a way, the reverse of the Fry’s chocolate ones, because it turned up in the post and was actually more interesting than I expected.

Scout bob a job week poster

Just look at those paper sculpture scouts.  A sentence you don’t get to use often enough.

 

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Who knew?

Today’s news is that I did something to something yesterday and discovered a whole new online archive.  For a collection that I had no idea even existed in real life.

It turns out that the British Council owns a socking great heap of posters.  Made up of things like this McKnight Kauffer.

SOCRATES AT THE BRITISH MUSEUM. BY UNDERGROUND 1926 Edward McKnight Kauffer

And this Purvis.

EAST COAST JOYS 1932 Tom Purvis

And even this anonymous psychedelic gem.

Beat the breathalyser smoke pot

These – and the many hundreds of others which go with them – come from the Alan Mabey archive, whose story is told on the British Council’s website as follows.

Mrs Phyllis Mabey donated this collection of over 300 posters to the British Council in August 1977. At the time she wrote “I should be very glad to hand the collection to The British Council as a gift, as I feel sure that it could not be in better hands, and it will be kept as a collection and not broken up.I wish that the collection be preserved as an entity and that it should be known as the Alan Mabey Collection.

I’ve tried to Google Mr and Mrs Mabey without finding anything out at all, least of all why they failed to give the whole lot to me.  But I can tell you one or two things about Alan Mabey just from looking at the archive.

The first is that he liked McKnight Kauffer very much indeed, because he must have owned pretty much every poster that Kauffer ever produced.  At leas that’s what it looked like.

SPRING CLEANING: EAposter - EASTMAN'S THE LONDON DYERS AND CLEANERS 1924 Edward McKnight Kauffer

There are acres of Kauffer’s designs for London Transport on the site, which I won’t bother illustrating because you’ve almost certainly seen them before.  But Alan Mabey also picked up some other designs of Kauffers which don’t come up anything like as often.  These two are new to me.

poster - READ 'CRICKETER' IN THE MANCHESTER GUARDIAN 1923 Edward McKnight Kauffer

vintage poster POMEROY DAY CREAM 1922 Edward McKnight Kauffer

I think more modern advertising should be along these lines.

The archive would be worth your time simply for these, but there is plenty more, because Alan Mabey had the kind of catholic taste that I can only approve of.  He liked Shell posters and London Transport too, although interestingly there aren’t many railway posters.  Amongst these are plenty enough of the recognised heroes and heroines of graphic design – not just Kauffer, but also Dora Batty, Austin Cooper and Frank Newbould.

poster ORIENT LINE CRUISES Frank Newbould

But he also bought some less obviously collectable posters, the kind of commercial art, in short, which is so often left out of the record.  The first of these is by Robert Gossop from 1928, the second is dateless and anonymous.

poster THE WAY ABOUT HEALS AT THE SIGN OF THE FOUR POSTER 1928 Robert Percy Gossop

JAMAL THE FREEDOM WAVE vintage poster 1930s

This F Gregory Brown is also rather fine.

WITNEY BLANKETS "FLEECY, LIGHT AND WARM" NO DATE F Gregory Brown

What doesn’t tend to be represented as much is the kind of post-war poster that I love most of all.  There are one or two, to be sure, like this 1963 Abram Games.

poster KEEP BRITAIN TIDY 1963 Abram Games

Again, this is matched with some of the more commercial work of the time.

PASCALL SWEETS MAKE LIFE SWEETER 1947 advertising poster

CHRISTMAS WISE D H EVANS 1946 Barbosa poster reindeer

The first is anonymous, but the second one is by Barbosa, and the website gives a rather wonderful biography for him.

Artur Barbosa was born in Liverpool, the son of the Portuguese vice-consul and a half-French mother. He studied at Liverpool School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. Whilst still a student he produced illustrations for Everybody’s Weekly and The Radio Times, in addition to producing book covers. He is probably best remembered for his cover illustrations for the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. In addition to cover illustrations, Barbosa also designed for the stage, produced drawings for fashion magazines and the leading advertising agencies. Barbosa was at school with Rex Harrison, the friendship endured into adulthood when Harrison commissioned Barbosa to design the interiors of his villa in Portofino. This in turn led to a commission to refurbish Elizabeth Taylor’s yacht, the Kalizma.

What is present though, as the poster at the top has hinted, is a major collection of psychedelic posters from the 1960s.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION 1968 Greg Irons  poster

What I can’t tell you is whether any of this this represents Alan Mabey’s taste or not, because the British Council has been augmenting the collection over the years.

 Since the bequest the collection was augmented by post-war works by leading British artists and designers acquired by General Exhibition Department.

They must have been doing that quite heavily too; they say that the bequest was over 300 posters, but the online catalogue runs to 843.  Which is quite a lot.

F Godfrey Brown Ideal Home Show exhibition 1930s poster

There are two things to say about the archive.  One is that only about a quarter of the poster are illustrated.  However much I have tried to work through the full list of titles, my feel for the collection is still very much based on what I have seen rather than read.  I actually found the collection when looking for a Tom Eckersley Post Office Savings Bank poster from 1952, so there is plenty more treasure within.  How about this wartime Edward Wadsworth lithograph, produced by the Council for Encouragement of Music and the Arts?

SIGNALS 1942 Edward Wadsworth  lithograph CEMA

I need to know more.

The other point worth making is that this is actually one of the major British poster collections.  It may not be quite as large as the V&A’s, but it has some of the same scope and ambition.  But I had no idea that it even existed.  So what else is out there that I need to know about?

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