Unpeopled

We’re going a bit off-piste today, heading for a change towards those heady days of modernity before the Second World War.

That we’re doing this is all the fault of regular correspondent medieval modernist who pointed me at this particular set of posters a while back.

A R Thomson Improve each shining hour LNER poster

And every since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.   But then it’s rare that you get such a set of posters so determined to be object lessons in modernity.  In each one of them, the fusty, over-detailed, over-crowded Victorian era is ttransformed, thanks to the potent magic of LNER, into a chic, clean-lined, highly futuristic scene.

A fine advertising message, you might say, and you’d be right.  But there’s a lot more going on here than just the steam railway  being dragged into an art deco world, so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin.

LNER Harwich crossings poster a r thomson

Let’s start with the artist, A. R. Thomson.  Now I’ve only started researching him today, so I’m afraid that this post won’t contain the benefit of the information in his biography, Tommy: A Biography of the Distinguished Deaf Royal Painter A.R.Thomson, which I am about to order for the grand sum of one new pence.  There is a clue there in the title, but he does seem to have been a quite extraordinary character.

6ft 5ins tall; He was deaf, and also did not speak, his wife helping as business manager. He spoke through his brush. Conducted conversations by making lightning sketches.Studied under painter illustrator and poster designer John Hassall [died 1948] and historical scenes/portraitist Sir William Quiller Orchardson [died 1910].

Since we’ve been talking about murals recently, here is one that he produced for the Science Museum. It’s fourteen feet long.

A R THomson combine mural for science museum

Two other things stand out for me though.

Vintage London Transport poster Street Markets Thomson 1949

One is that he designed this Street Markets poster for London Transport in 1949 (which means that there is a short bio of him on their site as well).  It’s one that I’ve always loved, and occasionally regret not buying at Morphets.

The other is that, at the 1948 London Olympic Games, he was the last-ever winner of the Gold Medal for Painting, which is such a mind-boggling idea that I am unable to process it properly.

He seems to have done quite a lot of poster work during the war, I imagine that he wasn’t called up because of his disability.

A R THomson Fighting fit world war two propaganda poster

 

post office savings bank tank poster a r thomson

All of which is a massive, but fascinating detour from the point at which westarted, so let’s return to his very peculiar set of posters for the LNER.

A r thomson then and now lner poster flying scotsman

Because despite the modern tour de force that is the Flying Scotsman, there is a deep anxiety underlying these posters.  The trips to the seaside, the carriages, the outdoors games  – even the very railway itself – are all old ideas.  The job that he pictures want to do is to persuade us that  these institutions have all changed with the times.  There is an interesting incongruity here.  Perhaps the most committed users of modernity are those who feel that they have something to prove, that their product might, in fact, date from the past.  Whereas if you are producing a car or a washing machine, it can look exactly how it wants, because it is modern in its very existence.

What’s also absolutely fascinating for me, though, is how this modernity is represented.  The smooth streamlining of this period of modernism/modern design is a vlsual cliche now, we all know what it looks like and it has been revived and reused so many times that it is no longer exciting or surprising.  But here, butted up against the visual clutter that it wants to replace, we can start to see it as it would have been felt back then – stark, surprising, and, for me at least, quite chilly.

LNER poster Then and Now golf ar thomson

When we were discussing these posters in the comments before, medieval modernist suggested that

there seems to be new higher order in the alternative vision, where simplicity and order are prized over chaos

This is true.  And I think that there is a big clue in the word chaos there, because one thing that these posters make me feel very strongly is the effect of the First World War on these designs.  Modernity was an attempt to impose a very rigid kind of order on the world, one that was felt to be very necessary after the chaos, horrer and ultimate disorder that was the trenches.

Now this isn’t something that can ever be proven, just as we will never be able to say for certain that the slightly simple cheerfulness of much 1950s design was a reaction to the next war.

But the big clue for me is in the people.  The Victorian scenes are teeming with humanity, but in contrast modernity requires very few people indeed.  And absence was perhaps the biggest legacy left by World War One.

Sea bathing LNER then and now ppster a r thomson

I don’t think this is just because time has made us forget, although this has to be a big part of it.  I suspect too that it was something that many people who lived in the 1920s and 1930s could bear to articulate fully either.    The reason I think of this is that there is a spine-tingling passage in one of HV Morton’s tours of England, which I can’t lay my hands on right now in which he describes the raw new stone and lettering of the war memorials that are in every village and town that he passes through, and the pain and memories caused every time they are seen.

So the lack of people in these posters – in the posters of this period in general – isn’t just because people clutter up the place and machines are just so much more modern to look at.  That is part of it, but the absences are also more profound.  People are missing in this modern world, killed by the machines of modern warfare, and by their absences they can be still counted amongst us, without us having to speak of them.

Mrs Housewife on Display

There are some things I haven’t been telling you recently, and it’s time to fess up.

The biggest omission is the Bloomsbury Auctions sale which happened last week. Now this wasn’t the most exciting collection of posters I have ever seen in one place, but there was one significant exception. This was three lots, right at the end, all by Dorrit Dekk.  Each one was a total treasure trove, with a whole range of posters in, not just one.

Dorrit Dekk wireless licence GPO poster 1940s

Dorrit Dekk Home makers poster Post office savings bank

What’s more, they were estimated at £200-300 per lot which, with at least ten posters each time, was looking like a total bargain.  Hence my silence.

Dorrit Dekk staggered holidays World War Two home front propaganda poster

As the sale went on, we got more and more excited, because nothing seemed to be selling for over its estimate, and quite a few things were falling below that (the contrast with Christies is not something that you need me to explain).  So by the time we got to the three Dekk lots our hopes were high.

Dorrit Dekk Love Post Office Savings Banks poster 1960s

But they were rapidly dashed to the ground again.  They all went for well over their estimates, £420 in two cases and a whopping £550 for the one with all of the travel posters in.

Dorrit Dekk orient line travel poster

Dorrit Dekk France travel poster

Bah.  I hope whoever got them likes them.

The second thing I missed was for the rather more practical reason that I only got about 48 hours notice of the sale, but it’s still interesting enough to draw your attention to after the event.  Lot 247 at 1818 Auctioneers in Cumbria at the start of this week was a set of World War Two Home Front propaganda posters, How Mrs Housewife Saves Fuel For Battle.

Mrs Housewife Saves Fuel World War Two Propaganda poster home front

Mrs Housewife Saves Fuel World War Two Propaganda poster home front pair

Mrs Housewife Saves Fuel World War Two Propaganda poster home front

There were thirteen in total, which would have been worth a mention on its own as it’s pretty rare for a whole set to turn up like this.  But also included were these title banners.

Mrs Housewife Saves Fuel for battle title posters for set world war two propaganda

Now I’ve never actually seen something like that before, and I was immediately reminded of this.

Beverley Pick wartime poster display stand from display presentation book

These are Beverley Pick’s travelling poster displays for the Ministry of Information, which I’ve blogged about before.  And what I think came up for auction was a set of posters designed for exactly this kind of display.  Which is a rare thing indeed.  I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if those posters were by Pick himself, either; I’ve seen that kind of brickwork effect on other designs of his.

By way of atonement for these past sins, please have a couple of things which are coming up for auction in the future and so you’re able to buy.  Of which the most interesting is this rather lovely London Transport poster which is being sold by Wooley and Wallis in Salisbury next week.

Leith Poster 1928 London Transport Never Mind the Weather

It’s by a rather mysterious Leith, and seems to be the only poster that he or she ever designed for London Transport.  It has an estimate of just £100-200 if you fancy it, and why shouldn’t you, it’s very appropriate for the season.

Meanwhile in Chippenham a collection of rather ordinary advertising posters has turned up.

Goodyear tyres for farmers advertising posters

I was going to call them pedestrian, but given that half of them are for tyres, that would just be silly.

Goodyear deluxe tyres advertising poster

Still, worth mentioning simply to remind ourselves once again that by no means all past advertising was great.

Motor Homes poster

And quite a lot of it was really rather ordinary.

Finally, this isn’t a poster and it is in a Christies sale with the word Old Master in the title, so it’s definitely unaffordable.  It’s by Lill Tschudi and dates from 1933.

Lilli Tschudi Sticking Up Posters 1933

But it’s people sticking up posters, and the work behind the paper is always worth remembering.

 

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.

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.

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?

Going Postal

The blog has been a little bit overlooked lately.  Apologies for that, I’ve had a rather urgent appointment with some wallpaper that needed to be removed.  It’s been a bad time to be distracted as well, because people – well the readers of this blog to be precise – have been sending me things.  And they’ve been rather good.

Let’s start with these, mostly because I asked for them.  ‘Did Daphne Padden design any other leaflets for British Railways?’, I asked the other day.  The answer is a resounding yes.

Daphne Padden British Railways Leaflet Isle of Man

And here’s another, although I’ll be blowed if I have any idea what a ‘Radio Cruise’ is.  Can anyone enlighten me?

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden front cover

She even designed the insides of this one too.

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden inside design

Which include this rather fine map.

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden map

Are there more out there?  I hope so, although I am anticipating that I might have to do something frightening, like attend a transport ephemera fair, to find them.

Meanwhile through the actual mail box came a small set of  these little London Transport prints – I’m sure there is a precise art historical word for what they are but I’m afraid I don’t know it.  Anyway, they were a fantastic gift all the way from America so thank you very much.

Small London Transport prints - front covers

What I got was four little folders, each containing a small print of a London Transport poster from 1953.  Here’s St James’ Palace by David Lewis.

London Transport poster print david Lewis St James Palace

Each print was the pictorial half of a pair poster, so making the transfer to prints quite well.  I can’t decide whether my favourite is the John Bainbridge or the Sheila Robinson (both artists who deserve further notice on this blog one day).

London Transport poster print John Bainbridge Royal London 1953

London Transport poster print Kensington Palace Sheila Robinson 1953

I have no idea, however, what the purpose of these were.  Were they bought by the public and framed, or where they sent out by London Transport as a form of publicity? Or some other reason that I can’t even guess at.  If anyone can enlighten me, please do.

While we’re on the subject of London Transport, this is also rather good.

London Transport spoof

This also reminds me that I’ve been meaning to mention the work of artist Micah Wright for a while.  He’s been working on ironic modern versions of propaganda posters for a while, and got in contact with the blog to say that we might like this take on Pat Keely. He was right.

Micah Wright version of pat Keely wireless poster

Most of what he does is American in origin, but it’s still very much worth taking a look at his PropagandaRemix website.

Micah Wright propaganda remix war poster

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a wall that needs demolishing.  But if you’ve got anything else to send me in the meantime, please feel free.