Auction fever (or not)

The next Christies poster sale is upon us; the lots are online, the printed catalogue is sitting on my desk.  But I’ve been avoiding writing about it for the last few days, mainly because I can’t work up much enthusiasm for what’s on offer.

This, if I am pushed, is probably the best of the bunch.  But it’s American, so it doesn’t really count, even if it is by Herbert Bayer.

Herbert Bayer Eggs vintage American wartime poster
Herbert Bayer, c.1940, est £700-900

The next best offerings are also American, a selection of TWA travel posters by David Klein.

David Klein travel poster Christies Auction
David Klein, c.1958, est. £1,000-1,500

David Klein vintage TWA travel poster
David Klein, c.1960, £1,500-2,000

I’ve pondered the excellence of these before, because they have a quality which no British poster of that era really manages, an intense optimism about modernity, not simply as an ideal to be aimed for (which is much more the British mindset) but as something experienced in the present moment.  They are glad to be alive in this modern world and the joy is infectious.

David Klein vintage TWA poster
David Klein, c.1960, est. £700-900

In the realms of things which I really should be contemplating, there is a Fougasse I haven’t seen before.

Fougasse vintage WW2 propaganda poster salvage
Fougasse, 1942, est. £600-800

Along with an interesting and early McKnight Kauffer.

McKnight Kauffer Cornwall vintage Great Western poster
McKnight Kauffer, 1933, est. £800-1,200

And then two Landers which are not new but now come with quite eyewatering estimates.

Lander Paignton vintage railway poster
R M Lander, 1956, est. £600-800

Another Lander Paignton railway poster
R M Lander, 1956, est. £600-800
I’m intrigued by these posters; they’re not necessarily the best of his work but they come up time and again at auction, unlike anything else he did.  It could be that there are just more of them about, or it may be a self-perpetuating phenomenon: because people have seen them fetch good prices before, that brings more out of the woodwork.  But he did do more interesting stuff, and I’ll post a few of our (rather battered) examples one of these days.

Then there is also this.

Daphne Padden vintage railway poster Hastings and St Leonards
Daphne Padden, £1,00-1,500

Now it is by Daphne Padden, because it’s signed Daphne Padden, even if at first glance it looks much like her father’s style of work.  Judging by  the style of clothing, it must be from the very start of 1950s, so is probably one of her very earliest posters.  Which makes it interesting, but I can’t say I particularly like it.  Although the estimate suggests that Christies think that a large number of people will be expensively intersted in it.

There are other mildly interesting lots; a few from London Transport, of which my favourite is this Bawden.

Edward Bawden 1936 Vintage London transport poster Kew Gardens
Edward Bawden, 1936, est. £600-800

As ever, there are also the usual slew of railway posters including lots of pretty landscapes and detailed pictures of trains.  This one does at least get a prize for being, er, different.

Flying Scotsman Greiwurth poster 1928
Greiwurth, 1928, est. £3,000-5,000

Oh to live in the simpler age before Freud thought of phallic symbolism.

Overall, though, the excitement just isn’t there.  Really I think that – with the odd exception when a great collection comes up for sale – Christies’ sales just aren’t for me any more.  The higher minimum lot value means that so much of what I’m interested in – the Royston Coopers and Tom Eckersleys – just don’t appear there any more.  But these posters also not turning up anywhere else instead.  So where have they gone?  Are you sitting on a heap of these things and don’t know what to do with them these days?  In which case, I might be able to help.

While I’m on about auctions, I should for the sake of completeness tell you that Poster Auctioneer have a new auction coming up tomorrow, but again with very little British interest in there, so you’ll have to make do with this Donald Brun instead.

Donald Brun

Most of their posters are Swiss, which isn’t unreasonable for an auction house in Switzerland.  What’s more puzzling is that Poster Connection, who are in the States, also have an auction stuffed with Swiss posters this time round.  You can choose between an ample selection of Swiss graphics.

Hans Neuburg Zurich artists poster 1966
Hans Neuburg, 1966, est. $360

Or simply posters for Switzerland.

Herbert Leupin Pontresina vintage travel poster 1949
Herbert Leupin, 1949, est. $500

There are a very few British posters in amongst all the snow and sans serif, of which the most interesting is this Norman Weaver.

Norman Weaver vintage 1948 travel poster BOAC
Norman Weaver, 1948, est. $500

With a rarely-seen Abram Games coming up a close second.

Abram Games Vintage BOAC poster 1947
Abram Games, 1947, est. $600

But all is not lost.  Swann Galleries have promised me that there are some lovely London Transport pieces in their forthcoming auction.  I’ll let you know as soon as it appears online.

And now for something completely different

It’s very easy to reconstruct the past through the sensibilities of today.  We go back through the copies of Graphis and Modern Publicity, wade through the posters and the magazines that remain, only picking out the things that chime with us now.  And so we put together a story about the fifties which is about how a friendly kind of modernism finally caught hold in Britain.  But that’s not the whole story, just one thread out of the many different styles and designs that were going on at the time.

And why, you may ask, am I being told this once more?  It’s because I’ve found this website, a lovely tour round the work of illustrator Norman Weaver, put together by his daughter.

Norman Weaver Rowntrees fruit gums advertisement

The website would be worth a visit for Weaver’s biography alone, which includes training as a cabinet-maker for Heals, being General Eisenhower’s personal map-maker during the war, becomng an official photographer during the aftermath of the concentration camps and finally settling down to a career as a a still life artist.  And he worked with Beverley Pick for a while too, creating giant murals for the Festival of Britain.  It’s enough for five lives, and well worth a read.

Norman Weaver Heinz advertisements

But the other reason to take a look is that Weaver’s work is important.  If you flip through any magazine of the period (and I can speak with some authority here, having been required to read both Woman and Woman and Home right through from 1949-1963 in my time) they are full of these kinds of slightly hyper-realistic illustrated advertising.  And Weaver was one of the very best exponents of this style.

Norman Weaver Smedleys advertisement

He was represented by Artist Partners, and like many illustrators of the period did a lot more than just advertising.  There are some very recognisable book jackets too.

Norman Weaver book cover for the spoilers

As well as some beautiful wildlife illustrations – these were for a Sunday Times article about wildlife returning to London.

Norman Weaver London wildlife

But it’s still the commercial and advertising drawings that are the most compelling for me.

Norman Weaver Afamal advertisement

I think that’s because they tell another one of the really important stories of the time.  While the architects and the designers were all busy embracing Scande-lite modernism, with its wide plains of wooden floors and less is more ethos, for an awful lot of people the opposite was true.  More was very definitely more.

Norman Weaver mackintosh food ad

The rising tide of consumer goods in the years after the war must have seemed almost impossibly abundant after rationing, utility and bombs, a time at last of fridges, colour and as much food as you could want to eat.

Weaver’s drawings celebrate this bounty in all of its vibrant, glistening detail.

Norman Weaver sweet wrappers

It’s impossible not to look at the past through the lens of the present, and I know that one of the reasons I like these illustrations is the fantastic colour and optimism – the latter in particular isn’t something you often find in modern design.

Norman Weaver Cadburys Dairy Milk

So all I’m really doing is telling another, slightly different story about what things looked like fifty or sixty years ago, it’s not any closer to the truth than any other.  But it’s a start.