Archive for the ‘Art & Design’ Category

festival of britain, abram games, festival emblem, festival star

A Festival of Britain poster designed by Abram Games, who also designed the festival emblem in the centre, the Festival Star.

On 3 May 1951, the Festival of Britain was opened by King George VI. It was conceived by the Labour Government, led by Clement Attlee, as ‘a tonic for the nation’, a cheerful, forward-looking event and a break from rationing, austerity and the brown landscape of a still bomb-scarred country. The heart of the Festival was constructed on a 27 acre area on the South Bank of the Thames in London between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge, that had remained untouched since being bombed in the war. But some not did see it in that light. Winston Churchill, Leader of the Opposition, was opposed to the Festival. He said it was all just ‘three-dimensional, socialist propaganda’ that squandered American financial aid. Churchill was to get his own back later.

The plan first mooted in 1947 was to celebrate the centennial of the Great Exhibition of 1851, but it was not to be another world fair. The festival was to focus entirely on Britain and its achievements. The Festival was to be funded chiefly by the government with a budget of £12 million. But there was a political dimension.

festival of britain, south bank, dome of discovery, royal festival hall, skylon, dan dare

On the South Bank site, there was to be a Dome of Discovery, the Royal Festival Concert Hall, numerous pavilions, and the iconic Skylon, a 296ft high Dan Dare-like needle that apparently floated above the ground.

Although the aim of the Festival was to promote British science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts, the Labour government, after five years in office following its landslide victory in 1945, was losing support. It was hoped that the Festival would give people a feeling of successful recovery from the war’s devastation. But again, many thought there were better ways of spending taxpayers’ money. There was still meat rationing and petrol shortages, and millions of homes needed re-building. Sir Thomas Beecham, conductor and impresario, described it as ‘a monumental piece of imbecility’.

However when the Festival  closed five months later on 30 September, eight and a half million paying visitors had come to the South Bank site, far more than predicted.

festival of britain, ronald searle, woolly smothers, herbert morrison

A pen and ink cartoon by Ronald Searle. Woolly Smothers MP says to the person in the ticket kiosk, who is obviously meant to be Herbert Morrison, the Labour minister responsible for the Festival of Britain.
‘And what’s more Sir – I still think it would be a waste of money if it weren’t such a success!’

The public enthusiasm and the support of the King and Queen for the festival resulted in the newspapers, which had been so hostile before the opening of the festival, now being supportive. King George could not attend as he was recovering from an operation. He died just over four months later, and his eldest daughter, Princess Elizabeth, became queen. The final net cost of the Festival of £8m (about £227m today) was less than budgeted. The Festival was acclaimed as a ‘triumphant success’.

However in a general election just weeks after the closing of the Festival, Winston Churchill was returned to power as leader of a Conservative government. Churchill, who saw the Festival as a celebration of the achievements of the Labour Party and their vision for a new socialist Britain, promptly ordered the dismantling of the landmark Festival buildings on the South Bank, with the exception of the Festival Hall (now a Grade I listed building). Here is a British Pathé newsreel about the demolition in 1952. Watch out at the end when the commentator says all the latest equipment is being used and then shows a chap wielding a sledgehammer, and then for the man who appears to survive a potentially fatal fall when the girder he is cutting smashes to the ground. There was no sense of irony and the commentator treats the incident surprisingly light-heartedly.

skylon, vertical feature, festival of britain, dome of discovery

The futuristic-looking Skylon was the ‘Vertical Feature’ that was an abiding symbol of the Festival of Britain. It consisted of a steel latticework frame, pointed at both ends, clad in aluminium louvres, and supported on cables slung between three steel beams.

The film also shows the supporting girders of the Skylon being cut. It is said that once the cables were severed, the Skylon toppled over into the Thames. Although the metal was sold as scrap, there are unsubstantiated stories that remains of the Skylon still lie on the bed of the Thames or in the River Lea (like the Euston Arch).

The Festival site was cleared completely and remained so for ten years. Today the site is occupied by a park, Jubilee Gardens, which was created in 1977. You can read here more about the Festival, as well as the events held across the country. A short film Brief City about the South Bank Festival buildings was made by the Observer newspaper. Here are part one and part two. The commentary is very much of its time, and to me, fascinating. Watch out for the milkman in Downing Street in part one, around 7.30 minutes.

But two miles upstream from the South Bank in Battersea Park, on the opposite side of the Thames from Chelsea, a more frivolous exhibition had also been opened in 1951, the Festival Pleasure Gardens. This exhibition harked back to the English pleasure gardens of the 17th and 18th centuries elsewhere in London at Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne.

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It’s a dog’s breakfast. It’s a dog’s dinner. What lovely phrases. Figures of speech that I think are a delight to use, provided of course that you’re not involved. So where do they come from and what do they mean?

Animals figure prominently in many expressions. A kettle of fish, the cat’s whiskers, pearls before swine, the cat that got the cream, a fly in the ointment, the bee’s knees, a pig in a poke, a nest of vipers. Dog expressions for some reason are particularly numerous: gone to the dogs, why keep a dog and bark yourself, in the doghouse, it’s a dog’s life, a shaggy dog story, the tail wagging the dog, every dog has its day.

‘It’s a dog’s breakfast’ means a complete mess – something or someone that ​looks ​extremely ​untidy. Or a muddle, a shambles or a botch – something that is very ​badly done – as in ‘we’ve made a real dog’s breakfast of it’. There’s a few other phrases that mean much the same: a pig’s ear, a hodgepodge, a mare’s nest.

It’s a 20th century phrase that was first cited in the 1937 edition of Eric Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English as ‘a mess: low Glasgow (1934)’.

dog's breakfast cartoon, waiterThe reference to a dog and breakfast suggests that the phrase had something to do with a cooking calamity: a half-cooked omelette, watery porridge, burnt sausages. Couple this with the notion that a dog will eat anything – though dog lovers would not be amused at this idea – and you have the phrase. But nowadays, whatever its origins, this figure of speech covers much more: a badly planned party or meeting, instructions that are incomprehensible, a do-it-yourself disaster.

There is a similar phrase ‘a dog’s dinner’ which many online references say means the same as ‘a dog’s breakfast’; that it is used interchangeably to mean a mess or a muddle.

But the full phrase is ‘dressed up like a dog’s dinner’, or ‘done up like a dog’s dinner’, meaning to wear ridiculously smart or extravagant clothes, clothes which are inappropriate for the occasion: ‘My mum really embarrasses me, she always dresses like a dog’s dinner, even when we’re just going to the shops!’. It’s a fairly negative way to describe someone, and it would be more polite to say someone was ‘overdressed’.

It is also used to express surprise what someone dresses in an unexpected way. If you were a man used to wearing a morning suit or white tie in the evenings you might not think twice about what you looked like. But if you usually wore more casual clothes: jeans, open neck shirts, trainers, then putting on a business suit and tie – even if it was necessary for an interview or a formal occasion – might draw comments from family or friends that you were ‘dressed up like a dog’s dinner’.

dog's grand dinner party, dame dingles series, mcloughlinIt’s not clear how two similar phrases have completely different meanings, at least when ‘dressed up like’ is added to ‘a dog’s dinner’. How is being dressed up likened to a dog’s dinner? It is said to refer to the stiff collars that were the height of male fashion in the 1890s and which actually looked very like dog collars. But where does the dinner come in?

Others say that in Medieval England the finest shoes were made of dog skin, and that if you were invited to a castle for a feast you would dress in your finest, and for shoes, you would ‘put on the dog’, meaning shoes made of dog skin. In the full Oxford English Dictionary, ‘to put on the dog’ was ‘to assume pretentious airs’, but did this become ‘dressed up like a dog’s dinner’?

dog's dinner party, harrison weir, routledge

This picture from The Dog’s Dinner Party by the renowned Victorian children’s illustrator Harrison Weir, shows Mr Foxhound presiding over dinner. © harrisonweir.com

In the 19th century, a number of children’s books came out on the theme of a dog’s dinner party. In America in 1869 there was the The Dog’s Grand Dinner Party with illustrated verse. In Britain a year later, The Dog’s Dinner Party was a story in My Mother’s Picture Book with lavish illustrations that gave the dogs apparent human traits and personalities. In Cock Robin’s Picture Book published in 1873, an illustration of a dog’s dinner party has the caption:

At last the day of the grand dinner-party arrived, and the guests all assembled, in good spirits, with keen appetites for the feast. Never had so many sleek, well-dressed dogs met together before, and the variety of their coats and countenances was very striking.

Is it possible that these stories somehow gave rise to the phrase?

But back to ‘it’s a dog’s breakfast’. I wonder why its origin is said to be ‘low Glasgow’ in 1934? Do any Glaswegians know?

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It wasn’t who was thrown off Hammersmith Bridge, but what. And as it happened over a hundred years ago, you’d expect it to be long forgotten. But someone couldn’t help dredging up the past. Before we get to that however, I’ll need to tell you a little about typefaces.

When books and newspapers were typeset manually, a font referred to a particular size, weight (light, bold) and style (regular, italic) of a typeface. Each letter in the typeface had its own type or ‘sort’ like those at the end of the hammers of an old-fashioned typewriter. A typeface comprised a range of fonts sharing the same overall design. The word font (traditionally spelt fount in British English) comes from Middle French founte meaning ‘something that has been melted; a casting’ and refers to the process of casting metal type at a type foundry. All this has of course been superseded by and large by digital printing, though we still refer to electronic typefaces as fonts like Calibri, Helvetica, Times Roman, and Verdana.

edward johnston, johnstone typeface, london underground, roundel

The Johnston typeface first used in 1916, and an underground roundel from the 1920s that uses the typeface. A licence is required from TfL if you want to use the font or its successor New Johnston.

Some typefaces are better known than others. Johnston has been the corporate typeface of public transport in London since the foundation of the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) in 1933. Its use is one of the world’s longest-lasting examples of corporate branding, and it remains a copyrighted property of the LPTB’s current successor, Transport for London. Edward Johnston was commissioned in 1913 by Frank Pick, Commercial Manager of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London to design a typeface as part of his plan to strengthen the company’s corporate identity. Pick specified to Johnston that he wanted a typeface that would ensure that the Underground Group’s posters would not be mistaken for advertisements, and that it should belong ‘unmistakably to the twentieth century’. The typeface was originally called Underground, then Johnston’s Railway Type, and later simply Johnston. In 1979 the typeface was re-designed to make it more versatile and this became New Johnston.

eric gill, gill sans typeface, edward young, penguin books

Gill Sans was used by designer Edward Young on the modern, minimalist, and now iconic covers of Penguin Books. This was one of the first editions launched on 30 July 1935

The Johnston typeface however was not available for use by anyone else. It was one of the public faces of the London Underground and no one else would be allowed to use it. One of Johnston’s students at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts, Eric Gill, who went on to become a well established sculptor and graphic artist, had however worked on the development of the Johnston typeface. He went on to produce a new typeface, Gill Sans, that blended the influences of Johnston, classic typefaces and Roman inscriptions. The design of the new font was intended to look both cleanly modern and traditional at the same time. When it was released in 1928, it was an immediate success, with the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) using it for its posters, timetables and publicity material. On its formation in 1963, British Railways continued to use Gills Sans. In the digital age, Gills Sans remains in widespread use, and is one of the fonts bundled with Mac and Windows software.

In England, type foundries, where typefaces were designed and type was cast, began in 1476, with the introduction of the printing press by William Caxton. The creation of typefaces required considerable design and typographic skills (typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language readable and appealing), and type designers were immensely proud of their work. In fact most people in the printing trade were characteristically proud of their work. In the early 1900s, a bitter dispute over a typeface between the two partners of a printing press led to one of the most infamous episodes in typographic history.

emery walker, thomas james cobden-sanderson, doves press

Emery Walker and Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson: friends, business partners and then bitter enemies. © Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery

The Doves Press was a private press based at 1 Hammersmith Terrace in west London, and was named after the Dove Tavern, an old riverside pub nearby that still stands today. The press was founded by a bookbinder Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson (who already ran the Dove Bindery on the same site), and an engraver and printer Emery Walker. Cobden-Sanderson and Walker had been close friends of William Morris, the English textile designer, poet, novelist, and socialist activist, who had died in 1896. It was Morris’s wife, Jane, who had encouraged Cobden-Sanderson to become a bookbinder, and Walker’s expertise and his collection of 16th-century typefaces inspired Morris to create the Kelmscott Press. All three men were closely associated with the British Arts & Crafts movement.

Cobden-Sanderson chose the books and had the final say in their design, and Walker managed the technical side of the business. Cobden-Sanderson had commissioned a new typeface in 1899 which was to become the Doves Type. It was crafted by master punchcutter Edward Prince, based on drawings produced by Percy Tiffin of the pioneering Venetian type created in 1470 by the French designer and engraver Nicolas Jenson.

john milton, paradise lost, doves type, doves press

A page from John Milton’s Paradise Lost illustrating the Doves Type which was printed in two volumes by Doves Press in 1902-05.

The books published by the Doves Press looked very different to most private press books of their time. The clear typeface and the lack of decoration gave the books a very simple and austere look. The only decoration in the books were the capitals created by Edward Johnston (who was later to design the Johnston typeface described above) and ink flourishes by the calligrapher Graily Hewitt. Although most of the Doves Press books were simply bound in vellum, many of the bindings produced by the Doves bindery were very ornate and elaborate. The masterpiece of the Press was their five-volume Bible, completed in 1905. It was set by hand and printed on a hand press, with the only decoration being printed red initial letters by Johnston.

But while the books were successful, the partnership between Walker and Cobden-Sanderson became unworkable.

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Between 1950 and 1957, the York chocolate maker Rowntree used portraits of women in national advertising campaigns in newspapers, magazines, and on ITV for their Aero chocolate bars. In post-war Britain, sugar rationing had finally come to an end, but Aero would still have been a luxury item. The advertising firm J W Thompson ran the campaign with the slogan ‘DIFFERENT … For her; AERO – the milk chocolate that’s different!’

‘Esteemed and emerging portrait painters and illustrators’ of the day such as Anthony Devas, Henry Marvell Carr, Vasco Lazzolo, Norman Hepple, and Fleetwood Walker, were commissioned to create forty paintings in oil of ‘large illustrations of girl’s heads’. Only twenty of the paintings however are known to still exist.

aero bar, chocolate bar, rowntree, rowntree's

In early 2013 researchers Kerstin Doble and Francesca Taylor, seconded from The National Archives to work at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at York University, were going through boardroom papers from the Rowntree company when they discovered the paintings. In October that same year they initiated an art and social history project called Who were the Aero Girls? to research the portraits. A national quest to uncover new information about the portraits was launched during National Chocolate Week 2013 with an exhibition at York Mansion House.

Some of the artists were known, though all but one of them are dead. The names of most of the sitters were unknown with their names written in pencil on the back of the canvas stretchers: ‘Alice’, ‘Anna’, ‘Audrey’, ‘Avril’, ‘Mary’, ‘Nancy’, ‘Wendy’, ‘Yvonne’, ‘The Country Girl’, ‘The Art Student’, or just ‘Unknown’.

Kerstin Doble told Channel 4 News, ‘When I first saw them it simply struck me that these oil paintings were hugely accomplished portraits of a disparate group of women, with plenty of references to old masters. Portraits in oil paint seemed out-of-place for commercial art of the 1950s, and I wondered how they had ended up in an archive otherwise filled with paper and parchment documents. They were hidden away alongside boxes of Rowntree’s sales figures, chocolate recipes, and board meeting minutes rather than with other artworks.’

A link to the project and to fifteen of the paintings is here. If you click on the Paintings link at the top, a mosaic of the paintings is displayed. Clicking on a particular picture displays a larger image of the picture and details of what is known about the artist and the sitter, and how the picture was used. There is a lot more information under the Explore link. Kerstin Doble has also written more about the project here.

In March 2014, Kerstin Doble wrote on the National Archives blog, here, that a more complete picture of the sitters and artists had begun to emerge. One of the sitters at the time was an impoverished art student, Rose Wylie, now 80 years old, who had just won a prestigious painting award.

Here is a black and white campaign advert that was shown on Yorkshire Television in 1955 though the identity of the sitter seems to be one of those that is unknown. It is not clear if the campaign was successful, since much of the increase in Aero’s sales during this post-war period can be attributed to a renewed appetite for consumer goods and the end of rationing after 1954.

aero bar, chocolate bar, rowntree, rowntree's

A display of Aero bars from 1935. The aerated chocolate was completely new and helped Rowntree’s compete with the other main chocolate maker Cadbury’s.

Aero chocolate was originally introduced by Rowntree’s in the North of England in October 1935 with the aim of wrestling a share of milk chocolate block sales from their rival Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. The bar was Aero Mint and it cost 2d (old pennies) equivalent to just less than 1p. But by the end of the year, it had proved so popular with customers that sales were extended throughout Britain. The popularity of the chocolate is due no doubt in part to its unique honeycomb bubbly texture that collapses as the bar melts. A milk chocolate variation was introduced in the 1970s, and many flavours and varieties have followed. It is now sold in over 30 countries. Aero has been manufactured in York by Nestlé since 1988, and three hundred and thirty Aero bars are wrapped per minute.

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The first posters appeared in France in the early 1890s during the age called the Belle Époque (the Beautiful Era) which lasted until 1914 with the start of the First World War. In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec’s first poster, Moulin Rouge, elevated the status of the poster to fine art. Britain held its first poster exhibition in 1894 following the craze for Art Nouveau art in Paris that same year. In each country, the poster came to celebrate different cultural institutions. In France, the cult of the café; in Britain, literary journals and the circus; and in Italy, the opera and fashion. The First World War saw the poster used for propaganda, for recruiting soldiers, for raising money and for boosting production. In the machine age of the 1920s, and the emergence of Art Deco, the themes of posters were style, power and speed.

The 30s and 40s were the golden age of the travel poster. Today, overseas travel posters like those below are evocative reminders of the past, even if most people then didn’t have the money to experience the spirit of adventure and luxury that was often portrayed.

PosterP&OCruisesPosterRochersdeNayePosterAlaLittoria

 

 

 

 

 

 

Domestic travel posters, particularly by train, portrayed affordable travel to the countryside or seaside, to historic towns or city outskirts. 

PosterLakeDistrictPosterEdinburghPosterWalthamCross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posters were everywhere during the Second World War. They served a very different purpose, encouraging determination, thrift, courage, stoicism, and the like. 

PosterLifeLineIsFirmPosterGrowYourOwnFoodPosterWingsforVictory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The posters that we now see on billboards are dominated by product advertising, though film and musical posters are still very common. Vintage posters however are now appreciated as works of illustration and art in their own right, and sell for huge sums at auctions. What better way to brighten up a room or house, without having to spend too much, by sticking up a print of a poster on an empty wall. But what was in the mind of whoever put up the posters in the picture below?

BankofEnglandGoldIngots

This picture was in a recent newspaper article about the Royal Mint’s launch of an online shop for buying gold and silver coins. This is the gold vault of the Bank of England. To the far right of the room, you can see a P&O Cruises poster (it’s from the 1950s and is by the artist John Gilroy), and it is the same as the one shown 1st from the left in the top row of posters. You should also be able to make out the Wings for Victory poster at the end of the bullion room on the left, which is shown 3rd from the left above.

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james whistler, artist

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
1834-1903
Averse to sentimentality and moral allusion in painting, he was a leading proponent of the belief ‘art for art’s sake’

An American in London: Whistler and the Thames is a new exhibition of Whistler’s etching and paintings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. ‘An American in London’ is overdoing it a bit since James McNeill Whistler left Massachusetts and America to study in Paris in 1855 at the age of 21, and came to London four years later, where he remained on and off for the rest of his life. That said, the exhibition admirably displays his genius for capturing the atmosphere and bustle of life in late 19th century London.

Whistler arrived in London as a Bohemian artist full of the lessons of Courbet’s realism, and Baudelaire’s instructions that the artist of the day should depict the life of the time. His aim was to do with London docks and life on the Thames what the impressionists in Paris were to do with the life and leisure of the middle classes of Paris and the Seine. This is seen to full effect in the exhibition with several rooms of his etchings and sketches of ships and wharfs on the river, and glimpses of squalid London life. But he also captured the moods of the river at different times of the day. And this was the case with his paintings of life on the water: the river, the bridges, the people, which are shown in the final rooms.

james whistler, artist, westminster bridge, river thames, london

James Whistler, The Last of Old Westminster, 1862
The new bridge is built over the old in a forest of piles and timbers

For 16 years Whistler lived in Lindsey Row in Chelsea from where he sketched and etched the Thames so often that it became a part of him. In seeking to capture atmosphere, he titled many of his paintings ‘arrangements’, ‘harmonies’, and ‘nocturnes’. Whilst his art was characterized by a subtle delicacy, his public persona was combative. He was a man who liked to live his life in the public eye and was very concerned about his personal appearance and the critical reception of his paintings. And that was where his troubles began. (more…)

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The Obscure Cities, François Schuiten, Benoît Peeters, Belgium, Casterman

The covers of the series of graphic novels by the Belgians François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, Les Cités Obscures, published by Casterman

Les Cités obscures (The Obscure Cities) is a series of graphic novels by the Belgian comics artist François  Schuiten and his friend, writer Benoît Peeters, set on a counter-earth located opposite to the Earth on the other side of the Sun. In this fictional world, humans live in independent city-states, each of which has developed a distinct civilization, each characterized by a distinctive architectural style. Schuiten’s graphic representations and architectural styles are heavily influenced by Belgian Art Nouveau architect Victor Horta, who worked in Brussels at the turn of the 20th century. In French, the word obscure can mean ‘mysterious’ or ‘hidden’, rather than as in English ‘little known’ or ‘odd’.

An important motif is the process of what Schuiten called Bruxellisation, the destruction of his historic Brussels in favor of anonymous, low-quality modernist office and business buildings. Around 1980, Schuiten began drafting a parallel world of vintage architectural grandeur reflecting his 1950s childhood memories of Brussels. Approaching his friend Peeters, who had become a comic writer, about this imaginary world, Peeters infused his own philosophical ideas into plot lines he developed for the project.

Benoît Peeters, François Schuiten, The Obscure Cities, Belgium

Benoît Peeters, writer (left) and François Schuiten, comics artist

The first novel in the series, Murailles de Samaris (Walls of Samaris) was serialised in French in 1983 in the Franco-Belgian comics magazine À Suivre published by Casterman. Casterman was also the publisher of The Adventures of Tintin series of comic books by the Belgian cartoonist, Hergé. After Murailles de Samaris, eleven other novels followed, as well as collaborations with other authors on a number of works set in similar settings. Only six of the novels have so far been published in English, Murailles de Samaris being published in 1987 as The Great Walls of Samaris, Stories of the Fantastic.

Schuiten’s work can be considered a mix of the scientific fantasies of Jules Verne, the strange worlds of René Magritte, the graphical worlds of M C Escher and Gustave Doré, as well as architectural visions of Horta and Étienne-Louis Boullée.

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