Saturday, 23 February 2013

Tea with Mr Nash: the Cornerhouse lithographs

I have advance notice of a cache of lithographs first published by Lyons & Co in the forties and fifties and which is soon to come up for sale. I don't  know which prints they will be, or how much they will cost, but I thought it was about time I began to tackle the whole great subject of the lithographs made for companies like Shell, Lyons and Guinness from the late 1930's onwards.

Not that these were the first companies to try their hand at publishing original prints. Other, less well-known companies, made a start some years before. But this will be nothing more than an introduction. And for the benefit of most readers to whom the name will mean nothing at all, Lyons began to open tea-rooms in Britain in the 1890s and eventually tried to improve the look of things in their cafes, when means were restricted after the second war, by putting up large lithographs by young, or youngish, British artists. (The photograph below was taken by Wolfgang Suschitzsky in 1934 soon after he first came to Britain from Vienna).

Some of the artists, like Edward Bawden, had already made a name as graphic artists; others, like David Gentleman, would go on to become well-known in much the same field. Interestingly enough, Charles Mozley (the first two images) had already worked on the Shell project in the late thirties before his print showing the social life surrounding Henley Regatta was published as part of the second Lyons series in 1951. The success of the Shell series provided a model for Lyons themselves.

Lyons own series had no point to make about style - the styles were varied - and unfortunately only half of them were drawn on the stone by the artists. The print union had been unhappy about the use of non-union labour, but a deal was struck whereby the other half were made by workers at Chromolithograph (I think it was). Mozley used the painterly freedom of the stone to his advantage, and reminds us by how much the work of French artists like Claude Monet and Pierre Bonnard could still turn chic in early fifties Britain. (Henley Regatta remains fashionable to this day - I think.)

Staying beside the river Thames, we next have Edwin LaDell's beautifully-judged evocation of another aspect of British social life in Fishing at Marlow. Better by far than his other view of the Thames, by the Tower of London, I think many of these images work better with figures plus landscape than as landscape alone. There was certainly variety, as you see from Fred Uhlman's Lighthouse at St Agnes (above). It was a small tour round Britain, a re-statement in modern-ish terms of what we knew and what we liked. Finally, I cannot resist adding William Roberts' tricksy but masterly drawing, even though he never worked for the project (by that time he was hard-up but far too down on commercialism). I believe this shows the famous waitresses called nippies and must recall the everyday atmposphere of the cafes that Roberts would warm to, and which contradicts the self-consciousness noted by Suschitzsky.

There will be more about all this once I have more news. Untill then, remember, you read it here first.

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