Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Motor Wonders

This Thomas Nelson gift book for children dates from 1924 and has a remarkably vibrant set of colour illustrations. The definition of a motor is extended to include any form of transport from motor cycles to zeppelins or battleships to fire appliances, that involves internal combustion.  They are pictures from a perfect world from which all the random untidiness of the streetscene has been removed.  While the sun shines on every scene the technology on display is the most advanced of its time.  It was a time when there was a much less complicated relationship with the idea of progress and continuous improvement.  Calculating the full environmental costs of new technologies has undermined public expectations of a future of endless advance to the frontiers of science.  On the cover is an illustration signed by Hugh Williams and some of those inside are signed by T W Holmes (1872-1929) - an illustrator of children’s annuals and magazines for boys, specialising in transport subjects.


Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Delectaland and the Havindens

There was a time when every town of a certain size would have its own brewery, lemonade factory, biscuit maker and confectionery producer.  Watford was large enough to have most of these businesses - confectionery was represented by Delectaland.  Judging by its publicity it was a business with its roots firmly planted in Fairyland in the belief that repeated exposure to diaphanous flutterings would develop a growing market for their exotically packaged sugary offerings.  This ad is from 1919, less than 12 months after the end of the Great War during which the factory served the nation by turning out thousands of explosive shells.  Eliminating the flavour of cordite from the Delecta range would have been a formidable task.  The Chairman of the company was Gustavus Havinden, who, inspired by the example of Lord Leverhulme’s paternalistic philanthropy, made plans to build housing and welfare facilities for his workforce.  Details of this scheme are hard to come by and it can be safely assumed that it didn’t amount to much. There are indications online that worker housing was built in Neston Road, North Watford but there’s nothing to confirm it.

Another reason for taking an interest in Mr. Havinden is his son Ashley, born in 1903 who would become one of the most versatile and influential designers in Britain.  The family link also explains why the young Havinden spent 18 months absorbing the technical side of the printing industry while employed in various print works in Watford.  This detailed understanding of the principles of typesetting, layout, photogravure and block making led to his first job at the newly established W S Crawford advertising agency where he would remain for his entire working life.  The lack of an art college background was no deterrent and may have been an advantage in allowing his natural instinct to range far and wide in search of visual ideas while rejecting the narrow categorisations of the ‘trained specialist’.  Crawford gave him the chance to live and work in Germany where he came to appreciate the superior power of German graphic design and illustration under the influence of Modernism and the infant Bauhaus. 

Having swerved the perils of art education where ‘commercial art’ was regarded as a second class activity, Ashley had no inhibitions about exploring any aspect of the visual arts that engaged his interests and he happily tried his hand at textile and rug design, interior design, and abstract painting.  Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and John Piper were in his friendship group and he developed a keen interest in contemporary architecture to the extent that he moved his family into an apartment at Highpoint II, designed by Lubetkin in 1938.  This placed him at the heart of the North London friends of European Modernism where he continued his tireless promotion of Modernist values, working with European emigrés such as Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walter Gropius and instrumental in organising Mondrian’s stay in London.  All of which was accomplished in a deeply conservative visual culture in which the prevailing advertising setting was dominated by a blend of Merrie England and  Imperial Victoriana with a dash of Regency Dandies plus Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh.

The illustrations are, in descending order: an ad for Delectaland from Colour magazine, 1919 - a self-portrait included as a plate in Ashley Havinden’s Line Drawing for Reproduction (published in 1933) - Ashley’s best known design for Eno’s Fruit Salt from 1927 - a post-war ad for Martini (1953), typical of Ashley’s mid-century phase - an illustrated magazine insert promoting the Delecta range for Christmas 1928 (by which time the business was less than 2 years away from closure in 1930) and the book cover for Line Drawing for Reproduction.  The key text is Ashley Havinden, Advertising & the Artist, Michael Havinden et al, Edinburgh 2003.


Monday, 24 May 2021

In the Dime Stores and Bus Stations

My love she speaks like silence

Without ideals or violence

She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful

Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire

People carry roses

Make promises by the hours

My love she laughs like the flowers

Valentines can’t buy her

In the dime stores and bus stations

People talk of situations

Read books, repeat quotations

Draw conclusions on the wall

Some speak of the future

My love she speaks softly

She knows there’s no success like failure

And that failure’s no success at all

The cloak and dagger dangles

Madams light the candles

In ceremonies of the horsemen

Even the pawn must hold a grudge

Statues made of matchsticks

Crumble into one another

My love winks, she does not bother

She knows too much to argue or to judge

The bridge at midnight trembles

The country doctor rambles

Bankers’ nieces seek perfection

Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring

The wind howls like a hammer


The night blows cold and rainy

My love she’s like some raven

At my window with a broken wing

Love Minus Zero/No Limit


Thursday, 20 May 2021

Great Railway Stations No.19: Hamburg Hauptbahnhof

The vast steel and glass train shed that spans 14 platforms at Hamburg Hbf was based on the Galerie des machines built in Paris for the Exposition Universelle of 1889 (casually and callously disposed of by the city authorities in 1910 to improve the view of the Champ de Mars).  An uninterrupted span was achieved with the support of steel trusses that flared out as they rose upwards and the hinged arch profile was identical to its Parisian ancestor.  It’s a through station with platforms set below street level - dramatic overviews of the station interior can be seen from the Nordsteg and Südsteg overbridges. The span measured 135 meters compared with 115 for the Galerie des machines.  Administration buildings and the main entrance were at the north end of the station, marked by two clock towers, one of which survived wartime bombing in 1943.  As planned, the buildings would have been decorated in Art Nouveau style but the story goes that Kaiser Wilhelm II took an interest and had them replaced with more austere Neo-Renaissance detailing giving a militaristic appearance more to his liking.  Planning the station was a complex exercise in rationalisation to combine the rail traffic from four existing termini, in and around the city centre, into a single through station.  An architectural competition was held and construction of the winning design took place between 1902 and 1906.  Today the city is connected by ICE trains to every major population centre in Germany and serves as a point of entry to European destinations for rail  travellers from Scandinavia.  Changes are on the way - in 2021 the city announced a competition for redevelopment of the station and surrounding area.


Monday, 10 May 2021

Mid-century Romance and Misadventure

Bernard D’Andrea, Saturday Evening Post, November 1957.

Romantic fiction was a staple offer in the pages of Saturday Evening Post and a legion of highly proficient illustrators were on hand to give visual form to tragic and comic stories of love and betrayal. Some of the visual interpretations reveal a psychological complexity in a single image, every bit as effectively as a narrative spread over 8 or 10 pages of text.  These illustrators were masters of gesture and expression, expert in capturing minute variations in body language to convey emotional subtleties.  This was an age in which prosperity and anxiety seemed to advance in step - the Cold War undermined the sense of national security along with a growing unease that over-consumption and the breakdown in community values as millions moved to the suburbs was corroding the American soul.  The fear of crime couldn’t be washed away by alcohol and barbiturates.  Communism was an ever present, if ill-defined threat to the American way of life and efforts to eradicate its influence fed the climate of political paranoia.  Casual violence toward women and children was broadly condoned while adultery and coercive sex were only condemned if they came to public attention.  Maintaining an appearance of moral rectitude was imperative - any fall from grace would be ruthlessly punished by community pressure as much as legal proceedings. Women were often unwelcome and underpaid in the workplace and protection from harassment and exploitation was minimal. All these threads could be found in popular fiction and may explain why so many of these images contain unsettling and ambiguous gestures, glances and facial tensions. Carefree relationships and romantic bliss are in short supply.  Surrender to passion is more common, perhaps because it paves the way to the high drama of disillusion, treachery, desertion and cruelty.  This selection of images are mostly from Saturday Evening Post - artists are identified and dates of publication supplied where known.  Some examples are better than others. The subjects all include a couple - among them are several examples of what illustrators referred to as “the clinch” plus a few from other fiction genres such as crime and adventure.

Unknown illustrator, Saturday Evening Post.

Alex Ross in Ladies Home Journal, December 1948.

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.

Joe Bowler, Saturday Evening Post, date unknown.

An expedition to a lingerie store illustrated by Joe De Mers for Saturday Evening Post.

Jon Whitcomb for the readers of Ladies Home Journal, July 1948.

Coby Whitmore for Saturday Evening Post, date unknown.

Saturday Evening Post, date unknown.

A frantic couple under siege - illustrated by Bernard D’Andrea, Saturday Evening Post, "The Hounds Of Youth" (1961).

Thornton Utz illustration for Saturday Evening Post.

Saturday Evening Post, illustrated by Edwin Georgi (1896-1964).

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.

James Bingham, Saturday Evening Post, December 1955.

Alex Ross in Ladies Home Journal, October 1948. 

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.

Coby Whitmore for Saturday Evening Post, date unknown.

Peter Stevens (1920-2001) for Saturday Evening Post, September 29, 1956.

Steamy mid-century romance illustrated by Jon Whitcomb for Ladies Home Journal, September 1948.

Coby Whitmore for Saturday Evening Post, 1953.

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.

Lionel Gilbert (1912-2005) for Collier’s Magazine, January 1952. 

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.

Peter Stevens (1920-2001) for Saturday Evening Post, date unknown.

Saturday Evening Post, illustrator and date unknown.