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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

First World War Posters: 100 Years On

Henry Sotheran’s First World War Posters exhibition has been a resounding success. The posters to have remained so well conserved upon the centenary of their production, that it has largely generated an immediate reaction of awe and wonder. The original lithographic prints have retained their splendid colour and visual lustre, however, the posters were designed by artists who understood of the ephemerally quality of the medium. We cannot know if the artists involved in poster design could foresee the resonance of their work extending into the 21st Century, nor, that the posters could become highly regarded artefacts of modern history. 

Almost miraculously the posters have retained their quality and there are few overt signs of wear and tear expected from a century of physical history. To such an extent, that it is easy to imagine the poster in situ and location of the original purpose, across the country in train stations, recruitment offices or town halls. This is perhaps testament to the care for these objects not as posters, but as sincerely important artworks of national heritage importance. Aside from acid free linen backing the posters have not undergone any restoration.

The posters in the Sotheran’s exhibition relate to recruitment drives, important events, battles, characters of military history, regimental category, financial policies and are of international origin. Although the posters refer to the aforementioned themes, and were designed to reach specific cohorts to convince, inform and educate, the importance of the posters and weight we attach to them has not changed though the ages and they still demand deference. For though the images demonstrate types of period specific propaganda, they are now viewed with knowledge of the historic outcomes of the First World War; coinciding with the ability to view collectively in one location, what were international posters, seeing this exhibition provides a sincere understanding what constitutes a First World War poster.

Propaganda posters have various aims and objectives whether to mobilise, convince, declare, agitate, evoke reaction, and the posters are useful tools in understanding the social commentary of the age. “Corn. The Food of the Nation”, was a poster designed to enlighten the American domestic as to the benefits and diverse uses of the most bountiful crop in US agriculture. Whereas, the “Wounded Allies Days At The Caledonian Market, Islington”, demonstrates  the extent of the home-front efforts, and charity shown for soldiers in some of the poorest areas in London, not only for Allied soldiers from Great Britain, but internationally.

The exhibition selection is unique in its variety. This is a posters sale from a collection rarely available in the UK. All backed on conservation linen and protected for the future centenary. These posters are heirlooms, already being collected by museums; these works of art are an important part of modern history. The exhibition ends on Saturday 11th at 4pm, whilst we are open Monday to Friday 9.30am - 6pm, so do visit whilst these fantastic objects are in the UK for perhaps the only occasion for the next one hundred years!

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