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Christie’s Rare Poster Exhibition+Auction

Christie’s, London: King Street 22 July – 30 August, South Kensington 28 September – 1 October 2013. Sale: 2pm Wednesday 2 October 2013.  Graphic Masterworks: A Century of Design is a striking collection of over 100 vintage posters that explore developments in graphic design from 1894 to 1988.


The work is open to public viewing at Christie’s King Street on weekdays 9am-4.30pm until 30 August before being displayed again in late September at Christie’s South Kensington prior to auction on 2 October. Full details at the end of this article.

The collection, put together over 40 years by eminent poster connoisseur Martijn Le Coultre, features artists who were at the forefront of avant-garde art and design, known for their revolutionary use of typography, layout and colour and their impact on the De Stijl, Bauhaus, Constructivism and Expressionism movements. With estimates ranging from £1,000 to £200,000, the sale offers an opportunity to acquire some of the rarest and most groundbreaking posters and graphics ever produced.

Above, one of the rarest and most valuable posters in the sale is Staatliches Bauhaus by Joost Schmidt. (Estimate: £150,000 – 200,000). Martijn Le Coultre recalled: “When the Bauhaus organised its milestone exhibition in 1923, inflation in Germany was at an all-time high. It was impossible to source good paper for posters so very few survived. Those that did are fragile and much sought after. It took me 25 years to find this work, now it’s my turn to offer it to another collector.”

Theátre Pigalle by Jean Carlu (Estimate: £30,000-40,000, illustrated below) is one of the most abstract posters in the collection and another key lot in the sale. Created for the opening night of the art deco theatre in 1929, Carlu‟s design conceptualises the groundbreaking engineering of the new venue by emphasising the lighting and mechanics, creating a truly avant-garde design.

Lot 77. JEAN CARLU (1900–1997). THÉÂTRE PIGALLE, ECLAIRAGES MACHINERIE, lithograph in colours, 1929, printed H.Chachoin, Paris, condition B/B+; backed on linen. 156 x 103cm.

Lot 77. JEAN CARLU (1900–1997). THÉÂTRE PIGALLE, ECLAIRAGES MACHINERIE, lithograph in colours, 1929, printed H. Chachoin, Paris, condition B/B+; backed on linen. 156 x 103cm.

Prominent figures in Moscow’s artistic avant-garde circles, The Stenberg Brothers worked in a variety of mediums, from Constructivist sculpture to theatre design and architecture. They made their greatest impact, however, on poster design during the 1920s, creating some of the most experimental and powerful designs ever conceived. The brothers designed The General (Estimate: £30,000-50,000, illustrated below), to advertise the cinematic comedy masterpiece by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Their revolutionary approach to design, the introduction of implied movement and distortion of scale, is typical of the Constructivist style they pioneered.

Lot 57. Stenberg brothers (vladimir, 1899–1982; georgi, 1900–1933). THE GENERAL. lithograph in colours, 1929, printed Sovkino, Moscow, condition B/B+; backed on japan, 106 x 69cm.

Lot 57. Stenberg brothers (Vladimir, 1899–1982; Georgi, 1900–1933). THE GENERAL. lithograph in colours, 1929, printed Sovkino, Moscow, condition B/B+; backed on japan, 106 x 69cm.

One of the earliest advertising images included in the collection is a Dutch poster for salad oil, estimated to fetch £20,000 to £25,000 (illustrated below). Designed by Jan Toorop in the 1890s, Delftsche Slaolie with its sinuous forms of the lavishly dressed women merging into the patterned background reflects the values of the prosperous bourgeois society which fuelled Art Nouveau. This poster became so popular that Art Nouveau is known today as the ‘Salad Oil Style’ in The Netherlands.

Lot 1. Jan Toorop (1858–1928) DELFTSCHE SLAOLIE, lithograph in colours, 1894, printed by S.Lankhout & Co., condition A-; not backed, 94 x 64cm.

Lot 1. Jan Toorop (1858–1928) DELFTSCHE SLAOLIE, lithograph in colours, 1894, printed by S.Lankhout & Co., condition A-; not backed, 94 x 64cm.

Advertising designs became increasingly simplified in the early 20th Century with a new pared-down quality, exemplified by the Sachplakat style. Strong images emerged where only the brand name and advertised product were represented. Pioneered by prolific designer Lucian Bernhard, Sachplakat featured clean, clear and accurate lines and flat blocks of colour. It was a groundbreaking and compelling style that shaped the future of commercial advertising. Lucian Bernhard‟s Manoli, 1910 (estimate: £10,000–15,000, illustrated, below) is the archetypal example.

Lucian Bernhard (1883-1972). Bernhard, L. MANOLI. Lithograph in colours, 1910, printed by Hollaerbaum & Schmidt, Berlin, condition B+; backed on Japan (70 x 96cm.) Estimate: £10,000 – 15,000.

Lucian Bernhard (1883-1972). Bernhard, L. MANOLI. Lithograph in colours, 1910, printed by Hollaerbaum & Schmidt, Berlin, condition B+; backed on Japan (70 x 96cm.).

Art Deco posters included in the sale such as René Magritte‟s Primevère poster (estimate: £12,000 – 16,000, illustrated below), shows the development of advertising in more lavish design. Better known for his Surrealist works, Magritte was a prolific magazine and advertising illustrator and contributed greatly to the Art Deco movement with his poster, wallpaper and textile designs. He produced Primevère in 1926, the same year that he created his first surrealist painting.

Lot 69. RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898–1967. PRIMAVÉRE, lithograph in colours, 1926, printed by Publicité Meunier, Bruxelles, condition B+; backed on linen, 124 x 85cm.

Lot 69. RENÉ MAGRITTE (1898–1967. PRIMAVÉRE, lithograph in colours, 1926, printed by Publicité Meunier, Bruxelles, condition B+; backed on linen, 124 x 85cm.

Following the Second World War, dramatic changes in technology, consumer desires and an increasingly competitive market greatly influenced the advertising industry. Posters had to convey a multitude of messages and designers were required to think conceptually, as well as aesthetically. Abram Games ‘Guinness 5 Million Daily’ (estimate: £1,000 – 1,500, illustrated below) conveys his philosophy on design: ‘maximum meaning by minimum means’.

Lot 95. Abram Games (1914–1996). GUINNESS 5 MILLION DAILY, silkscreen, 1960, printed by Mills & Rockleys Production Ltd., Ipswich, condition A; backed on linen (101 x 152cm.)

Lot 95. Abram Games (1914–1996). GUINNESS 5 MILLION DAILY, silkscreen, 1960, printed by Mills & Rockleys Production Ltd., Ipswich, condition A; backed on linen (101 x 152cm.)


Graphic Masterworks: A Century of Design 

Displayed at Christie’s King Street on weekdays 9am-4.30pm until 30 August 2013.
8 King Street, St. James’s, London  SW1Y 6QT    T: +44 (0)20 7839 9060   Map here

Pre-sale view at Christie’s South Kensington on the following days:
85 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3LD    T: +44 (0)20 7930 6074   Map here

11am-5pm    Saturday 28 September 2013
11am-5pm    Sunday 29 September 2013
9am-7.30pm Monday 30 September 2013
9am-5pm      Tuesday 1 October 2013
Sale: 2pm     Wednesday 2 October 2013 (Sale number: 9462)

See also Thinking Big 12-18 October West End exhibition and 17 October sale at Christie’s King Street of large-scale work from Charles Saatchi’s collection in support of the Saatchi Gallery.

All images courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.