Rare vintage sporting posters to fetch thousands

Rare and striking images trace the history of advertising design across more than a century as prices rise into the tens of thousands...

Summer means sport as well as fun and games on the beach. It also means gearing up for the landmark vintage poster sale celebrating these pursuits at Swann Auction Galleries.

Among the many fascinating aspects of this sale is that, in addition to creating exhibitions of developing trends in commercial art, fashions and leisure over the past 100 years and more, they also recall important but largely forgotten events.

The August 7 Vintage Posters auction is no exception as a series of five designs by the Colombian artist Sergio Trujillo Magnenat (1911-99) illustrate. Created to celebrate the 1938 Bolivarian Games, which themselves marked the 400thanniversary of the city of Bogota, these rare, colourful and dynamic views of sportsmen and women come from the hand of one of the most important figures to emerge in Latin American art during the 20th century.

Swann Galleries have used Trujillo Magnenat’s design of the muscular discus thrower, shown here, for the catalogue cover, but those showing women’s tennis and netball, as well as those for men’s javelin thrower and polo, are equally compelling, with each carrying an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000.

These beautiful and stylised designs reflected the times as they drew from Italian Futurism while exploiting the lithographic process, with its block colouring, to the full.

History comes to the fore again with the landmark design by the Finnish artist Ilmari Sysimetsã (1912-55) for the 1940 Olympic Games in Helsinki. The XII Summer Olympiad had been scheduled to take place in Tokyo from September to October 1940, but political unrest resulting from the ongoing Sino-Japanese War caused them to be re-scheduled for July to August 1940 in Helsinki, only to be suspended indefinitely following the outbreak of the Second World War. By then, though, the posters had been printed, which makes

The Latin American version on sale here a real rarity. It carries an estimate of $800 to $1,200.

Helsinki finally hosted the Games in 1952, with Sysimetsã’s design updated for the purpose – an example is offered here at $700 to $1,000.

Another major sporting tournament influenced by politics was the 1941 Revolutionary Games in Mexico, staged under the premiership of Manuel Avila Camacho, who later joined the Allies in declaring war on the Axis powers. Here, a colourful and striking design by the exiled Spanish communist Josep Montoro (1907-82) shows a javelin thrower against a background of Mexican flags. It has a guide of $800 to $1,200.

His design for the 1952 Juvenile Games shows a bare-chested hurdler leaping out of the poster and is pitched at $700 to $1,000.

Highlights among posters featuring summer holidays and leisure sports provide a captivating snapshot of changing fashions and designs over more than a century from the cheerful seaside modesty of fin-de-siècle Belgium to a Cuban cigar-smoking flight attendant of the 2000s.

Among the more scarce and valuable examples at $1,500 to $2,000 is one of the earliest, Plage de Westende, 1898, by Gustave-Max Stevens, an artist who made his mark with Art Nouveau works, but here displays his talent for graphic design with a view of twins holding their older brother’s hand as they paddle in the waters of Westende on the Belgian coast.

Rather more exotic and offered at the same price is Fly to Rio by Clipper / Pan American World Airways, a circa 1947 design by the mysterious Mark von Arenburg. Little is known about the artist, but he was popular with Pan Am and its Flying Clipper passengers for his enticing and idealistic depictions of exotic destinations. This one, showing a lively dancer against a thrilling nighttime backdrop of Rio and estimated at $1,500 to $2,000, is no exception.

Speed, excitement and colour are pre-requisites for sporting posters to stand out in terms of attraction and price. Out in Front / Trailers Lose What Leaders Win / To Get Ahead, Be Ahead!, a block colour design by an unknown artist for Mather & Company of Chicago in 1929, has it all, with a pair of speedboats racing in the full summer sun with dramatically splashing wakes. The estimate is $1,000 to $1,500. A signed version by a sought-after poster artist would add significantly to the valuation.

In far more relaxed, but no less colourful mode, Repos Ste Elisabeth by Francis Delmare shows a cheerful beach scene from 1920 and carries hopes of $800 to $1,200.

A factor that can add to attraction and value is a strong signature style that enjoys influence in a complementary field of the arts. Such is the case with René Gruau (1909-2004), the Italian fashion illustrator, whose impact on the haute couture world of the 1940s and ’50s was to prove long lasting. Seen as timeless, to the extent that his designs still held sway on the catwalk well into the 2000s, Gruau’s tall, slim, elegant and languorous figures were perfectly designed to show off the latest fashions in striking primary colours.

Typical of this style is Chargeurs Reunis, from around 1950, depicting a sunbathing young woman on the deck of a ship and guided at $800 to $1,200.

Striking blocks of colour and lively scenes were equally important to those promoting British holiday destinations, whether surfing in Newquay as early as 1937 – represented here by a highly sought-after design by Alfred Lambert (1902-70) pitched at $2,000 to $3,000 – or hitting the beach with bucket and spade, as the children in Southern Railways’ poster The Harbour of Happiness do as they descend on Ramsgate (Estimate: $400 to $600).

The more graphic, colourful and idealised designs, especially where they feature the young and the beautiful and are associated with a famous resort, can often command greater prices. A strikingly stylised view of a young couple on the beach at Monte Carlo, for instance, carries hopes of $2,000 to $3,000. Designed by Michel Bouchaud (1902-65), it benefits from his study of the effects of light and colours in the Mediterranean.

Exotic destinations such as Bermuda proved to be perfect fodder for some designers, like Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965), Adolph Treidler (1888-1981) and Zdinak (dates unknown), with prices ranging from $600 to around $2000.

Hawaii, with its surfing and Hula girls, proved another rich seam for invention.

But when it comes to the golden age of travel and summer adventure, nothing beats the great ocean cruise liners and the magnificent and awe-inspiring designs created to give a sense of epic grandeur and luxury. These reached their zenith in the 1930s in a series of Art Deco posters by the unequalled Adolphe Mouron Cassandre (1901-68), individual examples of whose work easily steam into five figures. Here his 1931 design for the SS Cote D’Azur is expected to fetch up to $10,000.

Swann Galleries’ Vintage Posters sale offers a wide range of rare and stylish posters across numerous areas of interest, from travel to motor sport and entertainment, with prices rising to $15,000 for single examples.

You can look at the entire catalogue online at www.swanngalleries.com

Images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries


Auction title: Vintage Posters

Auction date: Wednesday, August 7, at 10:30am & 2:00 pm (EST)

Preview dates: August 1, 10-6; August 2, 10-5; August 5 & 6, 10-6

Specialist: Nichols D Lowry • posters@swanngalleries.com • 212-254-4710 x 57

Press: Alexandra Nelson • alexandra@swanngalleries.com • 212-254-4710 x 19

Social media: @swanngalleries