Lyons Tea Shop Lithographs – Edwin La Dell


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‘Fishing at Marlow’During the Second World War much of London, and Britain’s other major cities, were scarred with bomb damage. The Lyons teashops had not received any maintenance, other than urgent structural attention, during the five years the war lasted. They were showing signs of shabbiness but little could be done while materials were in short supply. In 1947, Felix and Julian Salmon (Directors), thought that the interiors could be brightened by some pictures and they approached Jack Beddington (1893-1959), Artistic Director of Shell-Mex, for advice. Lyons were aware of the successful 1930s advertising campaign which Shell Mex had undertaken and this seemed like a good starting point. They also wanted to encourage young post war artists, some of whom had worked for Beddington.Beddington commissioned paintings, bought some, and chose artists, no doubt with the co-operation of Barnett Freedman (1901-1958). Freedman was a leading authority on auto-lithography, in which the artist draws the plates from which the work is printed. He was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants and was largely self-taught although was bedridden for years as a boy. He started work at 15 as an Architectural Draughtsman and attended the Royal College of Art between 1922-5 and subsequently taught there and at Ruskin College, Oxford. His lithograph commissions included Shell-Mex & BP Ltd, London Passenger Transport Board, British Broadcasting Corporation, General Post Office, the Ministry of Information and he designed the King George V Jubilee Stamp. He was made a CBE in 1946. During the Second World War Freedman was an official war artist after which he became a successful commercial designer and book illustrator. Freedman’s work with Lyons was mainly involved in the twenty or so subjects being produced by auto-lithography. No doubt he would have seen the proofs of others and possibly would have advised on them.The first series of sixteen posters included some which had been drawn to plate by the artists and others which were printed using the skills of craftsmen lithographers at Chromoworks Ltd, London. The militant printing trade unions were unhappy at the idea of non-union artists creating printing plates, but the compromise of half the posters being the artists’ responsibility and half being handled by union lithographers was sensible because not all the artists were competent at auto-lithography. The artists usually received a fee of between £50-£150, presumably depending on their reputation and competence of their work and whether an original was used or auto-lithographed. Artists also benefited, unusually, from royalties on copies sold. The print run for the initial sixteen commissions, and for that matter the subsequent series, was 1,500 copies of each plate. While most of the posters were in quad crown (29 x 39 inches) some were smaller. Although the plates were kept for a time there is no record to show that reprints were undertaken. It must be assumed therefore that all pictures in circulation are ‘first’ editions.The finished lithographs were introduced to the press at the Trocadero Restaurant by Sir Stafford Cripps, then President of the Board of Trade, on 21 October 1947. By special request a copy of the original paintings, and their lithographs, were retained and viewed by Queen Mary at a tea party organized by the directors the following day. Prints were stuck onto blocks of wood (some were merely stuck to mirrors) and hung in only 30 London teashops initially but they generated so much interest that shortly afterwards they were displayed in all the Lyons’ teashops. Subsequently, lithographs were made available for purchase to the public at 12/6d for the smaller size and 17/6d for the large size. These were 1955 prices and there is some evidence that earlier issues were less expensive. Employees for example, with discount, were offered the earlier series at 10/- to 11/6d per copy depending on size.A second and third issue of lithographs were commissioned in 1951 and 1955 respectively. While the first issue included sixteen images, the second and third issues numbered twelve each. The completion of the whole project was marked by an exhibition of the forty posters at the Tea Centre, London, which was opened by Sir Kenneth Clark, Slade Professor of Fine Art, Oxford. Copies of the lithographs were bought by a number of museums and art galleries and when mounted in glass frames were popular in our Embassies and High Commissions. There was a retrospective exhibition in the South London Art Gallery in June 1977.When the teashops closed in the 1960/70s those lithographs which had been framed were dispersed. Some were hung in managers’ offices at Cadby Hall and elsewhere, others were probably kept by staff and some may even have been thrown out. Those which had been stuck to mirrors were difficult to remove and had to be scraped off. In some cases, when teashops were refurbished, they were just hidden behind new panelling with the earlier bevelled mirrors and expensive marble-work. A fine exhibition of thirty posters was staged in 2004 by the Towner Gallery, Eastbourne. A near complete set of the posters (missing The Shire Hall, Lynton Lamb, second series No 7) was donated to the London Metropolitan Archives by J. Lyons & Co Ltd in the 1980s. The Shire Hall gap was remedied with an artist’s proof supplied by Andrew Lamb, the artist’s son.

Date Published: 1951

Dimensions: 975 x 720mm

Additional information

Weight 1400 g