Both beautiful and inspiring, the artwork that Shell used on their posters was a shift in advertising for two reasons: They were selling the ambitions of the motorist beyond commuting; a generation of day-trippers without trains. Also they were presenting modern art to the public in an era when museums charged admission. The posters were pasted on the sides of petrol stations, lorries and billboards with that simple line “You Can Be Sure of Shell”.
Edward Scroggie – Temple Bar
The respectability of motor touring was reinforced by the list of artists commissioned by Shell. It reads like a Who’s Who of the British art establishment of the period – Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Vanessa Bell, Ben Nicholson, Rex Whistler and Edward McKnight Kauffer – who between them produced some of the finest examples of commercial art while promoting a nostalgic view of England at the same time. At this stage of the century the motor car itself was not perceived as a threat to the countryside. Buying a car meant buying into a new world. ‡
Richard Guyatt – Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle
Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle:
Ralph Allen was an entrepreneur, philanthropist and was notable for his reforms to the British postal system. He his home, Prior Park, a Palladian house, built to demonstrate the properties of Bath stone as a building material, Allen happened to own a few stone mines in Bath. On the crest of Bathwick Hill facing the city of Bath is the colloquially dubbed “Ralph Allen’s Sham Castle”, built in 1755. Guyatts poster is the most modernist in this post, making use of positive and negative line drawing in the shade and light.
Edward McKnight Kauffer – Dinton Castle, Near Aylesbury
A most charming, innocent folly, standing on a little mound by the Aylesbury-Thame road and circled by pine trees. It was built in 1769 by Sir John Vanhatten to house his collection of fossils, some of which are let into the random rubble walls. The plan is a hexagon with towers at two opposite corners, one for fireplaces and the other for a spiral staircase. ♠
Graham Sutherland – Bringham Rock, Yorkshire
Bringham Rock, Yorkshire.
Sutherland visited this site in the autumn of 1935 at the suggestion of Jack Beddington, who wanted it to figure as one of a series of Shell posters. The result is a dreamlike lithograph, more in the style of Paul Nash. There are other rock structures on the site, all unique. ♣
There are many variations of rock formations, caused by Millstone Grit being eroded by water, glaciation and wind, some of which have formed amazing shapes. ♣
Paul Nash – Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset
Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset
When Paul Nash was working for Shell in 1937 it was to produce the Shell Guide of Dorset. He relocated for the project. His boss for the guide was not just Jack Beddington but also John Betjeman. It was Betjeman who suggested he paint Kemmeridge Folly for the ‘Landmark’s’ campaign. Paul Nash was paid 50 guineas when the picture was accepted as a poster in 1938.
Denton Welch – Hadlow Castle, Kent
Hadlow Castle, Kent
The first few months of 1937 saw Denton working on a large-scale panel of Hadlow Castle, a building some three miles east of Tonbridge. Although the main part of the house dated from the end of the eighteenth century and had been inspired by Strawberry Hill, the 170-foot tower, built between 1938-40, was modelled on William Beckford’s Fonthill. The whole ambience of the place appealed greatly to Denton’s love of the Gothic. His naive painting, which shows the puny tower rising above the other parts like a coffee-iced wedding cake, was designed specifically to be reproduced as a poster. †
Hadlow Castle was built on the site of Hadlow Court Lodge, a country house. The Castle was built over a number of years from the late 1780s, commissioned by Walter May in an ornate Gothic style, it became known as May’s Folly. The architect was J. Dugdale.
His son, Walter Barton May inherited the estate in 1823. It was he, who added a 170 feet (52 m) octagonal tower in 1838, the architect was George Ledwell Taylor. The tower was based in part on James Wyatt’s at Fonthill Abbey. A 40 feet (12 m) octagonal lantern was added two years later in 1840 and another smaller tower was added in 1852. This was dismantled in 1905. Walter Barton May died in 1858 and the estate was sold.
The property passed from many owners in the early twentieth century. During the Second World War it was used as a watchtower by the Home Guard and Royal Observer Corps. The unoccupied castle changed hands several times after the war too, until it was demolished in 1951, except for the servants’ quarters, several stables and the Coach House, which was saved due to campaigning from the society portrait painter and local resident, Bernard Hailstone. The Tower was Listed as a historic structure on 17 April 1951.
† Denton Welch: Writer and Artist by James Methuen-Campbell, 2003
‡ The English Landscape in the Twentieth Century by Trevor Rowley 2006
♠ Follies & Grottoes by Barbara Jones, 1953
♣ Wikipedia: Brimham Rocks