Modernist posters realize record-setting sales at Swann Galleries’ May 21 auction


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At 35 inches by 46 inches, this war propaganda poster was one of a series of three patriotic posters issued by the Kroger Grocery & Baking Co. in 1942. During World War II, private companies issued propaganda posters to express their patriotism and involvement with the war effort. Selling for $16,800, it is the most expensive war poster ever sold at auction. Photos courtesy Swann Auction Galleries.

NEW YORK—Swann Galleries’ May 21 auction of Modernist Posters exceeded expectations, posting excellent results that defied a sagging economy and weakened art market.

“The sales room was more crowded than usual, swelling to possibly the largest audience ever in attendance for a Swann poster auction,” said Nicholas Lowry, president and director of posters. “High-quality pieces estimated in keeping with the current market climate proved to be the perfect formula for a successful auction. Nearly 75 percent of the posters found buyers—a figure that would be impressive in any economy, and these days is exceptionally high.”

Dear God, Keep them Safe! / Buy War Bonds and Stamps, one of a series of three patriotic posters issued by the Kroger Grocery & Baking Co. during World War II, fetched $16,800 (*All prices include buyer’s premium of 20 percent.), making the grim, almost surreal image of school children wearing gas masks the most expensive American war poster ever sold at auction.

Also bringing record prices were Jean Carlu’s Cubist poster for Théâtre Pigale, Paris, 1929, $21,600; René Péron’s chilling image of King Kong atop the Empire State Building swatting at airplanes, used for the French release of the film, Paris, 1933, $16,800; and Jan Tschichold’s typographical masterpiece, Der Berufsphotograph, Basil, 1938, $9,600.

Artists’ records were established by Raymond Gid’s playful Duncan Yoyo, Paris, 1930, $8,400; and Peter Birkhäuser’s minimalist, elegant 1934 poster for the Swiss men’s clothing store PKZ, which depicts a nearly photographic image of a button against a brown background, $10,800.

The sale’s top lots were by Art Deco master A.M Cassandre, whose Cycles Brillant, Paris, 1925, realized $31,200, and Nord Express, Paris, 1927, $24,000. His poster for Triplex safety glass, Paris, 1931, sold for $12,000.

Other highlights included Johannes Molzahn’s powerful photomontage Wohnung und Werkraum, Breslau, 1929, $8,400; Valentina Kulagina’s constructivist Soviet propaganda poster Kunst Ausstellung / Der Sowjetunion, Zurich, 1931, $11,400; and a group of four posters by Leo Lionni, issued by the U.S. Office of Emergency Management just before the start of World War II, with the message Keep ‘em Rolling!, 1941, $8,400 for the set.

For complete results, an illustrated auction catalog (with prices realized on request) is available for $35 from Swann Galleries Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at www.swanngalleries.com.

For further information, and to consign items to autumn and winter poster auctions, please contact Gwendolyn Rayner at 212 254-4710, extension 53, or via e-mail at grayner@swanngalleries.com.

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Measuring 62 inches by 45 inches, this poster was issued in conjunction with the French release of the film King Kong on March 16, 1933. Artist René Péron illustrates the now legendary scene where Kong is being attacked by airplanes at the top of the Empire State Building. The poster sold at auction for $16,800.

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