Political & War Propaganda
50 astonishing works of historic 20th-century propaganda poster art.

Why are things the way they are? Well, for good or ill, people en masse are compelled to believe in something, or buy something, or do something. A tool assists in this goal. When the goal is commercial, we call the tool advertising. When the goal is political or violent (war, in Clausewitz’s adage, being “politics by other means”) we call it propaganda. 

This autumn, we’ve acquired a collection of 50 historic works of propaganda poster art from the early 1900s to the 1950s: from America, Europe and Russia – including campaign posters, humanitarian appeals, and war propaganda. The bulk of this collection, from the period in and surrounding the First World War, is especially remarkable to view as we approach the 100th Anniversary of the World War I Armistice on November 11, 2018.

At the time, these posters were not meant to stimulate thought. They were meant to rouse one’s most basic emotions – fury, indignance, terror, pity, hope, ambition, pride, compassion – to compel action. Today, more than ever, these artifacts are crucial, missing jigsaw pieces in our cultural memory. At this time, we can only offer you a online sample of the riches on offer; but the full collection tells a very important story of what people on the streets of the early 20th century saw, and felt, as the world turned upside down around them. It will be of exceptional interest to cultural historians, art enthusiasts, partisans, antique collectors, and anyone who wishes to better understand the history of our current political and media environment – how we got to here.

92. Wake Up, America! 1917.
92. Wake Up, America! 1917.
Artist: James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
28 1/8 x 41 1/8 in./71.5 x 104.5 cm
Est: $6,000-$8,000.

Columbia sleeps, clothed within the Stars & Stripes on a front-porch rocker, in this alarm clock to the nation. One of the best and rarest of World I posters, its slogan has been used as a title for innumerable books – including Rawls’ famous “World War I and the American Poster” – and its message is seemingly inexhaustible, just as potent today as 101 years ago. James Montgomery Flagg also created the immortal Uncle Sam / “America Wants You” poster, and was the greatest and most prolific of the war posterists of the period. This particular print has the freshest colors we’ve yet seen!

102. Destroy This Mad Brute. 1917. ($12,000)
102. Destroy This Mad Brute. 1917.
Artist: H. R. Hopps (1869-1937)
28 x 41 7/8 in./71 x 106.5 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000.

This is an exceptionally rare World War I poster, in which the Kaiser is portrayed as a wild ape, wielding the cudgel of foreign culture as he rapes and brutalizes women on American soil. Behind him, the ruins of Europe can be seen on the horizon. This image plays upon the more frequently-utilized Hun symbolism seen in similar posters from the European Allied countries. Some versions also include a tip-on which states: “if this war is not fought to a finish in Europe, it will be on the soil of the United States.” It must have proved quite effective, as the image was recycled by the Germans at the beginning of World War II to showcase the intolerance of the Allies in the inter-war period. The background lettering under Enlist says “U.S. Army,” without the street address seen in prior variants.

107. Lest We Perish. ca. 1915.
Artist: Ethel Franklin Bettsbains
20 x 28 in./51 x 71.2 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

Beginning in 1915, the Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians, an event we would come to know as the Armenian Genocide. The inhumanity continued with death marches through the Syrian Desert, as well as other ethnic mass murders of Assyrians and Greeks. In this poster, a raven-haired girl, adorned in traditionally patterned clothes of the region, extends her hands pleadingly – her fingertips extend beyond the frame of the image, centering on the words Lest We Perish, in an American drive for a $30 million fundraiser for survivors. It’s a doubly poignant image today.

Six more rare lithographs by Edward Penfield are in this auction.
84. Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man. 1917.
84. Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man. 1917.
Artist: Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)
26 7/8 x 41 in./68.2 x 104 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000.

Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) not only became one of America’s best war artists during World War I; his images of alluring women, beckoning young men to serve, paved the way for “Christy girls,” the artist’s unique portrayal of feminine appeal that really set the aesthetic tone for America in the 1920s.

MoMA featured this world-famous Christy poster in its exhibition “Designing Modern Women 1890-1990,” which ran from October 2013-October 2014, and wrote of it, “In World War I, the frontline was not viewed as a place fit for a woman. While kept away from direct combat, however, women were a valuable asset in recruiting men to the navy. The winsome pin-up in “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man” (modeled by Mrs. E. LeRoy Finch) sports a fluttering naval uniform; the whole look and chatty tone was extremely effective in underscoring the masculine appeal of serving soldiers. Here was a woman worth fighting for. The poster was admired for its American ‘punch’ and ‘air of glad youth which came like a Spring wind over our war-weary spirits.'”

We have 7 posters by Christy in this auction.

90. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917. ($9,600)
90. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917.
Artist: James Montgomery Flagg
29 3/8 x 39 3/8 in./75.5 x 101.3 cm
Est: $6,000-$8,000.

Although Flagg was already a successful and prolific illustrator by the time World War I started, this poster was to become “his greatest public triumph.” Using himself as the model, his “rendering was originally used on a Leslie’s Magazine cover in late 1916, and was quickly adopted by the Army when the war broke out. All told nearly 5 million were printed in both world wars” (Theofiles, p. 9). Colors are particularly vivid in this copy.

There are 7 posters by Flagg in this auction.

104. More Ships / Send the Eagle's Answer. ca. 1918.
104. More Ships / Send the Eagle's Answer. ca. 1918.
Artist: James H. Daugherty (1889-1974)
40 1/4 x 59 3/8in./102.2 x 150.8 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700.

A stunning work, blending tropes of industrial power with early Modernist color schemes and compositions, for a total effect that is awe-inspiring. “By the summer of 1918, the Emergency Fleet Corporation had a great array of shipbuilding facilities under its direction, including the huge Hog Island shipyard near Philadelphia, which could launch seventy-eight ships at once. The country was fast approaching the goal of launching one-hundred ships a day, and it reached a total of ninety-five on the fourth of July” (Rawls, p. 77).

105. Even a Dog Enlists.
105. Even a Dog Enlists.
Artist: David Klein (1918-2005)
28 1/8 x 41 1/2 in./71.4 x 105.3 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200.

A Very, Very Good Boy stands tall and parched upon the rubble as a town blazes in the background. Fifty thousand dogs served in World War I; “each dog was required to undergo six weeks of intensive training, leaping over obstacle courses, shell holes and through torn barbed wire…” (Joe Shute, The Telegraph, 2014). While this doggo looks (interestingly) like a German shepherd prepped for rescue, the most famous pup on the Western Front was U.S. Sergeant Stubby, a short brindled bull terrier mutt. “He had reportedly comforted wounded warriors on bullet-strafed battlefields. It was said he could sniff out poison gas, barking warnings to doughboys in the trenches. He even captured a German soldier… It was at Chemin des Dames that Stubby reportedly saved the 102nd from a gas attack. The Times describes how one morning, while most of the troops were sleeping, the division was assaulted by an early morning gas launch. Stubby first smelled the gas then ran up and down the trenches barking and biting soldiers, working to rouse them from slumber and getting them to safety. On April 5 Stubby became a private first class, his first military rank” (Gillian Kane, in Slate, 2014).

109. Civilians / Jewish Welfare Board. 1918.
Artist: Charles Herbert Woodbury (1864-1940)
22 x 33 in./55.7 x 83.7 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

“One of the greatest illustrators of the World War I era” (Karal Ann Marling), Sidney Reisenberg practiced his art in New York City and made many posters for Liberty Loans and the Marines. The Jewish Welfare Board was formed just after the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917 to support Jewish soldiers at war, and by the looks of it, was one of the first organizations to understand shell-shock and the trauma of warfare on an industrial scale. “Civilians: When we go through this we need all the help and comfort you can give” was published “Week of November 11, 1918,” the date of the Armistice.

113. Slachtoffers der Pogroms in Oost-Europa. 1919.
113. Slachtoffers der Pogroms in Oost-Europa. 1919.
Artist: Dirk Hart
23 5/8 x 33 5/8 in./60 x 85.4 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000.

The Dutch culture of tolerance is palpable and tangible in this extraordinary example of humanitarian outreach following World War I. It states, “The Polish People Violated the Jews through their Pogroms” – a message from the Netherlands Committee for the Benefit of the Victims of Pogroms in Eastern Europe. The immediate subject of the poster was the Lwów Pogrom (now known as Lviv, Ukraine – about 100mi west of Kiev). During the 19h century, Lwów was known as the center of the Jewish Enlightenment and about a quarter of the city was Jewish. When Ukraine and Poland fought for control of the city immediately following the World War I armistice, Jews declared neutrality – but after Polish forces took control, Jews were accused of backing a Ukrainian position. Polish soldiers, militia, civilians and local criminals perpetrated the attack, and killed between 52 and 150 Jewish residents. The poster, shows an armed Pole leading a bearded Jewish man, the Polish crest at top left and the Star of David by the Polish soldier’s foot. Remarkably, it’s accomplished in the Jugenstil style of Roland Holst – though the style had become dated by that time.

112. Bolschewismus. 1918.
112. Bolschewismus. 1918.
Artist: Julius Ussy Englehard (1883-1964)
37 x 48 3/4 in./94 x 123.7 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500.

That rough beast is Bolshevism, coming with knives and bombs to be born, in this potent anti-Communist message created during German civil unrest at the close of World War I, as the Russian Civil War was threatening to spill over into Germany. You can immediately see how the American propaganda image of the “Mad Brute” is reappropriated by Germany to express the horror of Communism, which had taken over Russia and was then threatening to fracture a Germany now descending into civil war. Englehard’s work flips frequently between elegant fashion and travel advertising, and the fighting intensity of military rhetoric.

91. America First! 1920.
91. America First! 1920.
Artist: Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)
27 1/2 x 41 in./69.8 x 104cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000.

Woodrow Wilson was the first to use the “America First” slogan when running for re-election in 1916, pledging to keep America out of the Great War (but reversing his position once in power). After the war, a first-term Senator from Ohio, Warren G. Harding, seized upon the message – and the electorate’s post-war non-interventionist stance – to win the presidency in 1920, calling for a scaled-back foreign policy and high tariffs on foreign imports. This is a Harding presidential-campaign poster.

114. Wählt Christlichsozial! 1920.
114. Wählt Christlichsozial! 1920.
Artist: L. Mitschek
49 1/2 x 37 1/2 in./125.8 x 95.3 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000.

Formed by Karl Luegar in 1893, the Christian Social Party was a conservative Austrian political party largely influenced by the church. At the time of this poster it had the largest following in the country, and had taken on a distinctly anti-Semitic stance. Here, the Party removes the blindfolds on the masses to expose how they are tied to marionette strings held by corrupt politicians and the dissolute wealthy. The “giant of the people” delivers a punch, the force of which will send them careening over a cliff.

It should be noted that the “Giant of the People” was a socialist motif first created by the Hungarian political artist Mihály Biro, who has a reply below.

117. Das Christentum Nicht Gemeint. 1920.
117. Das Christentum Nicht Gemeint. 1920.
Artist: Mihály Biró (1886-1948
36 7/8 x 26 1/2 in./93.7 x 67.2 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

“That’s not how I meant Christianity!” Biró takes Hungary’s Christian National Union Party to task for its monarchist, militaristic and anti-Semitic tendencies. If you look closely, you can see that the image on the back of the carriage is L. Mitschek’s propaganda poster for the Christian Socialists (previous image)!

119. This is the Enemy. 1942.
119. This is the Enemy. 1942.
Artist: Karl Koehler (1913-2000), Victor Ancona (1912-1998) & Stephen Ancona (1932- )
24 x 34 1/4 in./61 x 87 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000.

This famous image won the 1942 National War Poster Competition sponsored by the Hoe Printing Press, Artists for Victory, Inc., the Council for Democracy, and the Museum of Modern Art. The silhouette of a hanged man is reflected in the monocle of this remorseless SS Officer, but what really strikes us is the fusion of caricature – the elongated nose, for example – with crisply defined, realistic details, like the stubble on the sideburns and the cording on the cap. As if to say, “Impossible but true: the caricature and the awful reality are one and the same. This is the enemy.”

123. WAAC. 1942.
123. WAAC. 1942.
Artist: Dan V. Smith
24 3/4 x 36 3/4 in./63 x 93.2 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500.

The straight-backed, straight-up, picture-perfect American servicewoman of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps almost synaesthetically calls up archetypes of American patriotic extravaganzas. The WAAC was formed on May 15, 1942, and modeled after comparable British units. The first 800 members began basic training that year. After basic, WAAC troops were trained as switchboard operators, mechanics, armorers, seamstresses and bakers. In 1943, a physical training manual titled “You Must Be Fit” began with these words: “Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.”

127. Des Liberateurs? 1944.
127. Des Liberateurs? 1944.
Artist: Anonymous
46 x 62 5/8 in./116.3 x 159 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000.

Also known as “L’Affiche Rouge,” or “The Red Poster,” it’s one of the rarest, most important, and most notorious propaganda posters of the entire World War II period. In late 1943, the French police arrested 23 members of the Communist Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée – part of a 100-strong network of French Resistance fighters who had accomplished virtually all of the armed resistance activities in Paris. They were tortured, tried, and executed. In the spring of 1944, to defuse public anger over the executions, the Vichy government published this poster, detailing the nationalities and ‘crimes’ of 20 members of the group (e.g. Wasjbrot, Polish Jew, 1 assassination attempt, 3 derailments), including the leader, Manouchian, credited with 150 deaths, 56 assassination attempts and 600 wounded. The Vichy government was trying to create the narrative of “a foreigners’ conspiracy against French life and the sovereignty of France.” However the poster had the opposite effect: instead of being condemned as “terrorists,” the public admired the condemned as freedom fighters; posters were frequently graffiti’d “MORTS POUR LA FRANCE” and flowers appeared beneath them. After the war, a poem, set to song and known as “L’Affiche Rouge,” became popular in France. This is the very rare larger format.

128. De La Sierra Hasta Hoy. 1959. ($8,400)
128. De La Sierra Hasta Hoy. 1959.
Artist: Eladio Rivadulla (1923-2011)
27 x 40 in./68.5 x 104 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000.

Provenance: the personal collection of Prof. Eladio Rivadulla Jr.

This silkscreened poster, owned and hand-signed by Rivadulla, is an extremely rare piece of propaganda for the Cuban Revolution. Only 300 were originally printed; given the extremely hot and humid climate, degradation by insects, and lack of proper archival facilities in Cuba, survival of other copies is unknown. The faces are: Camilio Cienfuegos (upper left); Che Guevara (lower left); Fidel Castro (center); Raúl Castro Ruz (upper right); Juan Alameida Bosque (lower right). The center text: “From the Sierra to Today”; the text at top, translated: “Chronological summary of the most outstanding acts of El Grand Fidel since the great epic that ended with the ferocious tyranny up to the present time.” The backstory: from exile in Mexico, Castro and 81 armed men landed on the Cuban coast in late 1956 – all were killed or captured except for Castro (center), Raul (upper right), Che (lower left) and nine others. For the next two years, they retreated into the Sierra Maestra mountain range and waged a guerilla war against the Batista government. In mid-1958, Che attacked Santa Clara, Batista’ forces crumbled, and Castro, who had less than 1,000 men left, came down out of the mountains and took control of the 30,000-man Cuban army. This poster, which touts a narrative of the entire campaign “from the Sierra to now” would have been printed immediately after one of Castro’s speeches, to reinforce the propaganda message. Rivadulla, the artist, is hailed as Cuba’s foremost poster artist, and had an illustrious career redesigning U.S. and European film posters for Cuban audiences, before joining forces with Castro and the Revolution. He then became Fidel’s graphic-artist-in-residence for the next 30 years.

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