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War & Propaganda
20 powerful and persuasive images.

Striking images from WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War that command attention and implore action. Top artists include Chambers, Christy, Flagg, Pennell, and Spear.

23. Lest We Perish. ca. 1915.
By Ethel Franklin Bettsbains (1877-1959)
20 1/4 x 28 in./51.3 x 71 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

Beginning in 1915, the Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians in 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,” for an American drive for a $30 million fundraiser for survivors. It’s a doubly poignant image today.

27. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
29 3/4 x 40 1/4 in./75.7 x 102.3 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

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.” He used himself as a model, and the work 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).

29. Wake Up, America! 1917.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
28 1/8 x 41 3/4 in./71.5 x 106 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

Columbia sleeps, clothed within the Stars and Stripes on a front-porch rocker in this alarm clock to the nation. One of the best and rarest of World War 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 and just as potent today as 103 years ago.

30. Enlist. ca. 1917.
By Fred Spear
27 x 40 3/4 in./68.5 x 103.5 cm
Est: $3,000-$3,500

Rickards calls this haunting image “perhaps the most powerful of all war posters” (p. 21); Theophiles declares it “without a doubt the rarest and most elusive of war posters produced in the United States” (p. 21). Originally commissioned by the Boston Committee of Public Safety in 1915, it depicts the sinking of the Lusitania, which cost over a thousand civilian lives, many of which were women and children. Spear represents the tragic event with a mother and child embracing as they sink into the ocean’s depths, their love immortalized—their lives taken far too soon. “Like the occasion that produced it, it was unforgettable” (Rickards, p. 22). This is the larger format, issued by the Public Safety Committee of the City of Boston in 1916 or 1917.

34. U.S. Official War Pictures. 1917.
By Louis Fancher (1884-1944)
28 3/8 x 41 in./72 x 104 cm
Est: $3,500-$4,500

Because film was the most effective way of reaching and eliciting a response from the American public during the War, “the Committee on Public Information became the official distributor for movies taken by military cameramen… When films began to arrive from France (censored of hardship, mutilation, and atrocity), the Committee would make duplicate prints of those thought most useful to the war effort and distribute them to the news media, to libraries, and to historical societies. The bulk of the motion picture footage shot at the front was made available, for a fee, to the weekly film-news syndicates. Experienced film editors did what they could to put the remaining footage into stirring movies to distribute free among state councils of defense and various patriotic societies” (Rawls, p. 141 and 143). Provenance: Hans Sachs collection.

36. Soviet War Poster / Rush British Arms. 1941.
19 1/8 x 29 1/2 in./48.6 x 74.8 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Hope and destruction are simultaneously offered by two hands—one boasting the Union flag and the other a Soviet star—as they meet to throttle Hitler in their hands. Disarmed of his pistol and bloodied axe, the Nazi regime is destroyed by the allegiance of British and Soviet troops. As the text tells us, “Two hands in friendship, strong as steel, one to the other are extended. The fascist throat their grip will feel throttling till life is ended.” As further evidence of the countries’ cooperation, this poster incorporates the original Russian design by Nikolai Ernestovich Radlov, which was created to mark the new Anglo-Soviet alliance of 1941. His image was so popular that it was mass produced and became a stock image of Soviet Propaganda during the War. In England, this updated version was displayed in factories to encourage production in support of the Soviet Union’s entry on the Allied side. This poster is included in the collection of the Imperial War Museum in London.

38. Junk Rains Hell on Axis. 1942.
By Boris Artzybasheff (1899-1965)
19 1/2 x 41 3/8 in./49.5 x 105 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

Potbelly stoves, anvils, air pumps, water heaters, engine blocks, plows, radiators, spigots, axes. Take your pick. It might seem like junk to you, but as this humorously literal Artzybasheff poster published by the Wickwire Spencer Steel Company astutely points out, it’s just this sort of scrap that gets turned into the “vital ingredients for each batch of new steel” used against the Axis forces during World War II. And while the bottom text dutifully conveys all the practical information, it’s Artzybasheff’s wondrous up-top cartoon that delivers the real persuasive payload, with the lethal detritus raining down upon Hitler, Hirohito, and that crybaby Mussolini, as well as three literal vermin just in case the subtlety of the allusion evaded you. Artzybasheff was a Ukrainian-born illustrator active in the United States. During the 1920s, he illustrated several books, with his efforts culminating in a 1928 Newbery Medal. However, it’s his artwork done for magazines for which the illustrator was best known during his lifetime, including Life, Fortune, and Time—with 200-plus covers for that particular publication credited to him over a twenty-four year period. During WWII, Artzybasheff served as an expert advisor to the U.S. Department of State, Psychological Warfare Branch. Once the war was over, he applied that know-how to commercial art, including campaigns for Xerox, Shell Oil, Pan Am, Alcoa Steamship lines, Scotch Tape, and Parker Pens. His graphic style is striking and his commercial work often explored grotesque experiments in anthropomorphism, where toiling machines displayed distinctly human personalities and characteristics. Rare!

39. United We Win. 1943.
28 1/2 x 40 1/4 in./72.3 x 102.2 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

The dramatic scope of World War II called for a surge in American factory production. As more laborers were needed to fulfill these efforts, employers eased “the segregation policies that had previously kept African Americans out of many industrial workplaces. But as black workers poured into cities and factories they often met with resentment from white counterparts… Racial prejudice needed to be temporarily set aside to maximize production for the war effort. [This poster] shows two actual employees—a black man (Louis Ward) and a white man (Walter Shippe)—working together at a Republic Aircraft Corporation plant… The intent behind United We Win was to encourage all workers, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, to rise above their personal differences” (Weapons, p. 25). While the designer of this poster remains unknown, the photograph was taken by Alexander Liberman.

42. Volunteer, We Are Ready. 1965.
By Truong Singh (1934-?)
23 x 33 3/8 in./58.5 x 84.8 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

“This poster is influenced by elements of Soviet propaganda design. It shows a strong, dominant figure leading his followers into the patriotic act of volunteering for the war effort. The young soldier at the front of the picture plane has his sights fixed on glory as he strides out proudly holding his enlistment paper with a determined and resolute expression. The purpose of this poster was to engender patriotism and a community expectation that the younger generation would make sacrifices for an independent and unified nation and enlist into the armed forces. In reality, many young men and women did not enlist voluntarily into the People’s Army of Vietnam. The army comprised mainly of ‘conscripts’ who were often ‘recruited’ from their rural villages and rice fields with force. They received four months of basic training before they had their intensive training in specialist areas. North Vietnamese soldiers were known for being tightly knit and an intensely cohesive force. They were strongly indoctrinated with Party dogma and developed steely determination. At the time of unification in 1975, the Vietnam People’s Army numbered one million troops” (Deborah Salter).

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