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War & Propaganda
25 powerful images from World War I and World War II.

While most advertising posters implore action from their viewers, propaganda posters must incite a response with a sense of urgency and avoidable consequences. Whether designed for recruitment, conservation, patriotism, or women’s contributions, these images harness the power of emotion as well as the impetus of political action.

109. Join the Marines! ca. 1918.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
28 3/4 x 40 in./73 x 101.7 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

This poster is not only a rarity of Flagg’s work—it’s also a rare example of a war poster focused not on urgency and patriotic duty, but rather on a sense of excitement. Travel? Adventure? Join the Marines! This fellow certainly seems to enjoy his exotic adventure of leopard-wrangling. And in a sea of recruitment posters touting duty and sacrifice, perhaps this image is exactly what young recruits needed to see to feel persuaded to enlist. It’s possible this poster resulted from rush printing; it appears to be printed directly from the maquette.

110. Wake Up, America! 1917.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
28 1/4 x 41 1/8 in./72 x 104.5 cm
Est: $6,000-$8,000

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 104 years ago.

111. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
30 x 40 3/4 in./76.2 x 103.6 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

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). This poster includes the stamp of the U.S. Army recruiting station in Manchester, NH.

113. Patriotic Turkey : Painting. 1918.
By Orson Lowell (1871-1956)
25 1/4 x 30 3/8 in./64.5 x 77.2 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

This is the original painting for what would become the cover of Leslie’s Magazine, published on November 23, 1918. Released just 12 days after World War I ended, the issue was subtitled “The War in Pictures.” Lowell appropriately combined the theme of the issue and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday by giving us a pert turkey dressed in a combat helmet and the stars and stripes on his feathers. We just hope this turkey was spared from becoming dinner. Lowell was the son of a landscape painter; he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York, where he found immediate success creating illustrations for the top magazines of the time, including Scribner’s, Collier’s, and Life.

115. Colored Man is No Slacker. 1918.
15 3/4 x 20 in./40 x 50.7 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

“Colored Man is No Slacker”—or rather, he’s no draft-dodger. For this World War I enlistment ad, an African American infantry unit marches with the American flag held aloft as a couple tenderly says goodbye. Patriotism is both literally illustrated and subtly implied with notes of red and white punctuating the flowers around the woman’s blue dress; “these are good people who serve their country,” the poster intones. In fact, more than 350,000 black men, trained and deployed in segregated units, served in the U.S. military during World War I, and 42,000 of them saw action in Europe. There’s no denying the conflation of American ideals at this time: Americans were encouraged to enlist, to form a strong united front, to fight the evils of Europe together—and yet the troops were segregated, and black men were usually given burdensome non-combat shifts. The Peters Sisters astutely highlighted this oxymoronic ideology in their 1919 poem, “The Slacker:” So when the Victory is won / And the world is at peace / When the shedding of blood is done / And mankind again is free / Uncle Sam, if giving up life / For the deliverance of men / Does not give all, equal rights / Who will be, the slacker then?

117. I Want You For the Navy. 1917.
By Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)
27 1/8 x 41 1/2 in./69 x 105.4 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

This sultry Christy girl was created at precisely the same time as Flagg’s Uncle Sam, and both are saying “I Want You”—but with ever-so-slightly different inflections. Not only is this an interesting comparison to Christy’s “Gee!! I Wish I Were a Man” (see next lot), but the sheer sexiness with which she dons the sailor’s dress uniform anticipates the Van Heusen shirt campaigns of many years later.

124. Keep Calm and Carry On. 1939.
15 x 20 in./38.2 x 50.7 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

Although this poster is now iconic, it was never seen during its intended time. In 1939, the threat of invasion in the United Kingdom was imminent. The British Ministry of Information commissioned three posters to boost public morale, each with a motivational message and the royal crown at top. Two of the posters were widely disseminated (though not well received), but this one was held back, and meant to be displayed only once the German forces invaded and the country was weakened. The invasion never came, and the nearly 2.5 million copies of “Keep Calm and Carry On” were packed into storage; later, most copies were scrapped for pulp. This particular rare artifact was stowed away in a wardrobe in an old RAF airfield in Cambridgeshire.

128. Four Freedoms. 1943.
By Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Each: 40 1/2 x 56 in./102.7 x 142.2 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

The Four Freedoms are probably the most ambitious and serious work by Rockwell. New York-born and trained, he became the artist of small-town America, best known for the 322 covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post between 1916 and 1963, some of which were also produced as posters. A supreme draftsman, his unique ability to give visual expression to the American Dream was also employed in major advertising campaigns, including that of the U.S. Government for support of the War Effort. It was FDR who distilled the causes for which we were fighting into Four Freedoms. Only Rockwell could have represented such big ideas in his homey, folksy way without over-sentimentalizing or trivializing them. He undertook the paintings on his own initiative. It was only after he had failed to interest the government in them and they had been published in the Saturday Evening Post that the government saw their potential and used them in poster campaigns for both the war effort in general, and specifically War Bonds. Not only were they a popular success, but FDR himself expressed his happiness with them. The original paintings are in the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This is the larger format version of the series. (4)

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