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War & Propaganda
50 images from World War I, World War II, and beyond

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.

117. Irishmen / Avenge the Lusitania. 1915.
Anonymous
19 7/8 x 30 1/4 in./50.3 x 76.7 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

The sinking of the RMS Lusitania was one of the most shocking moments of World War I; never had an enemy ship torpedoed a passenger liner carrying civilians from neutral countries during wartime on such a large scale. Here, as the fated ship sinks rapidly into the water and bodies are strewn in the foreground, young men of Ireland are asked to join a local regiment and avenge those 1,200 lives lost. The artist’s initials appear to be W. E. T.

122. The Sword is Drawn. ca. 1917.
By Kenyon Cox (1856-1919)
28 x 42 in./71.2 x 106.7 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

“A stern national goddess, Columbia, calls men to take up the sword of justice to avenge civilian lives lost on the sea, as the ship steaming on the horizon reminds the viewer. The high-mindedness of the Navy recruiting poster’s identification of national honor with female honor is… potent motivation for manly action” (Persuasive Images, p. 54). Columbia holds a scroll that boldly reads, “We can do no otherwise.”

127. True Blue. 1919.
Anonymous
16 x 20 in./40.7 x 50.7 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

This cozy domestic scene is an attempt to appeal to African Americans to support the war effort. The flag hanging in the window lets neighbors know that the patriarch of the household is fulfilling his duties overseas. His family gathers around the fireplace to revere the father’s portrait, which is placed among the portraits of George Washington, then-president Woodrow Wilson, and Abraham Lincoln—who gets top billing over the group. The image of the “Great Emancipator” was commonly used during World War I to encourage African Americans to enlist, though they served in segregated units. Rare!

137. I Want You for U.S. Army. 1917.
By James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960)
30 x 40 1/2 in./76.2 x 103 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).

144. Clear-The-Way-!! 1918.
By Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952)
20 x 30 in./50.7 x 76.2 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

A beautiful and desirable Columbia, laurels upon her temples, appears as the guiding spirit over marines manning one of the guns on the deck of a destroyer. The veracity of this picture is notable; Christy was one of the U.S.’s best war artists, and he produced illustrations to accompany the articles of war correspondent Richard Harding Davis.

148. Fascism is Hunger. 1937.
By Pyotr Karachentsov (1907-1998)
27 3/4 x 40 1/2 in./70.5 x 103 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

This chilling anti-Nazi poster reads, “Fascism is hunger / Fascism is terror / Fascism is war!” Born in St. Petersburg, Karachentsov began designing posters in the late 1920s; by the late 1930s, his work turned increasingly political, leading to work for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union during World War II.

150. Pvt. Joe Louis says. 1942.
Anonymous
18 x 24 7/8 in./45.6 x 63.2 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

Heavyweight boxing champ and army private Joe Louis makes for the perfect morale-boosting spokesman during World War II. He was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949 and served in the Army from 1940 to 1942. The remark quoted here was said by Louis at a Navy charity dinner in 1942, which received a standing ovation and enthusiastic media coverage. Louis was not only a  symbol of racial unity for Americans (however fraught that notion was), but also defied Hitler’s idea of Aryan superiority when he defeated German heavyweight Max Schmeling. This poster was produced by the U.S. Office of War Information.

154. Register to Vote / Welders. 1944.
By Ben Shahn (1898-1969)
39 3/8 x 30 3/8 in./101.3 x 77 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

“Welders was originally meant to serve the cause of anti-discrimination, but was rejected by the OWI as not suitable for mass consumption… [W]hen Welders was subsequently issued by the CIO’s Political Action Committee as a poster for the 1944 presidential campaign, it was well received and was reproduced in the press, with the result that it eventually reached some twenty-five million people. Shahn had produced a poster which transformed an everyday scene into a conception far beyond the OWI’s propaganda for unity in the shipyard or the CIO’s ‘Register and Vote!’” (Shahn, p. 125). Rare!

155. WPA / Production Lines are Battle Lines! ca. 1942.
By Ches Cobb
24 x 36 3/8 in./61 x 92.4 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

Cobb abstracts a factory into a powerful explosion of Deco graphics. It’s a savvy way to remind the people that material production is just as important as battlefield tactics in times of war. The poster was issued by the Division of Information of the W.P.A.’s Southern California Art Project. Rare!

161. FNL de Vietnam. 1969.
By René Mederos (1933-1996)
19 x 27 1/2 in./48.4 x 70 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

Cuban artist Mederos was sponsored by his government to visit Vietnam in 1969. The poster series he produced there—including this image—was meant to encourage solidarity between the two countries, and pay respect to the Vietnamese effort. The text here reads “National Liberation Front of South Vietnam: 9 years of example and victory.”

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