Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) present
Picture Perfect: the Art of Movie Posters
Auction July 20th at Bonhams Los Angeles
Los Angeles – June 22, 2015 – Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) present Picture Perfect: the Art of Movie Posters, an auction exploring the history of cinema’s most important marketing tool. The sale – which takes place on July 20th at Bonhams Los Angeles – features more than 200 vintage movie posters, pieces of original poster art and lobby art from the earliest days of cinema, through the Golden Age to the modern blockbuster. Highlights will be on preview at Bonhams New York in Madison Avenue from June 13-16 and a full exhibition of all works in the auction will be on display at Bonhams Los Angeles from July 16-19.
Picture Perfect offers several early examples of the earliest known movie posters such as Thomas Edison’s The Passion Play ($1,200-1,800). Other examples from early cinema include a banner for The Birth of a Nation ($3,000-5,000), a ‘one sheet’ for the 1917 film The Life of Buffalo Bill ($3,000-5,000), and a pair of lobby cards for the first American adaptation of Sherlock Holmes from 1922 ($700-900; $1,000-1,500).
By the 1930s, the major Hollywood studios had perfected the movie poster in the form that we know it today, most often featuring a large portrait of the lead actors against a background that gave some indication of the tone of the film. Examples on offer include an extremely rare poster for Top Hat ($30,000-40,000), with a charming image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; and ‘one sheets’ for This Gun for Hire and Sunset Blvd. ($12,000-18,000 each), featuring Veronica Lake and Gloria Swanson, respectively.
The famous designers
Under the studio system, the studio art departments designed the movie posters and marketing materials for each new release and so the designers of many of the most famous posters of the period are unknown. However, certain artists did distinguish themselves, including Al Hirschfeld, who illustrated the posters for many of the Marx Brothers’ films including A Night at the Opera (jumbo window card, $5,000-7,000); Alberto Vargas, who worked on the campaign for Moon Over Miami (insert, $5,000-7,000); William Rose, who created the poster for Cat People (one sheet, $10,000-15,000); and Reynold Brown, who is represented by his iconic one sheet for Creature From the Black Lagoon ($8,000-12,000) as well as an original painting for Imitation of Life ($6,000-8,000).
Early on, the studios used the same artwork nationally and internationally, but during World War II the studios began to target viewers in other countries, which led to creating original artwork for each segment of the international market. Picture Perfect features several examples of post-war Italian posters featuring lush, original artwork by the three godfathers of Italian poster art: Alfredo Capitani, Anselmo Ballester, and Luigi Martinati. Capitani’s gorgeous rendering of Rita Hayworth as Gilda ($20,000-30,000) and Ballester’s timeless portrait of the actress as The Lady from Shanghai ($20,000-30,000) are two classics of the Italian film poster genre. Also on offer are two Italian posters for Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita ($10,000-12,000; $20,000-30,000), featuring Anita Ekberg.
Creative freedom of 1960s
By the 1960s, the studios disbanded their in-house art departments and began using outside agencies to create poster art. Freed from the studio template, poster art entered a new era of creative freedom, and Picture Perfect contains some of the best examples, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (Starchild style 30×40, $2,000-3,000), Star Wars (British quad, $1,500-2,000) and Jaws (one sheet, $500-700). The sale also features original poster art from this period, including a Jim Pearsall drawing for the Chinatown poster ($2,000-3,000), preliminary artwork for Blade Runner ($1,000-1,500), a Bob Peak painting for Apocalypse Now ($7,000-9,000) and a preliminary painting for Star Wars by Dan Goozee ($8,000-12,000).
To read Matthew Sweet’s article ‘Coming soon’ about the history of movie poster in the latest issue of Bonhams Magazine, click here.