Two 1920s prints: the Frivolous Prince and the War Artist.

In November two prints were purchased for the National Football Museum’s art collection.  They date from the 1920s – this is slightly earlier than our focus to find post-war to present day artworks, but the importance of the artists and the quality of the prints meant these were too good to miss out on!

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The many arms of Cocteau’s talents!

The first print is a line-cut or line engraving by French artist Jean Cocteau (1889–1963).  Jean Cocteau was a man of many talents: he was an artist, poet, writer, playwright, filmmaker and designer; and known as the ‘Frivolous Prince’ (the title of an anthology he published in the 1920s). Cocteau had many famous friends in his avante-garde circle, including the singer Edith Piaf, fashion designer Coco Chanel,  and the artist Pablo Picasso – who designed sets for Cocteau’s ballet productions (see an illustrated letter from Picasso to Cocteau in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection here).

The line-cut is called ‘Foot-ball Annonciations’, designed in 1923 and published for the ‘Dessins Suite‘ book in 1924.  It shows two football players, who look as though they are jumping up to a ball which is somewhere off the page.  Dessins’ was published as a series of line-cuts of Cocteau’s early drawings, dedicated to his friend Picasso with the apology: “Poets do not draw. They untie the knots in handwriting and then retie them differently.”  This rings true – you can just imagine the squiggles of handwriting being rearranged into the lines on this print.  My favourite part of this is the delicate laces on the football boots, and the nostrils!

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Jean Cocteau ‘Foot-ball Annonciations’ (1923)

In his book The Difficulty of Being (La Difficulte d’Etre, 1947) Cocteau wrote: “[…] the only sport I like […] is conversation”however various works by Cocteau did depict sport.  Mike O’Mahoney (University of Bristol), the Academic partner for the Art of Football Project, said “Cocteau had a complex relationship with sport (not a conventional lover) but admired the popular culture elements of it and certainly wrote about it at times – including poems”. Perhaps this is why in this piece, the football itself is missing but the players and their emotion and interaction are what remain.

If you would like to find out more, there is an episode of the BBC Radio 4 biographical programme Great Lives which discusses Jean Cocteau, currently available to listen to on the BBC iPlayer Radio here (last accessed 12th February 2018).

The second print purchased is a woodcut proof, entitled ‘Pony the Footballer’ by Paul Nash.  Paul Nash was a British artist, and like Cocteau had many skills – including photography, surrealist paintings, and book illustrations.  Most significantly Nash was an official War Artist for both the First and Second World Wars (his brother John was also an official War Artist – you can see a post on them both by the Imperial War Museum here).

Pony the Footballer is just one of five illustrations done by Nash for the chapter headings in the book ‘Cotswold Characters‘ by John Drinkwater (1921).  A review of the book (and specifically Pony the Footballer) in The Spectator on 23rd September 1922 states:  “The story of Pony, the footballer, is, in fact, merely a skilfully retold version of the tale one may find in almost any number of almost any boy’s paper. We can imagine, however, that the book will attract many readers, for it is pleasant and meditative, and Mr. Paul Nash’s fantastic woodcuts supply an element of agreeable astringency.”

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The museum currently has another Nash artwork in the collection; the Shell Advertising poster dating from 1935. This was one of several artworks by top artists commissioned by the oil company for their early advertising campaigns.  The angles and lines of the goalpost are quite similar to that of woodcut.


Later on in November, these two prints were just a few of the collection items seen by year 6 pupils from The Friars Primary School, who came to the National Football Museum for Takeover Day (Kids in Museums).  They used some brilliant describing words and measuring skills words to document the prints.  I think my love of documentation rubbed off on them, because some of the pupils even wanted to take home copies of my blank database record sheet so they could document things at home! 

Thanks to Goldmark Gallery for alerting me to the Cocteau line-cut after I contacted them initially about the Nash woodcut, and again a huge cheer for the Heritage Lottery Fund for awarding the National Football Museum with funding to allow us to purchase these artworks for the collection. I will be back soon for another exciting update.

Emma

 

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Art detective: finding Karel Lek

As the 1953 ‘Football and the Fine Arts’ exhibition was the starting point for the Art of Football project, I have been going through our photocopies of the price list for exhibited works and the exhibition catalogue to see if I can find any of those listed for sale now.

K. Lek in the Football and the Fine Arts catalogue
Image of Karel Lek’s ‘Off to the Match’ in the NFMs photocopy of the 1953 Football and the Fine Arts exhibition catalogue

A few months ago I came across the name K. Lek in the exhibition catalogue.  I didn’t have any prior knowledge of this artist (shame on me!) – but as there is an image of the work in the catalogue, and the name might be uncommon enough to find online, I thought I would give this a go.  The artwork in the exhibition catalogue is entitled ‘Off to the Match’, and is a wood engraving showing various male football fans.

I didn’t have to dig very deep to find Lek’s first name! A Google search for ‘K Lek artist’ immediately brought up results for Karel Lek.  There was more to read about Karel’s history than I was perhaps expecting.  Born in Antwerp in 1929, Karel came to live in North Wales after fleeing Belgium with his parents during the Second World War. Karel is an active artist, still producing work in North Wales.  This meant that I could try to contact him and find out more about his life, his art, and if he knew the whereabouts of ‘Off to the Match’.

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Missing out at auction…

As part of my role as Art Research Officer at the National Football Museum, I keep up to date with upcoming auctions and private sales of any football artwork which might be relevant to the museum collection. Recently, a colour lithograph came up for auction – ‘Goal!’ by Clifford Fishwick, 1953.  In a similar situation to the Peter L. Peri print we acquired previously (see this post), the museum does already have ‘Goal’ in the collection, but this is a loan. By purchasing one of these lithographs, this would become a permanent addition to the museum’s collection.  So I put in a commission bid with the auction house – this meant the auctioneer could bid on my behalf up to a certain amount (works the same as an eBay maximum bid!).

Clifford Fishwick
Screenshot of the artwork listing on The-Saleroom.com

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Scoring our first purchases

Back in June, the Head of Collections and Exhibitions and I met with Dr Mike O’Mahony, the academic partner for the Art of Football project (University of Bristol). This was a great chance to meet Mike in person, hear about his teaching and research interests, and to discuss our ideas for the next steps of the project.

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Original posters, 20th Century. National Football Museum collection.

At this meeting I showed Mike some of the artworks I had found which are currently for sale, dating from the late 1930s right up to the 2000s. We discussed which of these would be good to pursue for purchase; how they could enhance the collection and how they could be used. Some of the items on the list were a group of 20th Century posters with various football imagery – one of these is a London Transport poster from 1958, and the others are Russian film posters and a Soviet sports propaganda poster.

The latter fall under two of Mike’s specialisms – Art in Russia and the Soviet Union, and the representation of sport and physical culture.  As well as filling one of the gaps in our art collection for original prints/advertising ephemera, the artwork is also striking! And so, these posters were the first official purchase for the project, hooray!  Here I am opening the packages on their arrival.  Look at those designs and colours!

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