The National Trust is playing host to a colourful exhibition this May and June, showcasing 30 vibrant, original lithographs from the 1940s and 1950s.
The artworks were commissioned by J Lyons & Co from leading artists of the day, to brighten up their teashops in the difficult years following the end of the Second World War. The fascinating collection now goes on display at Mottisfont, a country house created from a 13th-century priory, set in beautiful riverside gardens near Romsey in Hampshire. The exhibition opens on 2nd May and runs until 5th July. The lithographs are on loan to the National Trust from their permanent home at the Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne.
In the late 40's, Britain was in the grip of austerity. There was very little decorative material available for shops or homes, and few people had money to spend on such things.
J Lyons & Co decided to change the visual landscape by commissioning several series of bright, colourful lithographs for their teashops all over the country. Artists including L.S. Lowry, Edward Bawden, John Piper, David Gentleman, John Minton, William Scott and John Nash were amongst the famous names who contributed work.
They were asked to make lithographs because the prints created using this method are original – the artist draws directly onto a special plate that is used to make a limited edition of a 'unique' image. All the freedom and spontaneity of their mark-making and the freshness of their colour is retained. The Lyons team wanted these works to cover the walls of their teashops, so they commissioned large-scale pieces; each one is 30 inch x 40 inch.
The lithographs were an instant success, and eventually three separate series would be commissioned between 1946 and 1955. Through the company's imaginative approach to interior decoration, many people were introduced to the cream of British art over a cup of tea.
Louise Govier, curator of Mottisfont's gallery, said of the unusual collection: “I find it amazing that the owners of a chain of tea rooms commissioned such wonderful, vibrant art from all the major artists of the day. It's as if your local big brand coffee shop had special works designed by David Hockney and Damien Hirst, instead of generic photographs of coffee beans or Italian streets. In the depths of post-war austerity, these colourful pictures must have been an absolute tonic – and they still lift the spirits now. It's been a joy to work on this show, and to bring such important artists to our corner of Hampshire.”
Visitors to the exhibition can also enjoy the chance to sample vintage-style cakes in the tea room at Mottisfont, inspired by some of the favourites served by Lyons.
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Posted: 17 March 2015
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