Record-breaking Guinness prints at Pallant

An exhibition of lithographs produced by Guinness Breweries to promote the first Guinness Book of Records  opens this month in Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery’s De’Longhi Print Room.

Bernard Cheese, A Fisherman’s Story, 1956, colour lithograph, © Chloe, Joanna and Sarah Cheese
Bernard Cheese, A Fisherman’s Story, 1956, colour lithograph, © Chloe, Joanna and Sarah Cheese

Launched in 1956, The Guinness Prints began with a set of six lithographs created by artists including Edward Ardizzone, Bernard Cheese and Barnett Freedman, all illustrating a record chosen from the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records (as it was originally known). The prints were largely forgotten until recently and this exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, in association with Emma Mason Prints, marks the first time the works have been displayed together in a public art gallery.

Intended to be hung in pubs, bars and canteens to promote the Guinness Book of World Records – itself conceived as a marketing tool for Guinness Breweries that would settle debates in pubs – two sets of lithographs were commissioned in 1956 and 1962. They depicted records that reflected working class interests such as darts, pigeon racing, horse racing, fishing and football. As well as fulfilling the mid-century idea of ‘Art for All’, the prints provide a strong sense of social history by capturing the interests of everyday people at the time.

Ronald Glendening, Cycle Racing, 1956, colour lithograph, © The Estate of the Artist
Ronald Glendening, Cycle Racing, 1956, colour lithograph, © The Estate of the Artist

Like the much better known School Prints (1946-49) and Lyons Lithographs (1946-55), the prints capture the sense of optimism and democratisation of art in the post-war period. A desire to brighten public spaces led to many commercial organisations commissioning artists to create public works and bring art to the masses. These included London Transport, Shell Mex and regional railways as well as lithography series such as The Festival of Britain Series (1951) and The Coronation Series, from the Royal College of Art (1953).

The initial project was led by artist printmaker Barnett Freedman who was advising Guinness Breweries on how the arts could play a role in its communications with the public. The six artists chosen to make the first lithographs in 1956 were Edward Ardizzone, Edwin La Dell, Bernard Cheese, Brian Robb, Ronald Glendening and Barnett Freedman himself. A number of these artists had already worked with Guinness, such as Edward Ardizzone who had designed posters and booklets for the brewery a few years earlier. Some, including Freedman, Ardizzone and La Dell, had all created lithographs for Lyons. All the artists excluding Brian Robb were students or staff at the Royal College of Art.

Alistair Grant, Pigeon Racing, 1962, colour lithograph, © The Estate of the Artist
Alistair Grant, Pigeon Racing, 1962, colour lithograph, © The Estate of the Artist

Each artist was given a copy of the first Guinness Book of Records from which to choose a record to illustrate. The subject and design were chosen carefully by the artists to ensure the prints fulfilled their two-fold purpose: to brighten up the often drab interiors of public houses, working men’s clubs and works’ canteens whilst at the same time advertising the Guinness Book of Records to a wider audience. The images therefore had to be bright and attractive in order to be seen in the often smoky and dimly lit pubs, bars and canteens, a problem that many other print series from the time did not have.

Rosamund Steed, Sailing at Cork, 1962, colour lithograph, © The Artist
Rosamund Steed, Sailing at Cork, 1962, colour lithograph, © The Artist

The second series of lithographs was commissioned in 1962 when the Guinness Book of Records was fully established. The series was once again a set of six, created by a new group of artists: David Gentleman, Alistair Grant, Richard Guyatt, Leonard Rosoman, Rosamund Steed and Carel Weight. Barnett Freedman was not involved in this series as he had died in 1958 at the age of only 56.

The idea for the Guinness Book of Records came to Guinness Breweries managing director Sir Hugh Beaver after an argument during a shooting party about the fastest game bird in Europe could not be solved by ordinary reference books. Beaver realised that a book that could solve similar debates in pubs across the country could be popular. His hunch was correct, and when the first edition of the Guinness Book of Records was published in 1955 it became a bestseller.

The Guinness Lithographs will be on display in the De’Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery from 19 October 2016 – 15 January 2017. Entry to the De’Longhi Print Room is free.

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