Published: 21/02/2017 14:39:07

Posters & Propaganda: The Art of World War II

The EzeFrame team love anything to do with art, photography or picture framing - that much should be clear by now. What you might not know about us is that we also happen to harbour a passion for history. Recently, we've been brushing up on our knowledge of World War II and, in particular, focusing on a subject area that perfectly combines our various interests: poster art.

It's well known that, in the hands of the right person, art can be a deeply political tool. Just take Picasso's Guernica, painted in response to the bombing of a Basque town in northern Spain, or - more recently - Banksy's provocative, socialist street art.

Art can also play a vital role in political propaganda on a more direct, less conceptual level. Back in the days of World War II, a striking poster design could make all the difference when it came to sending a political message. In some cases, these posters even live on today - in fact, we'd bet a fiver that you know at least one person who has a Keep Calm and Carry On print hanging in their kitchen in a picture frame.

Of course, that striking poster and its famous slogan (which so perfectly summarised the "Blitz Spirit" that Brits came to be known for) was just one created during the war period. Between 1939 and 1945, all kinds of images were produced and circulated amongst members of the public. Some spouted pure patriotism, and others the need for self-control and moderation; what they all had in common was a message of pulling together for the good of the nation, along with some brilliantly inventive artwork.

Food & Rationing

If you know anyone who lived through the 40s you'll know that careful rationing, and a DIY approach to food preparation was a huge part of the war effort. Before war with Germany broke out, the UK imported a huge amount of food from around the world - after 1939, German submarines began attacking British supplies ships and rationing was brought in.

Rationing was a fair way of ensuring that everybody received the same (fairly limited) amount of food, and created a culture of moderation around eating. It was expected, in other words, that you wouldn't eat more than you were allotted, that you would grow and prepare your own food where possible, and that - whatever you did - you wouldn't waste a single bite. In this simple but effective poster designed by James Fitton, that message is made abundantly clear.

Come 1942, some alterations to the official government line had to be made - as shown in this second poster from James Fitton - after concerns were raised about insufficient calcium intake in young children and pregnant women.

In both posters, a striking but straightforward visual is accompanied by a memorable slogan. Elsewhere, it was found that a little humour could be injected to liven things up. This winking pig (designed to remind Brits to save their food scraps so they could be used to feed farm animals) was illustrated by John Gilroy, and has gone down as one of the more memorable posters from the war era.

Staying Safe

Along with sensible food consumption, Brits were also advised on how to stay as safe as possible during blackouts and air raids. One of the strongest messages sent out by the government from 1939 onwards was the importance of evacuating children from London.

As hinted at in this rather frightening poster from 1939, many children, sent away from London at the start of the war, were returned home following a period of relative inaction known as the Phoney War.

In response to this, the government stuck to their guns on evacuation, pleading with families - and in this particular case, mothers - not to give in and bring their children home. The poster strongly implies that this would have been playing directly into Hitler's hands, and indeed, by September 1940, the Blitz had begun in earnest. It would ultimately lead to the death of around 40,000 civilians, around 5,000 of whom were children.

Other war art steered clear of jingoism or fear-mongering in favour of practicality. This charming poster refers to the difficulty many people encountered during blackouts, and suggested an incredibly straightforward solution: wearing white to avoid bumping into one another.

Patriotism

For all their practicality and level-headed advice, none of the posters above would have enjoyed much success without being backed up by a constant push for national pride and optimism. This message was reinforced regularly through speeches from military and political leaders, propaganda films and - of course - supremely patriotic posters.

In some cases, these posters served to arouse national pride, drawing on patriotic symbols like theUnion Jack and reminding us of the strength of the Commonwealth. In others, they flagged up Germany as the enemy through everything from horror film imagery and dark colour palettes, to belittling caricatures.

Perhaps the most striking thing about these posters, though, is how different they all are in style and tone. While some were admittedly more popular than others (see: Rosie the Riveter and Loose Lips Sink Ships), as a collective, these inventive works of art did something invaluable for the war effort, by appealing to many different kinds of people and attitudes.

Guernica might have gone down in history as the most famously anti-war artwork ever created, but these posters certainly did their bit when it came to keeping people safe, healthy and - most important of all - hopeful.

Vintage War Posters for Your Home

If, like the EzeFrame team, you love vintage posters, you'll find plenty available to order through online poster shops and the websites of history museums. Of course, the perfect poster requires the perfect picture frame - which is where EzeFrame's easy-to-use online ordering system comes in.

Simply enter the dimensions of your poster, choose a picture mount, select your picture frame style and let us worry about the rest. We'll put together your picture frame, and deliver it to your home address within a couple of days.

Find out more and make an order at our Picture Frames & Mounts page.