Guest post on the TUC Library’s WWII poster collections

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The following blog post has been written by our volunteer Jenni Rockliff, who is working on the poster collections:

There are three World War II propaganda posters in the TUC Library poster collection which are by the artist Blake. Donald Blake (Frederick Donald Blake) was born in 1908 in Greenock, Renfrewshire. When he was two his family moved to London. From the age of 13 he went to Camberwell School of Arts and Craft (now Camberwell College of Arts, part of University of the Arts London). At the age of 15 Blake went to work as an architectural draughtsman in the building trade. He continued to study part time at Goldsmiths College and Brixton School of Building (this became Brixton College for Further Education, then the University of the Southbank’s School of Building. The site is now the Ferndale Centre in Lambeth). Blake became the head of the drawing office and worked on swimming baths, pub fronts and cinemas.

From 1940 he worked producing propaganda for the Ministry of Information of the British Government including artwork for numerous posters including the three posters in the TUC Library Collections. He also produced war maps and battle impressions for the Daily Express, did other freelance work and began to exhibit his work.

After the war he worked as an artist and a freelance designer producing work for the aircraft industry, the railways, local authorities, Readers Digest and on road safety campaigns. There are a number of railway posters with artwork by him listed on the Science Museum’s web site http://collectionsonline.nmsi.ac.uk/detail.php?type=related&kv=19978&t=people

In the 1960’s Blake became a full-time painter with exhibitions around the world. He moved more towards abstract representations. He lived in Wimbledon for many years and travelled and painted in Cornwall and Tuscany. He was involved with the RI (Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours), the RSMA (Royal Society of Marine Artists), the NEAC (New English Art Club), the Chelsea Arts Club, the Wapping Group of Artists and the London Sketch Club.

Two of the posters in the collection, by Blake, were produced to publicise the supply of arms and military equipment to the Russians. One of the posters depicts a convoy of ships, possibly an Arctic convoy, travelling to Murmansk in Russia. The painting is in blues and lilacs which give the impression of the cold sea and winter skies. Russian fighter planes are shown flying above the convoy, while a German plane is falling into the sea in flames, after being hit by gunfire from one of the ships. The only red in the painting is on the St George’s Ensign on the stern of the Royal Navy ship in the foreground, the red stars on the Russian planes, the gunfire from the ship and the flames coming from the burning German plane.

Another poster shows a convoy of US and British lorries carrying supplies overland to Russia. The lorries are shown moving along a road which is snaking its way through a range of mountains, across a plain and up a steep hill in the foreground. The mountain range in the background is painted in the same browns, yellows and greys as the lorries in the convoy. The sky has hints of a sunrise or sunset with similar colours to the rest of the painting. British planes are also shown flying over the convoy.

The third poster is factual and presents information on ‘The epic of Malta G.C. June 1940-July 1943.’ It has a map of the southern part of Italy and the islands of Malta and Sicily, with parts of Tunisia and Malta shown. The location of various targets that were attacked during the period are shown on the map.

There is more information on this artist and examples of his artworks on a web site dedicated to him at: http://www.fdonaldblake.com

For more information about the TUC Library and how to access the poster collection, see our website http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/tuc

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