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The Art of the Film Poster

Film posters are the medium through which Hollywood sent its most important message: See This Film. A simple yet effective marketing tool, the film poster summed up on one glossy sheet the glamour and excitement of the cinema. The heyday of the modern film poster may be over, yet the genius of the genre remains. Indelible colours, incredible images and arresting compositions by artists such as Saul Bass and designers like Bill Gold make the ‘one sheet’ poster eminently desirable.

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THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) POSTER, BRITISH. ESTIMATE £15,000–20,000.

Going past the written word, film posters fused visuals into an immediate, universal language. The art film posters enthralled a vast and varied audience and urged them to see whatever was on offer - a sweeping love story, harrowing thriller, breathtaking adventure or uproarious comedy.

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ANSELMO BALLESTER, THE ONE WOMAN IDEA/IL VELO DELL'ISLAM (1929) POSTER, ITALIAN. ESTIMATE £2,000–3,000.

First created in 1890 by Jules Cheret, a French painter and lithographer, only recently have film posters been accepted as collectable art. They are meant to be visual candy: teasing to the eye, beckoning us to look deeper and linger longer at their images. Usually printed on inexpensive paper and never intended to be durable, posters would be thrown away or sent to the next cinema after the film’s initial release. Some were sent back to the studio and destroyed there. Few originals survived - and some of those only by being gifted, forgotten or purloined. This is how a poster for a film as popular as Wizard of Oz can still be rare: the example measuring 30 x 20 in. (76 x 51 cm) in this auction is thought to be the only one known to exist.

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THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) POSTER, US. SIGNED BY ROBERT MITCHUM. ESTIMATE £1,500–2,400.

The famous poster artist Anselmo Ballester designed over 500 posters in less than 50 years. Famous for colour and composition, the example of the poster for The One Woman Idea, an early 1929 Ballester, offered here is, again, the only known one of its kind. The ‘one sheet’ (a standard poster size measuring 41 x 27 in/104 x 69 cm as set by Thomas Edison) for 1955’s The Night of the Hunter is rare in that it is signed by its stars.

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(LEFT) SAUL BASS, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) POSTER, US. ESTIMATE £7,000–10,000.
(RIGHT) SAUL BASS, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) POSTER, US. ESTIMATE £2,000–3,000.

Saul Bass’s poster for The Man with the Golden Arm, a film that shocked audiences in 1955 with its look at drug addiction, was as evocative as the subject itself. The studio insisted, however, that Saul’s design, originally a graphic, incorporate images of the film’s Frank Sinatra and Kim Novak. This enormous 81 x 81 in. (206 x 206 cm) sheet is his original design of which fewer than five are thought to survive.

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SAUL BASS, ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) POSTER, US. SPECIAL. ESTIMATE £3,000–5,000.

The cognoscenti (director Martin Scorsese is himself a collector) may focus on a poster's condition and design. Serious collectors look for rarity and desirable specimens come from both famous and relatively unknown films. Featured in this auction are both the superb Saul Bass poster, thought to be the only one of its kind, for the renowned thriller Anatomy of A Murder and the disturbingly erotic design for Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls, of which fewer than 25 posters survive.

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ALAN ALDRIDGE, CHELSEA GIRLS (1966) POSTER, BRITISH. ESTIMATE £6,000–9,000.

Although needing to be protected from UV light, original film posters needn’t be stored away in a vault. They can, like a fine painting, be hung in one’s home or office, enjoyed as it accrues value. Which film poster suits your collection will depend on personal tastes. The verve, swagger and artistic impact of the film poster can stand alone as a work of art or bring with it associations with the film itself, a cool reminder of a filmic world that always exists forever on a screen near you.

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