Special art collection on show now at Upton

Upton House Shell exhibition
Upton House Shell exhibition

Upton House is celebrating the achievements of its former owner Lord Bearstead and its reputation as a venue for displaying fine art by hosting a special collection of art work created by The Shell Transport and Trading Company to advertise the golden age of motoring.

It is the first time the selection of posters and original artworks – on loan from the Shell Advertising Art Collection – has been exhibited in the former country home of Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted, who was chairman of Shell for 25 years and son of the company’s founder, Marcus Samuel.

The 1930s marked the peak of creativity for Shell advertising, coinciding with the number of private cars on British roads reaching one million at the start of that decade.

Under the direction of its newly-appointed advertising manager, Jack Beddington, Shell ad campaigns took a new route, using subtle themes and catchy slogans to promote not just the product, but the joys and exhilaration of motoring, the hidden treasures of the British countryside and the extraordinary range of people who relied on Shell to fuel their vehicles.

Upton’s exhibition is centred on one of these iconic advertising campaigns entitled ‘These People Prefer Shell’.

The campaign simply claimed all sorts of people preferred and used Shell, from theatre-goers to gardeners using slogans such as Judges prefer Shell and Doctors prefer Shell. But then so did actors and even footballers, who at the time were on £8 a week with £2 for a win. Michelle Leake, Upton’s assistant collections and engagement manager, said: “As a committed arts patron, both historical and contemporary, the Shell company’s advertising, and especially its promotion of British artists, would have sat very well with Lord Bearsted during his time as Shell chairman in the 1920s and 30s. He was personally an extraordinary collector of historical and contemporary art.

“The ‘lorry bills’, as the posters were known, acted as a travelling picture gallery, taking art out onto British roads for everyone to appreciate. We feel all our visitors will enjoy the fascinating and often amusing story surrounding the creation of these artworks, especially those who are or were involved in the great evolution of motoring that took place in the Midlands, which was the heart of the motor industry.”

The display, in the Squash Court Gallery, is part of a rolling programme at Upton. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/uptonhouse for details.