Tony Rawlins

Mad Men and Artists

How the Advertising Industry
Exploited Fine Art

Review of the talk by Tony Rawlins
on July 24th 2019


Tony started his career in advertising in 1965 as a mail boy, working his way up the ranks at various advertising agencies, before finally setting up his own in 1985.  There he worked mainly with the Guinness Company in Africa and the Caribbean over a period of 15 years.

During his lecture, he took us through a light-hearted look at advertising and its use of the fine arts.

Our first fact of the evening was where the name “Mad Men” came from.  It was apparently due to the fact that there was one road in New York where most of the advertising agencies were – Madison Avenue and the men that worked there named themselves “Mad Men”.

The first image we were shown created quite a reaction in the lecture room and that was a picture of the Statue of David wearing a pair of cut-off denim shorts.  At the bottom of the image, surrounded by a black border, was the logo for Levi’s.  This image was the epitome of what Tony was going to talk about.

Advertising has been around since commerce began and in the ruins of Pompeii they found symbols which had been carved into flagstones on the floor as advertising for local amenities and from Roman times, papers saying “vote for me”.  For those who couldn’t read, symbols were used as a form of advertising, for example, scissors for a tailor or a boot for a cobbler.

When the printing press was introduced from Germany this changed everything, and in 1477 the first advert was made for a book called The Pyes of Salisbury.  From this advert then came business cards, bill stickers, army recruiting and of course Coca-Cola (which can’t not be mentioned).

Gainsborough painting of Mr and Mrs Andrews
Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788), Mr and Mrs Andrews (circa 1750), National Gallery

Fine art was introduced initially mainly as a method of self-publicising.  For example, Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews was full of showing off and exaggerations – the landscape tells you it’s autumn and time for cutting the hay fields that they owned, but Mr Andrews is holding a shotgun as if he’s been hunting, which would have been at a completely different time of the year!

Painting called Bubbles by Millais
John Everett Millais (1829–1896)
Bubbles (1886)
Lady Lever Art Gallery

Another example is Jacques-Louis David’s portrait of Napoleon crossing the Alps (1801) on a huge horse unlikely to be used for a dangerous crossing over rough ground.  Delaroche painted a much more realistic version in 1850 showing Napoleon on the back of a mule!

Thomas Barrett was a pioneer of modern advertising.  In 1886, he bought a painting by Millais called A Child’s World, which was later renamed as Bubbles when Barrett turned the image into an advertising campaign for Pears and had a bar of the famous soap added to the foreground of the picture.  The use of this painting for advertising meant that it became the best known of all Millais’ works.

Barrett also found and bought another painting, Monarch of the Glen by Sir Edwin Landseer which became the inspiration for many company logos, including Glenfiddich whiskey and Baxter’s game soup to name just two.

One way to bypass copyright laws is to reproduce something that is recognisable as an old masterpiece; numerous examples are as follows:

One more Tony mentioned which I think was a stroke of genius, was Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q. where he drew a moustache and beard on a postcard of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  Bic then took this image and used it in their advert with the words “Anyone can be an artist” at the bottom.

A brilliant lecture by Tony who had us all laughing during the evening.  If I could suggest one thing, it would be to go onto YouTube and watch the music video for a song called 70 Million by Hold Your Horses! (watch it here).  It features the band in different costumes interpreting 25 famous paintings most of which I’m sure you will recognise.  I couldn’t help but smile through the entire video.

Louise Taylor