Ale and art

Brewers’ Initiative Post-War

An innovative public-private partnership, ahead of its time by decades, was “Ale and Art”, introduced in 1946. It was a joint effort of the Central Institute for Art and Design and four brewers in London.

The idea was to give commissions to notable London artists to produce original works to brighten the brewers’ pubs. Many were still getting on their feet again after the war.

The storyvia the Associated Press, was reprinted in numerous Australian newspapers. The program was launched at a pub popular with Antipodes airmen during the war, which explains I think the Australian angle.

From the account:

During the next 80 weeks, as he sits in his favourite pub, the Englishman will gaze at the work of over 30 artists, many of whose pictures are well known in the London art galleries. And the pictures are not just “extra-special” advertisements of public houses, quite the contrary. Although the brewers financed the scheme and made some suggestions as to subjects, the artists had a more-or-less free hand. They ranged far and wide through London and the Home Counties, painting churches and villages, hop fields and country market places, maltings and the River Thames.

In the concise, even tone typical of British journalism then, the public spirit of the gesture was made clear: the art was not expected to promote beer and breweries, as such.

Augustus John was the leading artist, quoted in the story. He quipped that brewers should support art because artists are some of their best customers.

Brave London, which had fought hard against the Nazis, was grey, half-destroyed, and exhausted. And still to be on rations for years. In this environment the government and brewing executives had the foresight to boost post-war pub trade by providing paid work to artists, who can usually use it.

Art and Ale would have cost relatively little, and was an inspired example of government and private cooperation. The brightening came in a heightened experience for pub patrons and cash in artists’ pockets.

 

The Cogers pub profiled is, I believe, today’s St. Brides Tavern. See here, at the Pub History site, for more information, source of above image. Cogers was – still is – the name of a storied debating society. The term came from cogitate, not codger a la old geezer.

Cogers club used to meet at or near this pub, it may have been a pub behind called the White Hart.

Both were located in a stylish 1930s Edward Luteyns block. Originally the pubs were separate buildings, elements of which were retained by Luteyns. The club met in one but I think it was St. Brides, which faces Salisbury Square. The other pub is now site of an airy City restaurant, appropriately called Luteyns.

One wonders what became of John’s paintings for the scheme. Maybe some still hang in St. Brides.

John’s name appropriately named a pub in Hampshire, in the village where he lived (perhaps still, but we are not sure).

The art plan would seem ideal for right now, as pubs re-open in the UK and around the world under loosened Covid 19 restrictions. They could all use a fillip.

Some craft breweries pre-Covid encouraged artists in different ways, but it might be done on a wider, organized scale, to help pubs reset after a highly unusual year.

While no one would (or should) compare Covid to WW II, this art plan of the late 1940s would suit our conditions right now.

Note re image: image above was sourced from the Pub History site linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Image used educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

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