Guinness collectors snap up secret stash of unpublished advertising art

Ben Marks of Collector's Weekly says: "I just wrote an article about John Gilroy, who was the illustrator of all those wonderful Guinness ads during the 1930s-1950s. Gilroy created an oil-on-canvas painting as a final proof for each ad. After the ad was approved or rejected or whatever, the canvas would be rolled up and stored away. This went on from the 1930s until 1962, when Gilroy stopped working for Guinness.

"Sometime in the 1970s, a secretive collector bought the entire cache of Gilroy canvases. A few years ago, the Gilroy canvases started making their way onto the art market. Now, former Guinness brewer and Guinness authority David Hughes has written a book about the canvases, as well as Gilroy more generally, called 'Gilroy Was Good For Guinness.'"

“Within the Guinness archives itself,” Hughes says of the materials kept at the company’s Dublin headquarters, “they’ve got lots of advertising art, watercolors, and sketches of workups towards the final version of the posters. But they never had a single oil painting. Until the paintings started turning up in the United States, where Guinness memorabilia is quite collectible, it wasn’t fully understood that the posters were based on oils. All of the canvases will be in collections within a year,” Hughes adds. For would-be Gilroy collectors, that means the clock is ticking.

As it turns out, Gilroy’s entire artistic process was a prelude to the oils. “The first thing he’d usually do was a pencil sketch,” says Hughes. “Then he’d paint a watercolor over the top of the pencil sketch to get the color balance right. Once that was settled and all the approvals were in, he’d sit down and paint the oil. The proof version that went to Guinness for approval, it seems, was always an oil painting.”

Based on what we know of John Gilroy’s work as an artist, that makes sense. For almost half a century, Gilroy was regarded not only as one of England’s premier commercial illustrators, but also as one of its best portraitists. “He painted the Queen three times,” says Hughes, “Lord Mountbatten about four times. In 1942, he did a pencil-and-crayon sketch of Churchill in a London bunker.” According to Hughes, Churchill gave that portrait to Russian leader Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which may mean that somewhere in the bowels of the Kremlin, there’s a portrait of Winnie by the same guy who made a living drawing cartoons of flying toucans balancing pints of Guinness on their beaks.

Guinness collectors snap up secret stash of unpublished advertising art