John Hassall: the poster man

You may not have heard of the artist John Hassall. But you’ve almost certainly seen his most famous work, the Jolly Fisherman. (You know the one: “Skegness – it’s so bracing”). You may have even have seen his other famous advertising creation, the Kodak Girl.

Take a Kodak with you, advertisement for Kodak cameras, British, c 1910.
But have you seen this?

Kensington Battalion Poster  A3

Oddly modern for a WW1 recruitment poster it has the intensity of a panel in a comic, demonstrating Hassall’s ability to create a striking graphic image. Hassall lived in Kensington and was probably known to Sir William Davison, the Mayor of Kensington during the Great War who may have commissioned the picture.

John Hassall (1868-1948) worked in advertising from the late 19th century and was also an illustrator of children’s books. In 1900 he started the New Art School and School of Poster Design in Kensington. One of his pupils was H M Bateman. He closed the school at the start of World War 1 and afterwards started a correspondence college, the John Hassall Correspondence School.

I became interested in Hassall when we used the poster image on our World War One website:  . A little research told me that Hassall was a local man, living in Kensington Park Road. We even found that Lord Kitchener had corresponded with Davison about the picture and suggested some minor uniform changes.

I haven’t found out if Hassall made any other contributions to the local war effort but I now realised he was an interesting artist

This picture from “The Sketch” has one of those captions which don’t seem to add much to the image.


Make one up yourself. It’s like one of those competitions Punch used to have where the readers made up captions to old cartoons which were invariably funnier than the originals (to modern ears anyway). Here’s another:


I’ve left you the caption in this case but the humour in the words evades me. The picture is still funny though – the expression on the shopkeepers face, the shape of the woman’s dress. And the incidental detail3. on the shelves in the background “Try our ill starred brandy”- “all dregs at store prices”

The advert below is a decent visual pun.


Get it?

This one’s a bit mysterious.


The maid, with her old-fashioned brush flees from the threat of new technology, possibly. Hassall returned to this image later (as we may see in a future post)

What is this one advertising?


An insurance company, as it happens. Hassall was strongly influenced by art nouveau artists such as Alphonse Mucha, an artist much featured on posters when I was a bit younger. Hassall has the same sense of a strong line and the bold use of colours as in the poster below featuring another familiar brand name.


Hassall also did theatrical posters

French Maid

Again with a simple black and white image he has conveyed the fun the play, am 1898 farce set in a hotel, is promising to theatregoers.

This one is for Cinderella has the same 1890s sensibilty.


The humourous grotesaques contrasted with the almost androgynous Cinderella.

Hassall’s book illustrations show the same kind of clarity and feeling for colour. All the illustrations below are from Barbara’s Song Book by Cecile Hartog, a book which combines pictures, words and sheet music.

I liked this one called May Day, for reasons regular readers will recognize.

May Day 01

The picture combines a realisic sceen with a stylised background. The song lyrics are adequate:

May Day 02

Here’s another little narrative:

My new dolly 01

I don’t think it’s going to far to compare Hassall with other great illustrators of the time like Heath Robinson and Kate Greenaway.

My new dolly 02

The same girl in charge of the play room is later shown going to bed surrounded by more minimalist pictures.

World of my own 01

Possibly dreaming of the endless hours of childhood play.

The wind



Thanks to my colleague Lucy Yates who started the search into the recruitment poster, and my friend Carrie Starren who pointed out that there was material related to Hassall’s correspondence school in our manuscript collection. Some of that will form the basis of another post coming up soon.

Finally a curious fact. John Hassall’s grand daughter was the actress Imogen Hassall who starred in the Hammer film When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth, among other I have seen.

You can see more Hassall pictures on the V&A website:

Including another one for the French Maid.





5 responses to “John Hassall: the poster man

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