Step Into Film History: Bonhams & TCM Auction Classic Movie Posters

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Bonhams and Turner Classic Movies (TCM) have collaborated for quite the impressive Picture Perfect: the Art of Movie Posters exhibit and auction. Taking you through film history, from Marilyn Monroe movies to the Bond series, “Picture Perfect” is an auction exploring the history of cinema’s most important marketing tool… those colorful, eye-popping, eye-catching movie posters.

The sale will take place this Monday, July 20th at Bonhams Los Angeles. The exhibit weaves you from foreign posters to the ones of the major studios: MGM, Paramount, FOX, etc., featuring more than 200 vintage movie posters, pieces of original poster art and lobby art from the earliest days of cinema, through the Golden Age to the modern blockbuster. Highlights will be on preview at Bonhams New York in Madison Avenue from June 13-16 and a full exhibition of all works in the auction will be on display at Bonhams Los Angeles from July 16-19.

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By the 1930s, the major Hollywood studios had perfected the movie poster in the form that we know it today, most often featuring a large portrait of the lead actors against a background that gave some indication of the tone of the film. Examples on offer include an extremely rare poster for Top Hat ($30,000-40,000), with a charming image of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; and ‘one sheets’ for This Gun for Hire and Sunset Blvd. ($12,000-18,000 each), featuring Veronica Lake and Gloria Swanson, respectively.

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Early on, the studios used the same artwork nationally and internationally, but during World War II the studios began to target viewers in other countries, which led to creating original artwork for each segment of the international market. Picture Perfect features several examples of post-war Italian posters featuring lush, original artwork by the three godfathers of Italian poster art: Alfredo Capitani, Anselmo Ballester, and Luigi Martinati. Capitani’s gorgeous rendering of Rita Hayworth as Gilda ($20,000-30,000) and Ballester’s timeless portrait of the actress as The Lady from Shanghai ($20,000-30,000) are two classics of the Italian film poster genre. Also on offer are two Italian posters for Federico Fellini’s classic La Dolce Vita ($10,000-12,000; $20,000-30,000), featuring Anita Ekberg.

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By the 1960s, the studios disbanded their in-house art departments and began using outside agencies to create poster art. Freed from the studio template, poster art entered a new era of creative freedom, and Picture Perfect contains some of the best examples, including 2001: A Space Odyssey (Starchild style 30×40, $2,000-3,000), Star Wars (British quad, $1,500-2,000) and Jaws (one sheet, $500-700). The sale also features original poster art from this period, including a Jim Pearsall drawing for the Chinatown poster ($2,000-3,000), preliminary artwork for Blade Runner ($1,000-1,500), a Bob Peak painting for Apocalypse Now ($7,000-9,000) and a preliminary painting for Star Wars by Dan Goozee ($8,000-12,000).

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