Thursday, 13 June 2013

Lyons Teashops Lithographs (art)

detail from The Dolls At Home 
by Edward Bawden
I was lucky enough to see a few of the Lyons lithographs in the Towner Gallery's collection when I attended a Collection Store Tour as part of my then new Towner membership in January this year. I think I remember that the Gallery owns a complete set of at least one of the three series' and their planned exhibition of the works will also include some of the original paintings and working drawings. I am excited at the prospect of seeing a full gallery on the theme, not least because my membership card means I don't have to pay!

Founded in 1887 and named after its first manager, Joseph Nathaniel Lyons, J Lyons and Co was a multi-faceted company which owned restaurants and hotels, manufactured various foods, had several large department store Corner Houses in London, and also ventured into early computers. It is probably best remembered today for its tea houses, the first of which opened in 1894. Staffed before World War Two by waitresses called 'Nippies' and with distinctive chic decor, the tea shops were a popular treat for many working-class people. Post-war they became more simple with cafeteria-style service and slowly lost their niche appeal. The last tea shop closed in 1984.

Ever conscious of their public appearance and with an eye for showmanship and style, Lyons were not prepared to let the austerity of the war years result in a decline in standards at the tea shops. The company commissioned original artworks from popular British artists of the day, both supporting and promoting British art at a time when it was hardly a priority for most companies. Lyons then produced lithograph prints of the paintings and displayed them in every cafe. The prints themselves became a talking point, attracting more customers, and originals are now very collectable. Artists who benefited from the project include Edward Bawden, John Piper, David Gentleman, John Minton, William Scott and John Nash.

Towner Gallery, Sat 13th Jul to Sun 22nd Sep, Tue-Sun, 10:00-18:00.
Entrance £5.50 adults, £4 concessions, Towner members and under 16s free.

(Apologies for any missing 'W's in my posts at the moment. I had a balsamic vinegar-related mishap with my keyboard and that particular letter keeps sticking! I think I spotted all their absences before I published ...)

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