Vintage Beggarstaffs Hamlet vertical banner Poster
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Poster for a performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, by The Beggarstaffs, 1894.
The Beggarstaff Brothers, officially known as Beggarstaff, J. & W., was the appellation under which the British illustrators, William Nicholson and James Pryde, published their celebrated posters.
The Beggarstaffs were brothers-in-law James Pryde and William Nicholson who opened an advertising design studio in 1894. The Beggarstaffs were known for their new technique, collage, using cut pieces of paper moved around on a board leaving a figure incomplete for the viewer to decipher. This is shown in the poster for Kassama Corn Flour where only black and yellow is used. By doing so, the viewer has to decide where the figure ends and basket end and begin as well as decipher the objects from the background. They completely ignored the floral trend of art nouveau, which made their work although an artistic success, a financial disaster. One of the posters they lost money on was their most famous poster; Don Quixote made for Sir Henry Irving’s production at the Lyceum Theatre. It was never printed because the client decided, “it had a bad likeness.” Incidents like these caused the partnership to split and left each artist to work on their own.
On May 10, 2004 Swann Galleries set an auction record for a work by the Beggarstaff Brothers when they sold one of only three known copies of the poster A Trip to Chinatown, London, 1894 for $43,700. Their original design was altered by the printer, Dangerfield, who decided to add a background colour and pseudo-Chinese typography. These changes infuriated the Beggarstaffs and explains why the poster went unsigned, as they refused to put their name on a work they no longer regarded as their own. Still, the poster achieved world-wide acclaim, and, even in its own day, was considered extremely rare and expensive.