“It would sell for upwards of $800,000 – if you could find it,” says Robert Chisholm. He is referring to the original poster for Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi drama Metropolis, a “coming attraction” poster of the variety that was pasted up in cinemas, then most often thrown away. It is precisely this kind of engaging graphic ephemera that is plied by New York’s Chisholm Larsson Gallery, whose stock includes fin de siècle wine and spirits posters, richly coloured Spanish bullfighting adverts from the 1930s and star-spangled 1940s enlistment-drive imagery – all intended to be seen for a short time, but here given lasting relevance.
“Almost every day something new comes through the door. We bought 16 unique ocean-liner posters from one person yesterday,” says Chisholm, who founded the shop with Lars Larsson in 1974, following a formative career at a New York auction house that specialised in art and furniture. “I realised I could recognise good art, even in unfamiliar mediums.” The gallery was built on his strong eye, in a nascent market. “We bought everything we could,” he explains. “We have a huge inventory, buoyed by fortuitous moments in history, such as when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. We had a good contact who regularly visited Moscow and brought back hundreds of posters each time.”
The gallery currently has over 3,000 Russian examples, ranging from a dramatic 1976 piece of Communist propaganda ($1,000), backed in bold red, to a poster for the Russian release of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1919 When the Clouds Roll By ($1,000). “Today, our best clients are ex-pat Russians,” says Chisholm, adding that his customers, including collectors and interior designers but also museums, from San Francisco to Madrid, are as varied and international as the artworks. They might alight upon French advertisements from the 1920s (Cachou Lajaunie confectionery, $3,200), 1930s (a portable gramophone, $1,000), 1950s (record label Pathé-Marconi, $1,100) or a 1970s advertisement for New York’s Belmont Park racetrack ($900) by painter and illustrator Daniel Schwartz.
While some customers come to browse, others have niche briefs. “We had a client recently who wanted six bread-related posters,” says Chisholm, “and a couple of weeks before that a famous cartoonist, who draws cats, bought 18 feline works from us. Some people just want Judy Garland; others want Doris Day.”
The gallery’s archive of film imagery currently includes posters for The Beatles’s 1964 silver-screen debut A Hard Day’s Night ($2,400), as well as the 1945 film classic Mildred Pierce ($2,200). An original 1977 Star Wars poster sells for $1,500, while a rare yellow example with monochrome photography advertising the 1955 re-release of The Wizard of Oz goes for $1,800. “A lot of the film companies don’t have their own posters in their archives, so they often come to us,” says Chisholm. “It’s mind-boggling that they discarded such gems.”