Artist Spotlight: Harry Riley

Harry Riley: Artist Spotlight

By Yasmin Namdjou MA at Sulis Fine Art

Principally known as a commercial artist, Harry Riley RI’s iconic poster designs of the 1920s-1960s and his bright, joyful and idyllic depictions of British seaside holiday destinations, such as Morecambe, Plymouth, Weston-Super-Mare and Ilfracombe, were used to advertise the British rail network and have come to define Post-War British leisure and travel. He was also known for this work with airliners such as BOAC and Qantas. Although not an easily identifiable name within the echelons of the mid-20th century commercial art scene, Riley’s works pay testament to a highly skilled and prolific artist whose visual style fittingly captures the idealistic and amber-tinted vision of early 1960s glamour that the era’s commercial and travel sectors strove to embody.


Ilfracombe in Glorious Devon's Ocean Coast. Vintage British Railway Travel poster and Plymouth Harbour, Devon. Vintage BR(WR) Travel poster by Harry Riley. c1958 by Harry Riley 

Born in London in 1895, Riley studied at the Hammersmith and St. Martin’s Schools of Art. He specialised as a figure artist, gaining commissions for Selfridges and Fortnum & Mason, as well as working as a cartoonist for the Daily Mail. He was elected member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour and, in the late 1920s, president of The London Sketch Club. Through the broad range of the media he contributed to, including magazines, journals, comics, advertisements and even TV, his commercial appeal set the style for a generation.

Harry Riley R.I. - Early 20th Century Oil, Autumnal Scene.

 Harry Riley R.I. - 1939 Watercolour, St. Servan.

Although seen by millions, his works rarely sold to the public. Here at Sulis Fine Art we have acquired some of Riley’s more contemplative and subdued works of art. Our collection of paintings and pastels shows Riley’s iconic style coming through in more personal scenes. We see his evocation of autumnal palettes seen in his Autumnal Scene, and his able rendering of the tranquility if St. Servan. A personal favorite is View of Forest, purely due to its great contrast to some of his more identifiable and commercial works. In the posters seen above, we see the natural environment commodified and imbued with a packaged sheen that strips the landscape of any of its inherent feral tempestuousness and sublimity. However in View of Forest, the layers of production and advertorial refinement have been stripped back to reveal an artist with an easy empathy and consideration for the natural environment evident in the mellowed tones of the pastel and the sparseness of the composition.

View our collection of Harry Riley's works here.


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