Public art in the 1930s is today synonymous with the Works Progress Administration–a New Deal Federal program that underwrote regionalist and modernist fine artists by commissioning their work for murals that can still be seen throughout the United States. Less often remembered is how private industries during the Great Depression and World War II became patrons of the arts as well. In order to bolster a negative public image for profiting in a time when citizens struggled, to associate themselves with patriotic wartime spirit, and simply for tax write-offs companies got into the art game. One of the most notable corporations to tie themselves into the contemporary art scene of the day was the pharmaceutical manufacturer Abbott Laboratories. Struggling after the inception of new laws and committees by the government to set standards for the food and drug industries, Abbott, like many other companies, patronized the arts in an effort to retain good standing among doctors, businesses, and the American public. Collecting pieces from WPA, Modernist, and Regionalist artists Abbott would send these original pieces on touring exhibits across the United States with the nationwide effort to sell war bonds.
Iconic artists like E. McKnight Kauffer, Grant Reynard, George Picken, John Steuart Curry, Peter Hurd, Thomas Hart Benton and many others worked on commissions for Abbott, particularly to create visually iconographic war propaganda images, like the ones seen below.
As well as keeping the original commissioned pieces as part of their collection, Abbott published these images in its magazine What’s New which was sent out to its clients. Geared toward professionals, Abbott commissioned fine artists operating under the assumption that people in such high standing as doctors would be able to recognize “good art” and therefore have more respect for the pharmaceutical company. These magazines are scarcely seen in 2015, but we have recently acquired a sizable collection, which we have been poring over and are thrilled to be offering for auction via eBay.
The images range from ominous to inspirational, with cover art geared towards selling war bonds and giving off a very patriotic American vibe while the interiors explored the newest breakthroughs in medical technology as well as highlighting medics and their efforts abroad during the war. They offer a time capsule, and a visual feast which we are delighted to be able to share.