The comeback of kitsch

Homes & Antiques’ vintage blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood uncovers the most desirable retro print

Sarah-Jane runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her monthly blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds, vintage-hunting experiences and the stories she discovers along the way. This month she discovers kitsch art and the work of the mysterious JH Lynch

Predicting trends in the world of vintage and antiques can be a tricky business. What do we buy now and what do we hold on to? Since starting Twitter’s #vintagefindhour though, I’ve found that by seeing what finds enthusiasts tweet pictures of, and what collecting tastes they share, you can see collective drifts towards one style or another.

Some genres and eras have enjoyed steadfast popularity, such as mid-century design, country-style and (surprisingly!) chintz. Others, meanwhile, seem to come and go. I have to admit to being astonished recently to find that 1960s and 1970s kitsch has been grabbing the vintage headlines. It is such a Marmite look – some love it, others hate it but whichever camp you fall into, it has undeniably become covetable.

It seems that the reason for this revival is due to a nostalgic tug in the memories of many who have this interior style firmly embedded in their childhood psyche. While researching this blog post I felt it too. I came across a 1960s print titled The Nets by Ben Maile that instantly took me back to my great aunt's house. It was the same print that hung in her front room. It was a vibrant moment of realisation – a room, the details of which I thought I had forgotten, suddenly came to life.

The stand-out stars of the kitsch craze in its current incarnation are the instantly-recognisable retro prints of the artist JH Lynch, in particular the exotic Tina (above). Reproductions of his sultry paintings graced many a 1960s and 1970s wall. Yet, while his works were produced worldwide and sold in their hundreds of thousands, JH Lynch remains something of a shadowy figure.

Known to have been painted in 1961, Tina went on sale in Boots in 1964 and enjoyed instant success. You can still find versions of it in the original gilt frame and glass with the Boots Framing Department tag or, more commonly, in a cream frame. The former will have more value.

Such widespread reknown for a painting was and is a staggering achievement for any artist, yet to this day not much is known about the late Joseph Henry Lynch or his paintings. He was a British artist born in October 1911 who mainly painted glamorous female subjects with exotic names to match, the most famous being Tina, Nymph, Woodland Goddess, Tanya, Lisa and Autumn Leaves. It is thought that the model for many of these was Alexandra Moyens, winner of the Daily Express 1955 ‘Most Beautiful Teenager in Great Britain’ award. His other works include subjects as diverse from this as views of the French town of Annecy, a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill, and a scene showing a traction engine with a dark industrial feel (below).

As Lynch’s work became increasingly mass-produced, his success turned into his downfall as people hunted for new work and original looks. As his art fell from favour, prints of Tina and its companions were considered worthless and were disposed of as tastes inevitably changed. Indeed, Lynch himself played an active role in this. Towards the end of his life he destroyed many of his original paintings or donated them to charity.

Of course, the endless circle of fashion comes around and these brooding beauties are once more being appreciated – though they are less readily available now.

Some of his prints are now rare and command prices from around £100. This success is in part due to the similarity of his style to the Russian artist Vladimir Tretchikoff, who was considered revolutionary in the 1960s for selling his work for £1 in an attempt to democratise the art world. Now Tretchikoff originals can sell for thousands at auction. In 2013, his Chinese Girl sold at Bonhams for over £980,000. 

For those hunting for pieces of kitsch artwork, without the budget for a Tretchikoff, Tina could be the girl for you. It is the easiest of Lynch’s prints to track down, along with Nymph and Woodland Goddess. I have seen starting bids for copies of it online from as little as £9.99.

If only Lynch (who died in 1989) could have lived to see this later success. After my trip down memory lane, I think I will start snapping up a few of his prints, safe in the knowledge that every great artist receives the accolades they deserve sooner or later.

Tweet Sarah-Jane @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm

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