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Strictly Blackpool Tower Ballroom

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

Miscellaneous Musings

Fortunino Matania (1881 - 1963)

Two years ago, on the Antiques Roadshow television programme, a woman showed London art dealer Rupert Maas a set of five colour illustrations relating to Blackpool Tower in the 1930s. Her father, who worked at Blackpool Tower, found them discarded in a skip. Maas confirmed that they were watercolours, not prints.

Fortunino Matania, Blackpool Tower Circus, brochure illustration, 1938

The watercolours were by an Italian illustrator, Fortunino Matania (1881-1963). Born in Naples, but spending his working life in England, Matania became one of the most prolific and acclaimed illustrators working in London in the first half of the 20th Century. The ‘realist’ tableaux he created for magazines such as The Sphere and Britannia and Eve were highly popular with their readership. Many of his works were executed from memory with few preliminary sketches, but for other compositions he posed models dressed in relevant costume. He possessed a large collection of costumes, props and other artefacts that were used to aid authenticity in his works. He was once ordered to pay five guineas costs when he was taken to court for possessing numerous firearms without having a firearms certificate. These, he claimed, had been sent to him from the War Office to aid him painting propaganda works for

the Government.

He came to illustration in his early teens having learnt from his father, Eduard, a successful painter and illustrator in Naples. Indeed there was a whole dynasty of artists in the Matania family – Ugo Matania, Eduard’s nephew, known for his illustrations of Sherlock Holmes also worked for magazines in London; Ugo’s son, Bruno, was an architect and sculptor, and Bruno’s daughter, Tulia, a painter and sculptor.

Fortunino Matania

These watercolour illustrations were for a 1938 Blackpool tourist brochure. Presumably Matania visited Blackpool to make preliminary sketches, completing the illustrations back in his studio

More recently the Blackpool Tower ballroom has undergone some refurbishment work, which included cleaning and repairing its lavish rococo detailing, and renovating its renowned wooden dance floor. A dance floor used annually for the Strictly Come Dancing television programme. The ballroom was reopened on 23 January.

Fortunino Matania, Blackpool Tower Ballroom, 1938

Matania often used a compositional device of posing figures in the foreground – this can be seen in these illustrations. The Empress Ballroom illustration (below) is a good example. I am certain that these figures were dressed and posed in his studio. Note the figure in the Roman centurion’s fancy dress costume – he was especially known for his illustrations of bacchanalian scenes of ancient Rome at this time. These figures tended to look Italian too, probably using his family and Italian friends as models

Fortunino Matania Empress Ballroom, Blackpool, 1938

Matania was used to creating detailed scenes similar to the Blackpool tourist brochure illustrations, a style not obviously appropriate for poster design – as most skilled poster artists of this era learnt to limit their colour palette to economise on the colours used during the printing process. He was, however, commissioned to design four LMS (London, Midland & Scottish) railway posters, one for Blackpool, three for Southport, another Lancashire coastal resort.

In this post I will just look at one of these posters. It is an interesting example for investigating how a poster is printed, and what indicators help in attributing the date it was printed.

Fortunino Matania, Southport for a Holiday in Wintertime, (102 x 127cm), Printed by Waterlow & Sons, circa 1935

It is surprising that so many art and design history books, and auction houses attribute incorrect dates to posters, especially when clues can often be found within the poster itself, or as a printers code number.

In the 1920s London Underground posters were given fulsome dates – this one 10 April 1920. Later Underground poster dates were abbreviated to the month and year.

With railway posters it is a little more difficult. I have seen a number of different dates attributed to Matania’s Southport in Wintertime poster. It is commonly given an incorrect date of 1925 yet there are least two clear indicators that help in attributing a date. It clearly depicts Southport’s Garrick Theatre on the corner of Lord Street and Kingsway in all its art deco splendour. It was designed by the architect George Tonge, opening to the public in December 1932. Another indicator of the date of the poster can be established from the BGF 840 car registration plate. It could be fictitious, but it is proudly and clearly displayed. BGF was a London registration from post-June 1934. Could this be Matania’s own car?

The date, therefore, must be at least post-1932, but most likely post-1934. Matania did visit Southport to research illustrations for the Southport 1935/36 tourist brochure.

The original oil painting for this poster is in Southport’s Atkinson museum, therefore a comparison can be made between the artwork and the printed artefact. The skilled lithographic artists at Waterlow & Sons of London were given an extremely difficult task of reproducing the subtleties of the original artwork – especially the reflections on the damp pavement and road. As I mentioned earlier in the post, experienced poster artists usually worked with flat colour and a limited palette to make the transfer from artwork to printed artefact a simpler process for lithographic technicians. I cannot begin to work out how many colours were needed to print Matania’s poster, remembering that the printing process at that time dictated colours were printed one by one. Somehow, all the subtleties of the rain-soaked pavement and road with reflected lights have been achieved to great effect. Overall the quality of printing is a tour de force.

Fortunino Matania, Southport for a Holiday in Wintertime, oil painting artwork, circa 1935, the Atkinson Southport.

Strangely, but unsurprisingly, the elegantly dressed figures in the foreground give the scene an almost continental (Italian!) feel. The lonely female on the right is intriguing. Does she have a partner? Perhaps she is positioned on the right for compositional effect.

Can anyone identify the make of the car?


David Phillips
David Phillips
Mar 22, 2022

Graham, I think that the car is almost certainly a BMW.

The grill shape is very distinctive.

Possibly a BMW 303 (1932-1934)


Mary Casserley
Mary Casserley
Feb 04, 2022

beautiful. I knew the bottom image from my interest in Railway posters, but I didnt realise its history in oils, Thank you.

Graham Twemlow
Graham Twemlow
Feb 04, 2022
Replying to

Ha, Mary, thank you once again. Each of Matania's posters tell a story.

Yes, these originals were painted in oils and incredibly difficult to reproduce via chromolithography - maybe 10-15 different colours



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