The Aero Artists

‘We believe that every piece of art work is more interesting to the public if it is given a personal character rather than mechanical perfection. We therefore prefer to get all work done by artists working on their own instead of members of a team in a commercial studio.’ JWT, 1955

The Aero Girls campaign portrait artists were selected by the agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT) who handled Rowntree & Co. Ltd’s Aero chocolate advertising campaigns. JWT’s Art Department, led by George Butler (Head of Art, 1942-61) and Bill Gaskell (Head of Art Buying, 1937-65), prided itself on working with the best contemporary portrait painters and illustrators of the postwar era. JWT’s favoured artists included Royal Academicians, Chelsea Arts Club members, society painters, war veterans and young students of the Royal Academy Schools. The company was keen to showcase emerging artists as well as established ones. All of the commissioned artists were male, except for Mary Potter, who remains the only known female painter.

1950's Fashion photos & illustrations set out on table (JWT_3_9_1_15)

Artworks in the art department at JWT, 1950s. Images from JWT London Collection at the History of Advertising Trust

The Search for the Artists

After spotting the name ‘Deane’ mentioned in a surviving Rowntree archive document about the Aero Girls campaign, we traced the last living Aero painter, Arnhem veteran Frederick Deane to Wales. Deane still has his original contractual letter from Bill Gaskell at JWT which states that he would be paid a retaining fee of £300 per annum. He recalled George Butler’s close links with the Royal Academy Schools in the post-war period, where several of the Aero artists were scouted.

Guardbook_ statement_1951_By_permission_of_Nestlé UK_&_Ireland

Rowntree and JWT Aero campaign statement, 1951.
Ref: R/Guardbooks/W20. Borthwick Institute for Archives

Other artists’ names, such as Anthony Devas, Raymond Gabbott, Henry Marvell Carr, Norman Hepple and Bernard Fleetwood-Walker were written on the back of the portrait canvases. Luckily, Vasco Lazzolo had signed his portrait. Several Aero Girl sitters and their families have also been able to help us to identify other Aero artists such as James A. Grant, Mary Potter, Roy Spencer and Raymond Gabbott.

Written by Kerstin Doble


Tom Rayfield (1996), Fifty in 40: The Unofficial History of JWT London 1945 - 1995, Rayfield Writers, England, p. 80.