THE FOOL [KOGER, Marijke and Simon Posthuma].

Original artwork commissioned by The Beatles for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.


[London] . 1967.

A coastal psychedelic dreamscape with the sun setting over the sea, a pool with lilies and a fountain shaped as a mermaid, three mountains, trees, flowers and plants and, over the sea, fireworks and stars. Watching over all this are an owl, a parrot and a peacock. Executed on paper (407 x 717mm) in enamel paints heightened in pen and ink. Two white panels (oval in the upper left corner and rectangular in the lower right) are left blank for text. Laid down on card with, on the reverse, a circular sticker depicting a sun and stars. Mounted on pine board on the back of which has been inscribed in red felt tip "To Hill. We Love you. Billy S. and fam. | xxxx | 87-67". Billy S is Ringo Starr who took the name Billy Shears in the fictional Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and "Hill" is Hilary Gerrard, Ringo's manager. The gilt frame (1005x695mm), decorated with clouds, trees, rivers, flowers and mountains is conceived as a continuation of the painting. Affixed to the bottom of the frame is a small cloud-shaped brass plaque engraved "Original Cover Design for the Sgt. Pepper's Album by 'The Fool'". Apart from a small patch (25x3mm) at the bottom right corner of the frame where the gilt has worn off, the frame and the painting are in excellent condition. This original artwork, with its exceptionally rare signature of Ringo as "Billy Shears", is a unique piece of Beatles history.
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is perhaps the most influential album in pop music history. It marked a conscious break with all that had gone before and represented nothing less than a rebirth for The Beatles. They had recently decided to stop touring and were keen to expand their work in more artistic and experimental directions. For three months before they gathered at Abbey Road to begin recording in December 1966, the four had gone their separate ways to rest or work on other projects. Ringo, characteristically, spent the time with his family; John acted and hung around art galleries where he met Yoko; George went to India to study the sitar with Ravi Shankar; and Paul took LSD for the first time.
All these elements – the art, the musical ambition, the psychedelics – came together in Sgt. Pepper and the conceit of a fictional band dressed as multi-coloured Edwardians gave The Beatles the freedom to kick over the traces of their old selves and challenge themselves and their fans. What set Sgt Pepper apart was The Beatles' desire to create a unified artwork both musically and visually. In many ways, it is the first "concept" album and a critical part in that concept was the artwork of which this extraordinary painting was to be, quite literally, the central element.
From an early stage, the album was conceived as a gatefold and this format was retained even when it became clear that there was not enough material for a double album. Peter Blake and Jann Haworth worked on the cover design, bringing Paul McCartney's initial sketches to fruition. But for the inner section of the gatefold, The Beatles approached one of the leading creators of psychedelic art.
The Fool was a Dutch design collective formed in 1961 by Marijke Koger and Simon Posthuma. In 1965, they staged an "electronic striptease" during an Amsterdam "happening" called Stoned in the Streets. Intrigued (who wouldn't be?), the great rock photographer Karl Ferris met them, photographed their wild, trippy, colour-drenched work and published the results in England where they made such an impact that Koger and Posthuma moved to London and exploded onto the music scene. They worked closely with Cream, designing their clothes and posters as well as painting Clapton's and Jack Bruce's guitars. They created album covers for The Move, The Hollies and the Incredible String Band. And they did design work for Procul Harum and were commissioned by Brian Epstein to create concert programmes for the Saville Theatre, which he owned. Inevitably, Lennon and McCartney wanted to meet The Fool which they did, Marijke Koger describing how the two men "knocked on the door and like an apparition suddenly stood in our living room in St Stephen's Gardens [in Bayswater]. There they were…with a dazed expression on their faces, blowing their minds out over the Wonderwall we had painted". A friendship developed between The Fool and The Beatles and, on 10 February 1967, Koger and Posthuma were invited to the recording session. "After that we were commissioned to work on a concept sketch for the Sgt. Pepper album cover. The artwork was supposed to be for the inside spread of the gatefold. The lower right rectangular section was to feature The Beatles' name, the song titles would be overlaid on the upper right 'fireworks' oval and a display of photos of them placed on the upper left oval...".
The Fool's lush, vibrant landscape is a classic example of late-60s psychedelia. It was, however, rejected in favour of a photographic portrait of the band in their coloured tunics by Michael Cooper. The decision not to use The Fool's design was Robert Fraser's (see previous item) whom Koger described as "established elitist art dealer" ("groovy Bob" was clearly insufficiently groovy for the even groovier Marijke). It may have been that Fraser thought that Koger and Posthuma's design was too overtly psychedelic and did not really chime with the "fictional band" conceit that underpinned the album. But Koger and Posthuma seemed not to mind too much. After all they were London's coolest purveyors of psychedelic art, had so much work that they expanded the collective and continued to design for the Beatles, painting pianos, cars, and murals including, most famously, the exterior of the Apple Boutique in Baker Street.
Sotheby's, Rock and Roll Memorabilia, 28 August 1986, lot 49; later acquired by Ringo Starr; presented to his manager Hilary Gerrard in 1987.

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