Net Gains

Just in time for Wimbledon, a new exhibition tracks more than a century of tennis-inspired advertising

The word Wimbledon conjures images of grass courts, fresh tennis whites, royal spectators—all served with a side of strawberries and cream. A new exhibition at the nearby Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum would have us add another item to the list of associations: iconic advertising posters. Wimbledon: Powerful Posters catalogs a wide array of brands’ attempts to use the glamour of tennis to sell everything from vacations to men’s tailoring to beverages not normally associated with athletic activity. “It may seem surprising to us today that we have posters showing tennis-playing characters enjoying lager and brandy,” museum curator Anna Renton says. 

A triptych of vintage tennis advertisements
Forty-one posters and two artworks highlight the ways tennis was used to sell everything from fruit to suits

The exhibit spans more than a century and is divided into four themes: travel, food and drink, the arts, and fashion. Highlights from the Tennis Holidays section include 1920s- and ’30s-era posters designed to entice the well-to-do to visit ski resorts during the summer months, while Tennis in the Spotlight explores the sport’s influence on popular culture through theater, dance and film. American actress and director Ida Lupino used on-court action to add excitement to her 1951 film Hard, Fast and Beautiful. (Tennis was evidently the only thing the film had going for it: “The film’s one attraction is that Miss Lupino has loaded it well with scenes of ladies playing tennis.... So, for those who like to look at tennis, there may be some virtue in this film,” wrote New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther at the time.)

Fuelled by Tennis showcases the way brands have used tennis to sell drinks—including the aforementioned lager and brandy, which made a 1925 appearance courtesy of posterist Joseph Stall—over the years. Efforts to link tennis and fashion, meanwhile, began as early as 1900, with a poster advertising the International Tailoring Company. We’re sure the ITC’s wares were plenty dapper, but, admittedly, we’re more partial to Ralph Lauren's Wimbledon-inspired offerings.
A triptych of vintage tennis advertisements
Depicted as fashionable and healthy, tennis players are the perfect combination for any advertisement

No matter your interest in art, tennis or both, Powerful Posters presents a nice addition to the usual routine of Champagne and strawberries and cream (not to mention a fine way to while away a rain delay).

Wimbledon: Powerful Posters in on display through March 2016 at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, which is home to more than 600 posters in all, accompanied by artist Yulia Brodskaya’s official poster for the 2015 Championships.
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LORELEI MARFIL is a London-based journalist who has written for publications including WWD, Harper’s BAZAARGlamour and Interview