In an attempt to understand how meaning is created and circulated within culture,  I am reading Representation, edited and partly written by Stuart Hall. I can’t recommend this book highly enough and I could go on, but instead I will get to the point, which relates to a childhood memory.

I recall a copy of the above poster displayed, appropriately enough, on the wall by the washing machine in my childhood home. I used to look at it a lot, probably in admiration of its kitsch aesthetic (please forgive me- this was the 80’s) but now it was being represented in a cultural context.

For anyone who doesn’t know (as I didn’t) the image is a reproduction by Pears soap (with the addition of a bar of the famous soap) of the painting Bubbles by Sir John Everett Millais, which was used in advertising campaigns. Other campaigns employed imperial racism and class denigration to create notions of the soap as a “technology of social purification” (McClintock)

Thomas J. Barratt, the man behind these campaigns, was awarded the accolade of ‘father of advertising’. In her essay Soap and commodity spectacle, Anne McClintock calls Barratt’s appropriation (with the artist’s permission) of the painting Bubbles for commercial purposes “a piece of breathtaking cultural transgression.” She adds, “….he transformed the artwork of the best-known painter in Britain into a mass produced commodity associated in the public mind with Pears. At the same time, by mass reproducing the painting as a poster ad, Barratt took art from the elite realm of private property to the mass realms of commodity spectacle.”

I’m not sure which I dislike more…..


Joanne Herbert