A psychedelic painting originally commissioned for the Beatles classic album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is up for sale at Sotheby’s through December 10th.
The art for the 1967 album is now among the most famous and recognizable in music history – but it could have looked very different.
When the band decided to release Sgt Pepper with a gatefold sleeve, it gave them double the space as a traditional LP, so they turned to experimental Dutch art collective known as ‘The Fool’ to create the central artwork.
Having first been introduced to LSD in 1965, the Beatles were embracing the increasingly popular psychedelic imagery of the time and they felt The Fool’s work captured its essence.
“The Beatles’ roadie, Mal Evans, brought John and Paul to our studio in St Stephen’s Gardens,” said Marijke Koger, one of the founding members of The Fool. “They had seen my Saville Theatre programme cover for Hendrix and The Who and were intrigued by the artwork. They blew their minds over the ‘Wonderwall’ Simon [Posthuma] and I had painted in 1966 on an armoire in polychrome psychedelic imagery, as well as others paintings and artwork.”
The artwork created by the group was a vivid dreamscape of with flowing water, towering mountains, green foliage and colourful birds such as parrots and peacocks, all surrounding a blazing sunset.
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However, the style of the artwork didn’t jibe with Sir Peter Blake’s now iconic cover, or the faux-Edwardian imagery Paul McCartney had envisioned in his original sketch. Ultimately the band rejected the painting in favor of a portrait of the Fab Four taken by Michael Cooper during the shoot for the cover, and McCartney later said of the photo:
“One of the things we were very much into in those days was eye messages… So with Michael Cooper’s inside photo, we all said, ‘Now look into this camera and really say I love you! Really try and feel love; really give love through this! It’ll come out; it’ll show; it’s an attitude.’ And that’s what that is, if you look at it you’ll see the big effort from the eyes.”
Though they chose not to use the painting, the band remained fans of The Fool’s work and developed a close relationship with them.
Later in 1967 the art collective created the outfits worn by The Beatles in the television broadcast of ‘All You Need Is Love’, as well as those worn in the ‘I Am the Walrus’ scenes of their Magical Mystery Tour movie.
The Fool also painted a huge three-story mural on the front of the Apple Boutique in London’s Baker Street; gave new psychedelic paint jobs to George Harrison’s custom Mini Cooper and John Lennon’s gypsy caravan; and painted a number of instruments including several of Harrison’s guitars and Lennon’s piano.
While the artwork going up for auction may not have been used on the album sleeve, it is a fascinating piece of Beatles memorabilia from a significant moment in pop culture history. It also has a rather notable former owner – Ringo Starr.
Starr didn’t acquire the painting until the mid-1980s, and in 1987 he gifted to his manager Hilary Gerrard, signing the back “To Hill | We Love you | Billy S.”, in reference to his Sgt Pepper alter ego Billy Shears.
Online bidding for the painting is opening now and closes December 10th. The painting is expected to fetch over $100,000.