Trainee Tuesday: Who were the Aero Girls?

Can you help us to find out?

Paintings in an archive? I was surprised to find portraits of young women nestling in Rowntree’s archive at the Borthwick Institute. I entered the archival world expecting to be immersed in a landscape of mostly paper and parchment documents.  It’s been intriguing to encounter fine art objects in a context where they can function both as Rowntree’s business records and as autonomous artworks.


Credit: Images above are shown with kind permission of Nestlé UK

We call these paintings the Aero Girls and they form a mysterious collection of portraits commissioned by Rowntree’s for use in Aero chocolate advertising, 1951 to 1957, both in print and on national television. Advertising firm J. W. Thompson ran the campaign, selecting esteemed portrait painters and illustrators of the day such as Anthony Devas,  Henry Marvell CarrVasco Lazzolo (aka Victor Lazzola), Frederick Deane RP,  Norman Hepple RA and Bernard Fleetwood Walker among others to create large illustrations of girls’ heads  in oil paint.

Aero advert, 1956. Ref: Borthwick Institute/R/Guardbooks/S10/

Aero advert, 1956. Ref: Borthwick Institute/R/Guardbooks/S10/ (Credit: With kind permission of Nestlé UK)

The painted portrait casts us back to an era preceding the dominance of photography in our everyday lives, and alludes to an experience that is special, unique and cannot be repeated elsewhere. The campaign slogan underlines  this idea by proclaiming, ‘For her, AERO – the milk chocolate that’s different!’ [to the arch rival Cadbury’s Dairy Milk].

Anna. Alice. Wendy. The Country Girl. The Art Student. Who were these women? And what were their stories? Where are they now? What happened to the paintings that are missing from the Rowntree’s collection?

If you were an Aero Girl or if you know of one, the Borthwick Institute for Archives would love to hear from you. Please contact us at whoweretheaerogirls@gmail.com, call +44 (0)1904 321166 or come along to chat to us at our upcoming free exhibition Who were the Aero Girls? on show at York Mansion House in York city centre from 12 October to 20 October 2013.  For more information visit: borthwickinstitute.blogspot.co.uk.

At the top of this post you will also find an interactive image map of our entire collection of twenty Aero Girls paintings with links to York Digital Library of images.

Who were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives is part of Chocolate Week 2013. On display for the first time since leaving Rowntree’s factory will be a carefully curated selection of our Aero Girls collection. A unique opportunity to glimpse into some of our lesser known archive holdings, the exhibition documents the Borthwick Institute’s journey so far to unwrap the mysteries and unearth new information about these little-known artworks. The show also features a special focus on the only living artist, Frederick Dean RP. Visitors are encouraged share their stories, to ask new questions and continue the research, at the Borthwick Institute and beyond.

Aero campaign statement from Rowntree's advertising guard book, 1951. Ref: Borthwick Institute/R/Guardbooks/S10

Aero campaign statement from Rowntree’s advertising guard book, 1951. Ref: Borthwick Institute/R/Guardbooks/S10 (Credit: With kind permission of Nestle UK)

Aero chocolate is still made in York to this day by Nestlé, who took over Rowntree’s in the late 1980s and are official sponsors of our upcoming exhibition. Nestlé archivist Alex Hutchinson said, ‘We’re delighted that some of our old treasures are being shared with a wider audience. The Borthwick Institute do a great job of looking after parts of our archive and we’re really proud to work with them.’

Who were the Aero Girls? Discovering Hidden Art in the Archives takes place at York Mansion House, St Helen’s Square, York from Saturday 12 to Sunday 20 October, from 11am – 4pm daily (closed Tuesday 15 October). Admission is free.

1 comments

  1. […] my last blog on the hunt for the mystery 1950s Aero Girls, a more complete picture of the sitters and artists […]

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