A Stupendous Large Hand Painted 'Wall Of Death' Fairground Panel Sign by J Bell


Origin: English
Period: Early/Mid Twentieth Century
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1930-60
Width 61 inches
Height: 47.5 inches
Depth: 0.5 inche

Presenting fairground art at its very best is this truly wonderful hand painted vintage sign in fantastic all round condition, designed to draw in the crowds at fairgrounds all over this fair land.

Suspended from two corner holes, the panel, painted naively with a mainly sunburst yellow ground and bordered by a ruby red border, boldly advertises the “Wall Of Death” in turquoise and teal blue shadowed script. The board depicts three riders, of 1930s era, two on motorcycles and the central rider in an Austin Seven motorcar; each numbered 6, 8 and 4. Smoke billows from the exhausts and the look of fiery concentration on the driver’s faces is splendidly captured amongst the dappled faces of the crowd, brightly coloured vehicles and screeching tyres. The panel is signed lower left ‘J Bell’.

Measuring around five by four feet, there are a few scuffs consummate with age and the edges suffer from nicks here and there but the condition is generally very good.

The very first Wall of Death purportedly appeared at Coney Island Amusement Park in New York in 1911 with the first perpendicular walled version surfacing from around 1915. The Wall of Death has the audience viewing the spectacle from the top of the drum, looking downward whilst the riders start at the bottom centre and ascend a ramped section until they gain enough velocity to drive around the walls, horizontally to the floor.

In the UK they enjoyed a period of vast popularity from the 1930s until the early 1970s and all of the major fairs would have had at least one Wall of Death as part of the overall set. Many different stunts were tried and it was quite common for a lion to be taken on the wall in a sidecar whilst bears and monkeys would also be featured. The Austin Seven motorcar was also adapted for riding on the wall, as we see depicted in this panel. There are only three Walls of Death in the United Kingdom performing today, traveled by Graham Crispey, Ken Fox and Allan Ford; the others not being able to meet the exacting standards required nowadays.

The fact that the Wall of Death is almost extinct in fairgrounds today makes this artwork even more desirable, and the quality of the painting, the condition, and the sheer size of the panel all contribute to produce a sight to behold.

Perfectly capturing the noise, speed, and smell of this never to be forgotten experience; this is a real decorative gem.