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Percival Albert (Percy) Trompf (1902–1964)

by Katie Spearritt and Peter Spearritt

This article was published:

Percival Albert (Percy) Trompf (1902-1964), commercial artist, was born on 30 May 1902 at Beaufort, Victoria, ninth child of Henry Alexander Trompf, fruiterer, and his wife Catherine Amelia, née Elliott, both Victorian born. Educated at Sebastapol State School and the Ballarat Technical Art School, in 1923 Percival joined Giles & Richards, commercial artists in Melbourne, and designed chocolate boxes and wrappings for the confectioners A. W. Allen Pty Ltd. Later, from his studio at Little Collins Street, he painted and designed thousands of advertising posters commissioned by such prominent companies as Bryant & May Pty Ltd and Palmolive Co. Ltd, and by the magazine, Walkabout. His posters for the Australian National Travel Association and the Victorian Government Railways received widespread recognition for their images from nature (seagulls at the beach and crystal creeks at Mount Buffalo), but his most popular posters drew upon historical events (Captain Cook's landing at Botany Bay and the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge).

His bright, colourful, optimistic pictures had wide appeal, especially during the Depression. Trompf supervised all stages of production, including the printing; most of his posters were 25 ins by 40 ins (64 cm by 102 cm), but large advertising hoardings required 24 sheets connected in jigsaw fashion. On 14 May 1932 he married Vera Johns at the Methodist Church, Armadale. His modest income was augmented by taking life-classes and teaching briefly at the National Gallery schools.

In the 1930s his posters attracted attention overseas: the Royal Society of Arts, London, awarded him first prize in an annual industrial poster competition; his design for a bunch of apples—captioned 'Best Under the Sun'—won the Ideal Label Contest in 1934 from over 700 entries; in 1938 the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned him to design a poster of Banff. Trompf shifted his studio in 1939 to Queen Street, from where he designed posters for the National Safety Council of Australia. On 4 May 1942 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force and was commissioned as a pilot in June; he served mostly at Milne Bay, Papua, and also worked as a camouflage officer; he was demobilized in February 1948 with the rank of flying officer.

In 1946 Trompf's poster of the Jamieson Valley had won first prize (£100) in the Blue Mountains Council's nation-wide competition, but after World War II, as photographs gradually replaced graphic imagery, the demand for poster art fell. In his late fifties Trompf was a graphic designer for books issued by the Australian Publicity Council. While president (1961-62) of Camberwell Rotary, he helped to inaugurate its art show. Slimly built, he combined a keen sense of humour with a warm humanity and was an avid follower of cricket.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, Trompf died of a renal infection on 17 July 1964 at Heidelberg and was cremated. His national and regional images captured the imagination of his contemporaries and found a renewed appreciation in the 1980s.

Select Bibliography

  • Art Training Institute, prospectus (Melb, c1950)
  • G. Caban, A Fine Line (Syd, 1983)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1946
  • Ballarat Courier, 18 May 1923
  • Brisbane Courier, 19 Jan 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Feb 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 May 1938
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 May 1981
  • private information.

Citation details

Katie Spearritt and Peter Spearritt, 'Trompf, Percival Albert (Percy) (1902–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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