Art for All: British Posters for Transport

April 15 2011 - August 14 2011
Sixth Floor

In 1908 the London Underground began a promotional campaign that became one of the most successful, adventurous, and best-sustained branding operations ever attempted. Its posters, along with its distinctive roundel signs and the iconic map of the Tube, helped to foster a civic identity for the city of London. More than five thousand posters have been produced to the present day as part of this ongoing program.

The principal energizing force behind the project, from its inception until 1940, was Frank Pick. Although he trained as a solicitor and statistician with no formal schooling in art, Pick created the campaign when he was appointed Traffic Officer of the Underground Electric Railways London. Some railway lines in Britain had already produced colored lithographic posters before this time, but their campaigns were never as extensive or as imaginative as that of the Underground. When the myriad of rail lines in England were consolidated into four companies—Great Western Railway (GWR), London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), and Southern Railway (SR)—in 1923, they, too, were inspired by Pick’s example to commission posters from a variety of artists.

This exhibition details the history of both the Underground posters and the posters of the four mainline rail companies from 1923 until their nationalization as British Rail in 1948. In addition to tracing changing graphic styles through the twentieth century, the exhibition highlights some unique features of the Underground poster program: the multifaceted career of Edward McKnight Kauffer, the extraordinary commitment to women artists by Pick, and the modes of display and installation of posters in the Underground.

Art For All was originally the title of an exhibition of Underground posters held in 1948 at the Victoria and Albert Museum and organized jointly by the museum and London Transport. The exhibition displayed the original works of art submitted before these designs were sent to the printers and made into posters. The current exhibition focuses on the art truly seen by all: the posters themselves.

Art for All: British Posters for Transport was organized by the Yale Center for British Art.

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Art for All: British Posters for Transport Press Release146.13 KB
Art for All: British Posters for Transport
Art for All: British Posters for Transport
Art for All: British Posters for Transport
Art for All: British Posters for Transport