Stories behind the collection
Frank Pick and the modern graphic poster
The modern graphic poster came into use in the 1890s, revolutionising the fields of publicity, advertising and propaganda. When Frank Pick was given responsibility for London Underground's publicity in 1908, he recognised the potential of this powerful medium. The Underground Group's early publicity had been ineffective; posters were predominantly text based and failed to convey a coherent corporate identity.
Pick started his new publicity drive by commissioning an established commercial artist, John Hassall, to design a modern graphic poster. This was to change the public face of the Underground forever. No need to ask a p'liceman was the first in a long illustrious line of posters, which established the Underground as an important patron of the arts and an acknowledged leader in the field of poster publicity.
Pick was aware that almost every attraction in London was within reach of the Underground, or at least could be marketed as such. Eye-catching posters enticed prospective travellers indirectly, by focussing on the destination rather than the mode of travel.
Publicity soon extended to subsidiary bus and tram companies, for which posters subscribed to the same 'soft sell' approach. This time however, the subjects were idyllic rural scenes to tempt the city dwellers out of London. Pick believed that posters fulfilled a loftier purpose than simply encouraging greater use of transport services. He had a passionate commitment to good design and an enlightened approach to the commercial application of art. Pick saw the potential of posters to enrich the quality of urban life in London.
Unsatisfied with the quality of design offered by commercial artists employed by printing firms, Pick organised commissions directly with artists and illustrators. He approached skilled and respected practitioners of their day, but also younger, lesser-known artists. In 1915, Pick spotted the talent of Edward McKnight Kauffer, who went on to dominate the British poster art field.