About the collection
London Transport Museum cares for one of the finest poster archives in the world. For 100 years, since Frank Pick commissioned the first graphic poster for London Underground, the company and its successors have kept copies of everything they produced. In the early 20th century, under Pick's guidance, London Transport commissioned work from the best artists and designers in the country. By the 1980s, when the collection was transferred to the Museum, it contained more than 5000 printed posters and nearly 1000 original artworks. The collection has grown steadily ever since, and is now a uniquely comprehensive picture of a century of British graphic design.
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.
Underground posters and the First World War
During the First World War the Underground Group's posters took on a propaganda function, in addition to their publicity role. Frank Pick commissioned prestigious artists to produce recruitment posters which supported those published by the government. Designs ranged from the graphic realism of Frank Brangwyn, through to the more typical depiction of war as an idealised struggle. Before conscription was introduced in 1916, recruitment posters encouraged men to volunteer, either through romanticised imagery or implications of cowardice.
The golden age of poster design
During the 1920s and 1930s the Underground Group’s posters reached a peak of stylistic quality. By 1933, when London Transport was formed, the company was regarded as a leading patron of the arts. Pick’s progressive commissioning policy led to over 40 posters a year.
London Transport Posters and the Second World War
During the Second World War the propaganda function of London Transport posters was resumed. As well as informing passengers and staff of new wartime procedures, posters aspired to lift the spirits of the nation and commemorate the immense contribution made by LT workers at home and abroad.
Harold F Hutchison and the pair poster
Christian Barman was Publicity Officer for London Transport between 1935 and 1941. Due to the cut backs of the Second World War, Harold F Hutchison was not appointed to this role until 1947. The circumstances of post war London demanded a new chapter of LT publicity. As well as repairing London Transport's systems, Hutchison recognised the importance of restoring faith in the public they served.
Art on the Underground
London Transport fare increases in the 1980s resulted in a drop in passenger numbers. This greatly affected demand for advertising space on the Underground. If a poster site was not used, it was covered in black paper or sometimes old posters were left to grow tired and torn. This cast a depressing shadow over both LT’s passenger environment and their reputation as a leading patron of poster publicity.
The age of agencies
Harold F Hutchison retired as London Transport's Publicity Officer in 1966. He was succeeded by Bryce Beaumont, who had written copy for LT posters since before the war. Beaumont faced staff shortages, spiralling costs and falling customer numbers. The traditional 'soft sell' approach was no longer appropriate; the company needed direct and measurable results. A central marketing department was established and by the 1970s poster advertisements started to be contracted out to agencies.
Poster commissioning and London Transport Museum
By the mid 1990s, commissioning artists directly for posters was becoming increasingly detached from London Transport’s main marketing strategy. Design Director Jeremy Rewse-Davies began to work with the museum’s Retail Manager, Michael Walton. Their collaborative commissioning ensured that the art posters retained a presence on the Underground network.
Platform for Art
Platform for Art delivers high calibre contemporary art projects for the unique context of London Underground. Working with both established and emerging artists, it aims to contribute to London’s culture and enhance the journey of millions of passengers, by bringing great art onto the transport network.