London Transport has produced some of the worlds most recognizable images: the iconic roundel logo, the schematic Tube map, and a host of memorable posters as part of one of the most ambitious publicity campaigns in history. An exhibition exploring the evolution of transport posters in twentieth-century Britain will premiere at the Yale Center for British Art
on May 27. Art for All: British Posters for Transport will feature more than one hundred posters designed for the Underground and the British railways, many of them generously donated to the Center by Henry S. Hacker (Yale College, Class of 1965). The exhibition includes more than thirty significant loans from the London Transport Museum and the National Railway Museum, York.
In 1908 under the leadership of Frank Pick, the London Underground (later, London Transport), began a promotional campaign that became one of the most successful, adventurous, and best sustained branding operations ever attempted. The posters commissioned by Pick engendered goodwill and encouraged ridership on the public transport system. They also helped to foster a civic identity for the city of London.
A string of major artists, including Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Herrick, Hans Schleger, and Anna Zinkeisen worked for Pick. From 1923when numerous British railway companies were amalgamated into four lines: the Great Western Railway (GWR), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) and the Southern Railway (SR)until the nationalization of the railways in 1948, the Big Four followed Picks lead in mounting their own poster campaigns. While none of the British rail lines matched the scope and ambition of the Underground campaign, some of the same artists, such as Kauffer, and Walter Spradbery, also designed for the mainline railways. Other no less gifted artists, such as Tom Purvis and Frank Newbould, created extraordinary graphics for the railways.
The title of the show, Art for All, is taken from an exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1948 (organized by the V&A and London Transport), which featured original works of art, the maquettes for the posters. This exhibition contains the art truly seen by all: the posters themselves.
In addition to tracing changing graphic styles from the second decade of the twentieth-century through the 1970s, Art for All will highlight specific features in the history of transport posters, such as the career of Kauffer, the work of women artists, how the posters were initially displayed, and the larger implications of these advertising campaigns.