The golden age of poster design - online essay
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.
Pick’s theory behind commissioning was that posters could ‘move from the most literal representation to the wildest impression so long as the subject remained clear’. He knew that traditional posters would reassure the public, but he also recognised that public taste could be extended by exposure to the unfamiliar, the adventurous and even the shocking.
The styles most associated with the golden age of poster design are striking, bold, geometric and abstract. Many artists drew inspiration from avant-garde art movements such as Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism. Their commercial appropriation of such styles introduced elements of modern art to a much wider public than would be possible for a contemporary gallery.
Pick commissioned respected designers of the day, including Fred Taylor, Walter Spadbery, Austin Cooper and Laura Knight, as well as internationally known fine artists, such as CRW Nevinson, Eric Ravilious, Edward Wadsworth, Paul Nash and Man Ray. Pick was not afraid to experiment with undiscovered talent either; commissioning promising newcomers Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland before critically acclaim.
In the 1920s and 1930s, designing a poster for the Underground and London Transport became an honour among both great and aspiring artists. In the interwar years more artists and designers produced posters for them than for any other single company or organisation.
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Passengers coming into St Pancras station in the 1980s would be greeted by posters like this encouraging them to travel across the city on Underground lines . It's also the inspiration for our Open Weekend artwork!