For over a century posters have been brightening up the dark walls of the Tube. Beautiful, striking and informative they’re the best public art to have come out of the tunnels. The London Transport Museum is celebrating the Tube’s 150th birthday with a fascinating exhibition of 150 posters dug out of its archive. When seen together, these posters not only tell the story of the Underground, they tell a story of London and graphic design, too.
The range is magnificent. From idyllic watercolours encouraging escapes to the country to typographical experiments urging congestion reduction, they trace the fashions and anxieties of Londoners while also revealing the artistic styles of the time and London Underground’s eagerness to commission beyond it.
Museums, sporting events and the zoo are consistently popular subjects. But there are many surprises, too, such as Maurice Beck’s dark photomontage reassurance that all trains are fitted with a “dead man’s handle” and John Henry Lloyd’s poster of Edwardian Londoners admiring Underground posters. Although the 1930s was the richest period, every decade produced gems. Highlights include illustrator Edward Bawden’s intricate Map of the British Empire Exhibition (1924), Edward McKnight Kauffer’s numerous Bauhaus-inspired designs, Alfred Leete’s cartoons, Man Ray’s planet-orbiting roundel (1938), Charles Paine’s penguins (1921) and many, many more. Definitely worth a stop.
Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs is at the London Transport Museum until October 27.