top of page
  • Writer's pictureLondon On The Ground

Poster art and design on the London Underground

Updated: Apr 10

A personal selection from the London Transport Museum.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
See London's Gardens, by Dora M. Batty, 1927

The London Transport Museum's Global Poster Gallery, which only opened in October 2023, must surely be seen as one of London's most significant venues for 20th century graphic art and design.

 

Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

 

Frank Pick, the first boss of London Transport, commissioned the Underground’s first poster in 1908 and revolutionised poster design.


As the museum's website says, he believed that "good design enriches life" and he "injected new life into a previously conservative, text-based medium by commissioning pictorial posters".

London Transport Museum
Portrait of Frank Pick, by Patrick Larking, 1958

The museum has a very extensive collection of posters, both in the Gallery and also among its displays of train cars and other artefacts.


Below is my small selection of posters I photographed during a recent visit to the London Transport Museum. This is in no way a representative selection of the wide range of artists, styles and time periods in the Museum's collection. It is just a few images that I found particularly attractive or interesting.


I took the photos on my phone and had to contend with reflection from the glass covering the frames. However, I hope you will agree, even with these limitations, the quality of the art and design shines through.


The first poster ever commissioned for the Underground was No Need to Ask a P'liceman, by John Hassall in 1908. Note that the scene (below) contains a depiction of another poster that features the enlargened 'U' and 'D' in 'UndergrounD', a key element of early branding, on one of the earliest tube maps (well before the famous Beck map of 1933).

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
No Need to ask a P'liceman, by John Hassall 1908

The next photo shows an earlier draft by Hassall.

Also from 1908, the next poster portrays passengers in Edwardian fashions, to encourage shoppers to use the Underground.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Let's Go Shopping, 1908

The poster below, from 1911, reinforces the democratic nature of the Underground, both through the slogan 'The way for all' and with the silhouettes representing people from all walks of life.


Below is an early design draft, followed by the final poster, which emphasises the green tiles extensively used inside stations by architect Leslie Green (Green used ox-blood red tiles on station exteriors).

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
The Way for All, by Alfred France, draft, 1911
Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
The Way for All, by Alfred France, final poster, 1911

The next poster, from 1910, is more functional, while the one after it, from 1913, playfully suggests that the Underground is the ultimate in the evolution of transport.

Poster art at the London Transport Museum
Follow the Underground and Live out of Town, 1910
Poster art at the London Transport Museum
Milestones of Progress, 1913

Frank T. Cooper's 1924 poster, below, celebrates the upgrade of what was then the City and South London Railway (part of the Northern line today). The artist contrasts 1920s Jazz Age passengers and trains with their ghostly Victorian predecessors.

From Euston to Clapham Common, by Richard T. Cooper, 1924

Next, this summertime poster of 1926, claiming that it is "cooler below", was replaced by a poster in the winter stating that it is "warmer below". As any tube rider today knows, it is almost always warmer below!

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
It is Cooler Below, by Frederick Charles Herrick, 1926

The artist and designer Dora M. Batty created more than 60 posters for the Underground and London Transport in the 1920s and 1930s. She was also a book illustrator, ceramicist, textile designer and art teacher (becoming head of the textiles school at the Central School of Arts and Crafts).


Three of her designs from 1927 are hanging together in a vertical display in the museum's gallery, as shown in the the first photo below:

Don't Miss Autumn's Splendours, by Dora M. Batty, 1927

See London's Gardens, by Dora M. Batty, 1927

Snatch Summer's Closing Days, by Dora M. Batty, 1927


I have included the second of these in close-up at the start of this post, while close-ups of the other two are in the second and third photos below.

Two more Dora M. Batty works are next, from 1925 and 1932.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
From Country to the Heart of Town, by Dora M. Batty, 1925
Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
To Regent's Park - Roses, by Dora M. Batty, 1932

The following two images are photos of original artworks created by the celebrated artist and illustrator Edward Bawden for posters. The first, Hyde Park (1925), was for the Underground, while The Titfield Thunderbolt (1952) was for the Ealing Comedy film of the same name. The latter is on loan to the London Transport Museum from the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Hyde Park, by Edward Bawden, 1925
Art and design posters at the London Transport Museum
The Titfield Thunderbolt, by Edward Bawden, 1952

Next are two 1937 watercolours by Eric Ravilious, a contemporary of Edward Bawden, whose work also remains popular today. These two images were intended for posters promoting travel to Greenwich, but were not used. They may have been considered too much like fine art and not 'poster-like' enough.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Greenwich Observatory, by Eric Ravilious, 1937
Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Greenwich Pier, by Eric Ravilious, 1937

Horace Taylor's 1924 poster design below is an art deco classic of bold blocks of colour with no shading and little detail.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Brightest London is Best Reached by Underground, by Horace Taylor, 1924

Next, Graham Sutherland's summery 1933 gouache painting tempts Londoners to use the Underground to reach rural areas.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
London Transport Opens a Window, by Graham Sutherland, 1933

The next group of four images are examples of wartime posters on the Underground.


The first, from World War I, encourages Londoners to join the army, while the other three are from World War II. The second one is purely informational and so has only minimal design content. The third shows a female Underground worker, while the fourth looks forward to post war recovery.


Join the Army Today, 1914

Shelter Tickets, 1940

Woman Porter, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944

Rehabilitation, by Anna Zinkeisen, 1944


Also from World War II, the 1944 image of St Paul's Cathedral, below, by Walter Spradbery, was part of a series under the heading The Proud City. They were designed to enshrine London's spirit of survival and resilience in the face of aerial bombing campaigns. St Paul's is shown surviving amidst destruction all around.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
The Proud City: St Paul's, by Walter Spradbery, 1944

The poster below, from 1947, was designed to encourage the great British habit of patient and orderly queuing, while drawing attention to the workload of London Underground staff.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
At Your Service, by Leo Dowd, 1947

The next poster is an amusing way of vaunting the speed and efficiency of the newly opened Victoria line in 1969. It was the first completely new Tube line in central London for 60 years.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Don't Doze Off, 1969

The final three posters below are further examples of fine art on the Underground, this selection from the late 20th century by artists David Booth, Benoit Jacques and Howard Hodgkin.

Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
The Tate Gallery by Tube, by David Booth of Fine White Line, 1986
Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Fly the Tube to Heathrow, by Benoit Jacques, 1987
Poster art and design at the London Transport Museum
Highgate Ponds, by Howard Hodgkin, 1990

Through its posters, London Underground has supported British and international artists and designers for well over a century, adding to the cultural life of Londoners and visitors alike. There are many more on display in the museum than I have shown above and the poster gallery only shows a sample of its vast collection at any one time.


The London Transport Museum is now an important destination not only for those interested in the history of urban transport, but also for lovers of graphic art and design.


The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm. For more details please see the London Transport Museum website.

 

Walks available for booking

For a schedule of forthcoming London On The Ground guided walks, please click here.

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page