The rich history of London Transport’s poster design

Works by Man Ray, Abram Games, and many more will be on display at the London Transport Museum’s new exhibition celebrating commissioning and creativity, which coincides with the launch of its new Global Poster Gallery

Poster design at London Transport Museum
St Johns Wood station © TfL from London Transport Museum’s collection

The London Transport Museum is opening a new gallery to showcase the rich history of poster and art design, of which it has been an integral driving force since the dawn of the 20th century. The Global Poster Gallery will feature posters for London Transport and the Underground from the Museum’s extensive collection.

In 1908, then chief executive of London Transport, Frank Pick, commissioned local illustrator John Hassall to create the Underground’s first pictorial poster, titled No Need to Ask a P’liceman. Forming part of a larger plan to revolutionise the poster medium – which up until that point had featured predominantly simple, text-based designs – this commission signified the beginning of a new era.

After a warm reception, Pick began building an extensive network of graphic designers and illustrators to create posters for London Transport. These artists worked in a range of styles including futurism, cubism, and surrealism, highlighting the future-facing nature of the Underground, and establishing its position as a leader in the field of graphic art and design.

In the present day, the collection of posters held by the London Transport Museum is vast, with 1,000 original poster artworks and 30,000 individual posters stored in the Museum Depot in west London. Many of these posters will be shown through various exhibitions at the newly-opened gallery.

Poster design at London Transport Museum
Round London sightseeing tour by Abram Games, 1971 © Abram Games Estate and TfL
Poster design at London Transport Museum
London Zoo by Abram Games, 1976 © Abram Games Estate and TfL

The launch of the first exhibition, How to Make a Poster, coincides with the opening, and will offer visitors a chance to explore the world of poster commissioning and creativity in the pre-digital age. Visitors will gain invaluable insights into the processes involved in creating some of the 20th century’s most important works in this medium.

These include works by American artists Edward McKnight Kauffer and Man Ray, German graphic designer Hans Unger, and British artists Abram Games, Tom Eckersley, Paul Catherall, and Dora M Batty – the latter of which was a particularly influential female graphic designer in this era.

Poster design at London Transport Museum
There is still the Country by Dora M Batty, 1926 © TfL from London Transport Museum’s collection
Poster design at London Transport Museum
Busabout by Hans Unger and Eberhand Schultze, 1970 © TfL from London Transport Museum’s collection

Included in the exhibition will be the tools, techniques and concepts that helped these figures to create some of their best pieces. Visitors will be able to witness how painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and sculpture were applied to poster design over the years, forever changing the way in which we see and engage with the medium.

Along with the opening of the Global Poster Gallery and the launch of How to Make a Poster, there will also be a programme of public events to help immerse visitors in this new space. These include workshops for children who want to create their own transport posters and curator talks for those wanting further information on the displayed artworks in the gallery.

“When Frank Pick took charge of publicising the Underground, his pioneering vision for beauty and utility turned the Tube – and later London’s transport network at large – into a place where great art and design could be admired in everyday life,” said London Transport Museum curator Matt Brosnan. “The Global Poster Gallery’s opening exhibition will bring together some of the finest posters in the Museum’s collection of graphic art and design in a celebration of commissioning, creativity, and artistic talent that will inspire our visitors.”

Poster design at London Transport Museum
A new view of London by Paul Catherall, 2007 © TfL from London Transport Museum’s collection

How to Make a Poster and the Global Poster Gallery open on October 20;