Over 100 years of poster design
From 1908 until the present day, posters have promoted the endless possibilities of London’s world-famous public transport network. For winter, London’s transport companies often commissioned designers to advertise winter sales, wildlife, landscapes and Christmas festivities, all of which could be explored through public transport. Here, we focus on five of the best known of these winter posters and the major poster designers behind them. From the early twentieth century, London’s transport posters developed a reputation for their quality. A range of designers were commissioned, from the unknown to the established. Many made their reputations through these commissions.
Edward McKnight Kauffer
This striking London Underground poster advertising winter sales was by Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), perhaps one of the best-known poster designers of his lifetime.
Winter sales (1921) by Edward McKnight KaufferLondon Transport Museum
Kauffer was born in the USA but spent much of his career in the UK. He was first commissioned by the Underground in 1915 and went on to produce around 150 poster designs for London’s transport network.
Power - the nerve centre of London's Underground (1931) by Edward McKnight KaufferLondon Transport Museum
Kauffer became known for his bold, modernist style that highlighted the influence of art movements like the Bauhaus in a way that still communicated to a mass audience.
Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis
Clifford Ellis (1907-1985) and Rosemary Ellis (1910-1998) were a married design duo who worked in partnership, as well as sometimes independently. This 1937 design highlights winter bird life in London’s parks and on the River Thames.
Zoo nights (1936) by Clifford EllisLondon Transport Museum
Clifford and Rosemary Ellis were commissioned to do over 20 London Transport posters between 1933 and 1937. Their highly distinctive style often depicted wildlife and used humour to create striking designs.
It's better to return early (1935) by Clifford EllisLondon Transport Museum
This London Transport poster promotes off peak travel to avoid the rush hour. Clifford and Rosemary Ellis also collaborated on poster designs for Shell and the General Post Office, as well as being prolific book cover designers.
Laura Knight (1877-1970) was one of the most popular British artists of her lifetime. While known largely for her fine art, she was commissioned to design seven posters by the London Underground and London Transport, including this one that showcased her landscape art.
Summer's joy (1921) by Laura KnightLondon Transport Museum
In contrast to a wintry landscape, this summer poster advertised the leisure opportunities of London’s public transport. Here Knight shows her skill in depicting the human figure.
Rugby at Twickenham (1921) by Laura KnightLondon Transport Museum
Knight was one of many women artists to be commissioned by London’s transport. She was a pioneering figure in British art, being the first woman to become a Royal Academician in 1936 and the first woman artist to have a major retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1965.
Harold Sandys Williamson
Harold Sandys Williamson (1892-1978) designed this quintessentially 1920s poster to promote travelling on the London Underground to get to the winter sales, a common theme for winter public transport posters.
There and back (1928) by Harold Sandys WilliamsonLondon Transport Museum
Williamson designed 17 posters for London’s public transport network, many promoting evening leisure opportunities. He became a well-known graphic and fine artist, including designing commercial posters for organisations like Shell and the General Post Office.
White City stadium (1934) by Harold Sandys WilliamsonLondon Transport Museum
This design featuring the greyhound racing at White City stadium is very typical of his 1920s and 1930s style. Williamson was Head of Chelsea School of Art from 1930 to 1958, his art teaching influencing a generation of British artists.
Tom Eckersley (1914-1977) was a highly influential graphic designer who produced over 60 posters for London Transport. Around 28 of these were designed in partnership with Eric Lombers, including this Christmas poster that was one of a pair.
Christmas; girl (1936) by Tom EckersleyLondon Transport Museum
The other half of the pair poster is very typical of the style of Eckersley and Lombers in the mid-1930s. They often used bold, flat colour and airbrush techniques to create modernist graphic designs.
Boat Race (1951) by Tom EckersleyLondon Transport Museum
After the Eckersley-Lombers partnership came to an end with the onset of the Second World War, Eckersley worked successfully as a solo designer for decades. This poster is typical of his use of humour, flat colour and simple form. He produced posters for London Transport right up until the 1990s and was also a hugely influential Head of Graphic Design at the London College of Printing.