Transport and River and Rowing museums mark 150 years of the London Underground

By Ben Miller | 10 January 2013
An image of a classic poster design for an underground journey to hammersmith
Classic Underground posters at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames© River and Rowing Museum

Exhibition previews: Poster Art 150 – London Underground's Greatest Designs, London Transport Museum, London, from February 15 2013; Stuck Up – Early 20th Century Thames Poster Art, River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, until March 1

On January 9 1963, the first train pulled out of Paddington, beginning a three-and-a-half mile subterranean journey on a line built to link the station with Euston and King's Cross, working as the privately-financed Metropolitan Railway.

A hundred and fifty years later, the tube is a source of national celebration. But perhaps its iconic poster designs are most in tune with the timeless fashion for retro kitsch, first appearing in 1908 amid increasing interest in the Thames as a leisure route.

Punters, swimmers, rowers and ramblers were drawn to the river, so transport company bods pulled a no-brainer with a series of eye-catching marketing campaigns extolling their affordable transport for daytrippers.

Established and up-and-coming artists enjoyed the honour of designing posters for London Transport during the decades which followed. They might actually have been indebted to Paris, where the modern graphic poster was perfected by the likes of Toulouse-Lautrec, Chéret and Bonnard, who could be said to have played their part in revolutionising commercial advertising across Europe.

Frank Pick, the publicity officer for the Underground, picked prodigious artists after becoming dissatisfied with the designs offered by their commercial peers, leading to the bold and striking ads we associate with the period, weaving through Cubism, Futurism and other avant-garde movements until World War II changed the mood of the nation.

The River and Rowing Museum is showing posters from the London Transport Museum, where a year-long programme accompanies a major exhibition of designs.

Artistic highlights include Man Ray’s famous pair of contributions, Keeps London Going. Steam runs of a locomotive and Jubilee carriage from the Metropolitan Railway, behind the scenes exclusives at the Museum Depot in Acton and a theatrical season at the disused Aldwych station also feature.

  • River and Rowing Museum open 10am-5pm. Admission £8.50/£6.50 (family ticket £22.50-£34). Follow the museum on Twitter @river_rowing. Transport Museum open 10am-6pm (11am-6pm Friday), see the online programme for full listings. Admission £15/£11.50. Follow the museum on Twitter @ltmuseum.

More pictures:

An image of a poster design advertising taking the underground train across London
© River and Rowing Museum
An image of a poster design advertising underground trips up a river to two stations
© River and Rowing Museum
An image of a poster design advertising tramways transport to a boat race in March
© River and Rowing Museum
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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