Stuck Up: London Underground Poster History Captured In Exhibition

The River Thames in ‘Poster Art’ is explored in a new exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames. Given the current popularity in London transport history with the 150th anniversary of the first underground journey in early 2013, the River & Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames, is currently hosting an exhibition of rare original 1920s transport posters that capture a time when local London-to-countryside travel was at a high and River Thames leisure was in its heyday.

Opened by Christopher Rodrigues, Chairman of Visit Britain, the collection of rare and striking transport posters depicts a golden age of London underground travel and, uniquely to the museum, all are linked to the Thames. The exhibition, Stuck Up, is amassed from the London Transport Museum and the River & Rowing Museum’s extensive archives and captures the championed design aesthetic of the era.

During the early 20th century there was a growth in interest in the River Thames as a leisure destination. Leisure pursuits such as punting, swimming, rowing and rambling increased in popularity with a general movement towards outdoor healthy living. London transport companies, keen to capitalise on this, used marketing campaigns to sell the Thames as a day out of the city at an affordable price.  In the 1920s and 1930s, designing a poster for the Underground and London Transport became an honour among both great and aspiring artists.

Paris in the 1890s had seen the emergence of the modern graphic poster, which was taken up by artists including Toulouse-Lautrec, Chéret and Bonnard and revolutionised commercial advertising. It was a concept that quickly spread around Europe, including the UK.

In Britain, Frank Pick was the man associated with transforming the poster from a humble provider of information to an artwork in its own right.  Pick became a publicity officer for London Underground in 1908. He initially used commercial artists to encourage the use of the London Underground but became dissatisfied with the quality of design and began inviting young artistic talent to produce the artwork instead. By the 1920s this approach had helped transform poster advertising in the UK.  During the 1920s and 1930s, bold and striking poster designs appeared with artists drawing inspiration from avant-garde art movements such as Cubism and Futurism. The invitation to design these posters came to be seen as an honour for both established and emerging artists.

Frank Pick’s new approach to design and the choice of artists he worked with all helped create a golden age in advertising.  In doing so they also brought movements such Cubism and Futurism to an enthusiastic public. The fun and frivolity of the posters continued until World War Two when the mood and focus of the nation changed.

Exhibition Runs 31 Dec – 01 Mar – River & Rowing Museum, Mill Meadows, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 1BF  

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