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Topic section: Railway posters
TOPIC SECTION:
Railway posters
Picture: 03_1997-7055_MWE_L_3704.jpg
Coronation Scot: the fast streamlined train of the 1930s.
Credit: National Railway Museum
Railway art has always had a strong commercial element. The very first images were made for public sale, and as printing processes evolved railway companies also began to produce advertising posters. Initially very simple, they grew in sophistication as powered colour printing presses were manufactured in the late nineteenth century, and stations across the country became adorned with posters. They promoted competing routes, like
Picture: 03_1997-7409_LMS_3678.jpg

Holidays to Scotland- the popular destination for holidays.
Credit: National Railway Museum

 

 the east and west coast lines from London to Scotland, and the resorts and holiday destinations served by railways.

These first posters were designed by printing firms and were rarely inspirational, but some artists, like Norman Wilkinson, submitted their own images to railway companies, hoping that they would be used. Gradually the quality of railway advertising improved, although some of the slogans stretched the imagination. One poster publicised the ‘Sussex Highlands’, while Grange-over-Sands was described as the ‘Naples of the North’!

Picture: 03_10306948.jpg
Advertisement to visit Cornwall from Great Western Railways (GWR).
Credit: National Railway Museum
Railway posters reached their heyday in the inter-war years. Fine artists, including members of the Royal Academy, were commissioned to produce poster images. They covered a wide range of subjects, although often railways were represented in only the most tangential way as they featured landscapes, historical subjects or sports and pastimes.

By the mid-1960s railways had received a new branding, and were invariably presented as modern and leading change

 Where railways appeared graphic artists sold a vision of fast, streamlined trains like the Coronation Scot, but reality was often very different for travellers on suburban services.

Poster artists took an austere approach that matched the mood of the times following the Second World War, but by the mid-1960s railways had received a new branding, and were invariably presented as modern and leading change. Television and other advertising media meant that posters declined in importance, but railway art is still used today as railway companies struggle to forge their own identities on Britain’s fragmented network.



 
 
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Topic section: The artist’s eye
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As railways emerged early in the nineteenth century, the new transport technology was reflected in new printing technology. Railways were shown in cheap lithographs produced in their thousands. And the shocking power of the train also inspired one of the most famous works of the great artist, JMW Turner.  > more

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Photographers of the nineteenth century with their new techniques were also inspired by railways and often commissioned to document great railway works as monuments of the age. In the late twentieth century, railway photography would mourn the dilapidation of these once-grand monuments.  > more
 
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