Cel­eb­rat­ing the Thames and its bridges for over 100 years: A selec­tion of posters from the Lon­don Trans­port Museum collection

Illuminated River are delighted to present an online exhibition of posters from the London Transport Museum collection showcasing the project’s final five bridges.

Since the early 20th century, London’s transport networks have been one of the city’s most vital and pioneering public sector patrons of the arts. Instigated by Frank Pick, Managing Director of London Underground in the 1920s, London Transport has been promoting its services for over 100 years by commissioning artwork by the UK’s most talented artists and graphic designers.

Featuring posters by Edward McKnight Kauffer, Hans Unger and Anna Hymas, amongst others, this exhibition reveals how London Transport has used eye-catching artwork to encourage commuters to visit the Thames and enjoy its distinctive bridges; extending the public’s perception of the Thames from a working river to a place of leisure and recreation. This selection of posters celebrates the iconic heritage and architecture of Blackfriars, Waterloo, Golden Jubilee, Westminster and Lambeth bridges.

Underground for the centre of all things; Charing Cross, by Joseph Pennell, 1913 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

Designed by American artist Joseph Pennell and published by the ‘The Underground Group’ in 1913, this poster presents a bird’s eye impression of Charing Cross Underground station, with Hungerford Bridge and the River Thames in the background. Charing Cross Underground opened in 1906 and the poster was commissioned to promote its services. Directly below the image lies an ode to the metropolis - an excerpt from Charlotte Bronte's 1853 novel 'Villette' - 'I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me. Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets, and for ever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?'

Victoria Embankment, by Monica Rawlins, published by London County Council Tramways, 1926 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This colour lithograph by British artist Monica Rawlins promoted the service of London County Council Tramways in 1926. Boasting ‘400 cars an hour at high tide’, it shows rush-hour trams lining up on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Victoria Embankment with silhouettes of Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament visible in the background.

Rawlins designed the poster as a student at the LCC Central School of Arts and Crafts, known today as Central Saint Martins. The school was established in 1896 to encourage the industrial application of decorative design.

London's Tramways, unknown, circa 1929 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This poster, London's Tramways, advertises the evening service provided by the London County Council. The first electric tram was introduced to London in 1903, between Westminster Bridge and Tooting. By 1914, the LCC and other London tram operators formed the largest tram network in Europe, but its rate of expansion declined at the onset of WWI.

The design shows Victoria Embankment at twilight, illuminated by George Vuillamy’s iconic sturgeon streetlamps and nearby office buildings. A silhouette of the Boadicea monument on Westminster bridge is visible in foreground.

Westminster from the Thames, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1934 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This colour lithograph designed by the highly influential 20th century poster artist, Edward McKnight Kauffer, depicts the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from the south bank of the Thames. Here Kauffer is experimenting with airbrushing (a design technique which came to dominate his work by the 1920s), softly rendering the clouds in ashen shades.

Kauffer was born in Montana, U.S.A, and lived and worked in London for over two decades. Upon his arrival in 1914, he was introduced to Frank Pick, Publicity Manager for London Underground Electric Railways - a relationship which lasted for the extent of his career in Britain. He produced over 140 posters for London transport.

Kings Reach, by Charles Pears, 1936 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This poster was designed by British artist and illustrator Charles Pears to promote riverside walks along King’s Reach. Spanning London to Westminster bridge, this stretch of the river was named in 1935 to commemorate King George V's Silver Jubilee.

Charles Pears worked as an Official War Artist during the First and Second World Wars. He gained a reputation as a talented marine painter with a strong sense of graphic design.

At London's Service - Bridges, by A Stuart Hill, 1943 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This poster was designed in 1943 by Alexander Stuart Hill. A temporary Waterloo Bridge is shown in the foreground with Hungerford and Westminster bridges seen behind. The stone arches of the pre-existing 19th century Waterloo Bridge were demolished by placing a temporary structure on top. During WWII, women were employed to complete the construction of the new bridge by the building contactor Peter Lind & Company, hence why it is known colloquially as the ‘Ladies Bridge’. The only bridge in London to suffer multiple hits by German bombers, Waterloo was finally finished in 1945.

Waterside London, by Hans Unger, 1972 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

London Transport published this poster by German graphic designer Hans Unger in 1972, to encourage travel to London’s lakes, canals, streams and rivers. Unger’s design embraces the optical illusion art of the 1960s, also known as ‘Op Art’. By playing with horizontal lines and cooling colours to create a meditative, enchanting effect, the poster successfully draws a conceptual link between blue spaces and human wellbeing. If you look closely at the bottom of the poster, a faint silhouette of a fish can be detected in the grouping of dark green lines.

The view of the House by Tube, by Frederick Gore, 1991 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This poster was designed by British painter Frederick Gore and commissioned by the London Underground in 1991 as part of the ‘Art on the Underground’ series to enrich the journeys of millions on the tube every day. Featuring a view from Lambeth Bridge, the gothic revival architecture of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben appear to glow in the sunlight.

Lambeth Pier on the Albert Embankment is shown in the middle-ground. A horse ferry service operated here from the 16-18th century. Owned by successive Archbishops of Canterbury, the profitable ferry was the only location in London where you could cross the Thames with a horse and cart.

North Bank, South Bank, by Robin Mason, 1993 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

British artist Robin Mason designed this poster in 1993 to publicise the banks of the Thames as a space for leisure and recreation. The plastic treatment of the trees and foliage in the foreground represents the Embankment Gardens on the north bank, whilst the Royal Festival Hall, part of the Southbank Centre complex, is depicted across the river. Also prominent on the north bank is Cleopatra's Needle, an ancient Egyptian obelisk gifted to Britain by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1819 and erected in 1877. A classical column stands at the centre of the composition, with a sunflower on its pedestal: a symbol of the marriage between culture, nature and society on the banks of the Thames.

Winter fun - South Bank, by Anna Hymas, 2016 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

Part of a poster series for Transport for London’s #Londonisopen campaign, designed by British illustrator and children’s book author Anna Hymas and featuring London’s most popular attractions, this illustration shines a light on the vibrant night-time activity of the Southbank.

The towering pylons of the Golden Jubilee Footbridges appear to merge into the background. Their sleek, modern design was realised by Illuminated River project architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, who have completed a range of award-winning projects on London’s South Bank.

Winter, by Paul Catherall, 2006 © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection https://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/

This linocut design is part of a series by British printmaker Paul Catherall, recording four seasons of London’s iconic skyline. The elliptical, wrought-iron arches of Blackfriars Road Bridge are outlined in red against a backdrop of office buildings and winter sky in muted colours.

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The Illuminated River artwork has refocused attention not only on the bridges but on surrounding public spaces, encouraging more people to enjoy the riverside areas and views of the river at night. The Thames is currently London’s least-used transport artery, and foot traffic across the bridges drops after dark. We hope the artwork will inspire more people travel along and across the river at night, at street level, on foot and by boat.

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