Arts & Culture

Underground art

TFL/London Transport Museum Collection

TFL/London Transport Museum Collection

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When Frank Pick was put in charge of publicity for the newly consolidated London Underground in 1908, he sought out top artists to design its posters. Pick said he was using art to repay passengers for the inevitable inconveniences of public transit, says Teri Edelstein, curator of an expansive show of British transit posters at the Center for British Art (on display until August 15). But of course, the posters also promoted the Underground and encouraged off-peak travel.

The 1931 poster above, by Margaret Calkin James, was one of dozens urging families to take trips to Kew Gardens during the bluebell bloom—a seasonal floral explosion, the London equivalent of cherry blossom time in Washington, DC. James’s poster uses bluebirds to emphasize the tiny size and intense blue of the flowers. Edelstein considers the image a masterpiece of its kind. “It could be 20 times as big and the composition would still work,” she says.   

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