Poster of the Week: By Underground to Fresh Air

By Underground to Fresh Air, 1915, Maxwell Ashby Armfield
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This week’s poster was created for the Underground in 1915 by the British artist Maxwell Ashby Armfield. Born in 1881 into a Quaker family in Hampshire, Armfield studied at the Birmingham School of Art where he met his wife Constance Smedley.  She was a feminist, a suffragette and a writer. Constance wrote about contemporary life and the experiences of women. She published more than twenty novels, some of which her husband illustrated.

Maxwell Ashby Armfield finished his education in Paris at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and the Atelier Colarossi, whose progressive teaching methods suited him and are reflected in his work. He went on to become a successful writer, illustrator and stage designer. ‘By Underground to Fresh Air’ still has a contemporary feel despite its age but it would have seemed strikingly modern when first seen. In 1915 Armfield also painted a portrait of the artist Edward McKnight Kauffer. Kauffer had been awarded his first poster commission for the Underground in the same year and went on to become one of the most influential graphic designers of his generation. Over the next 25 years he created more than 120 posters for the Underground Group and London Transport.

Both artists were influenced by Japanese art, which was prevalent at the time and aspects of Armfield’s poster design are similar in style to a Japanese woodcut. The softly coloured discs with delicate patterning appear like bright planetary forms in the night sky. The circles cut into the dark surround could also be interpreted as lights at the end of a tunnel, each leading to a different destination. This visionary poster encouraged passengers to escape to the countryside and beyond by Underground, however by 1915 the First World War was raging, with little sign that the hostilities would end quickly as was first predicted. This poster was therefore one of the last to promote leisure travel during the war period.

The first edition of the Metro-land guidebook was published in 1915, illustrating the benefits of moving to one of London’s new suburbs. The Metropolitan Railway had extended out towards the northwest and the term Metro-Land had been coined to describe the railway suburbs that had sprung up around it. A publicity campaign extoling the benefits of fresh air and healthy living had supported this expansion. Golders Green station opened in 1907 and by the time ‘Underground to Fresh Air’ was commissioned in 1915, ten million journeys a year were being made from this station.

Researched and written by Chloe Taylor (Trainee Curator), Valia Lamprou (Curatorial Intern) and Kirsty Parsons (Curatorial Intern)

Why not Discover Forgotten Metro-land this weekend and next week at Buckinghamshire Railway Centre

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