Poster Girls: the hidden story behind London Transport's radical support of female creatives

Transport for London’s high levels of 20th century innovation are renowned across the globe. But less well known is its progressive attitude towards female creatives – the ‘poster girls’ commissioned to design its now-iconic advertising.

In the film above, curator David Bownes explains how one man – Frank Pick – brought his forward-thinking spirit to London Transport’s design, branding, architecture and roster of freelance artists.

“When London Underground’s poster campaign started in 1910 there were very few women poster designers in Britain, and it was very unusual to commission women at that time to do transport posters,” said Bownes, who co-curated London Transport Museum’s latest exhibition, Poster Girls.

"Pick was very progressive in his views, and he used to commission on quality rather than on terms of gender."

The drop in work from female designers following Pick's departure from the company (he died less than a year later) is, for Bownes, an indication of how vital he was to the gender-blind commissioning process.

But luckily, as more female artists and designers naturally entered public life towards the latter half of the 20th century, their work yet again began to appear on more of London’s buses, tubes, platforms and stations through the Art on the Underground initiative, which was previously known as Platform for Art.

Art on the Underground recently announced that it will commission a year-long programme of women artists in 2018, to mark 100 years since the female vote.

Poster Girls is open at the London Transport Museum until January 2019.

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