Days Out by Bus at the Estorick Collection

The second of our forays into North London on the lovely Overground; appropriate, since we were heading to an exhibition strong on leisure journeys by public transport.

I didn’t know the Estorick Collection existed until A’s walking buddy J handed her a leaflet about their current exhibition of Edward McKnight Kauffer posters, The Poster King.  Most of the posters are from the heyday of  Transport advertising in the 1910’s-30’s, both London Transport and Shell being well represented and many of the images were familiar in a subconscious way, possibly from films of the time.

They were also familiar because they made use of styles prevalent at the time; and reminded me of such diverse artists as Jean Cocteau, Picasso, M C Escher, Clarice Cliff and John Heartfield.

A wide range of styles:

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) In Watford, 1915 Poster, 76.2 x 50.8 cm London Transport Museum

Bucolic scenes of trees and rivers (that’s Watford? Really?) and oddly what seems to be lime kilns at Godstone (wonderful image but as a destination?), aimed at tempting the urban workers out for a day in the countryside by train, bus or tram.

Scurrying windblown shoppers abstracted into mere suggestions of silhouette, shadow and rainy reflection (A particular favourite for me) who are wisely advised that the tube is a good way of avoiding all that weather, though anyone who (like me) has got on a tube having already been completely drenched in an unexpected downpour, knows how silly you can feel dripping on dry troglodyte passengers who got on before it rained.

Bright innovative posters for rather earnest museums

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) Actors prefer Shell, 1935 Lorry bill, 76.2 x 114.3 cm Courtesy of the Shell Collection

Quirky cubist advertisements assuring us that Actors, Artists, and Magicians each prefer Shell.

Pastel-coloured marionette-like figures in paper collage backgrounds extolling public holidays for trips out, one Green Man for Whitsun, reminiscent of a tarot card: the fool tripping along his mind wandering, all that was missing was the drooping hose and snappy dog.

book covers with loose, delicate, duo-tone images of ancient Greece…

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954) Soaring to Success! Daily Herald – the Early Bird 1919 Poster, 297.7 x 152.2 cm Victoria and Albert Museum

and wild, thrusting, lozenge-shaped birds that would be Oyster Catchers if their beaks were red, but aren’t because they aren’t birds, they are an idea of progress, happily flying into the future together in praise of the Daily Herald (“Soaring to Success… the Early Bird”).  This particular image makes great use of space, the birds are roughly the top quarter of the image,  and the message is maybe an eighth and right at the bottom; in between, an expanse of vigorous yellow silence.

As much social history as art, I would highly recommend this exhibition for both the images themselves and as a window onto the artistic movements and advertising claims of the time.

There are a number of gallery talks coming up that might be worth catching:

5/11/2011 A Quest for Kauffer
12/11/2011 Posters and Modern Life in 1930s Britain

10/12/2011 Kauffer’s England

Kauffer exhibition continues until 18th December 2011.

Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 18:00 hours.  Sunday 12:00 to 17:00. Late night opening Thursdays until 20.00.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

£5.00, concessions £3.50, includes permanent collection and temporary exhibitions.  Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011