London Transport poster by Laszlo Moholy Nagy 1937
This remarkable poster is one of three posters designed by Moholy Nagy for
London Transport during his brief stay in England between 1935 and 1937.
It was commissioned by Frank Pick at London Transport.
Frank Pick was the guiding intelligence behind the creation of the world's
first integrated transport system and gave the system a visual coherence
through his interest in architecture, industrial design, poster art and typography.
The result was the creation of an organisation with a powerful corporate identity,
articulated through typography and graphic design, that projected its public service
ethos through technology and service.
Pick was introduced to Moholy through Ashley Havinden at the Crawford
advertsing agency. Havinden had worked in Germany during the 1920s where
he had become aware of the pioneering modernism of the Bauhaus. Havinden
became an important supporter of exiled artists and designers arriving in Britain.
Moholy Nagy counts as one of the foremost graphic designers and
photographers of the 20C. He was born in Hungary in 1895. In 1920 he moved
to Germany and joined the design avant-garde. He ws invited to teach at the
new Bauhaus art school. His work at the school was central to the development
of the new typography during the 1920s. He was also a powerful advocate
of the modernist sythesis of word and image for use in advertising and art direction.
These building blocks of effective and modernist communication he called typo-photo.
Moholy was responsible for the art direction and design of the Bauhaus books which
he used as powerful arguments for his ideas on design. The Bauhaus books became
the school's most effective propaganda and also established Moholy's reputation
beyond continental Europe.
Molholy moved to America in 1937 where he established the New Bauhaus and
the School of Design in Chicago. His American period was one where he began to
experiment with kinetic effects and the moving image. His work was summed up in
the publication, after his death, of Vision in Motion (1947).
By the time Moholy arrived in England he was internationally famous and was
immediately welcomed by Havinden at Crawfords and by the small, but influential,
modernist circle in London. Moholy was quite successfully employed whilst in London.
The poster for pneumatic doors is an example of an information graphic that draws
attention to the technical sophistication of the railway machinery. It is interesting
that Moholy chose not to use photography within the poster - prefering a more
painterly style in keeping with London Transport's artistic style of poster advertising.
It is also the case that there were problems of scale and of half-tone technolgy which
made typo-photo less suitable for large scale poster work.
There are several features within the poster that anticipate his work in America -
the kinetic effect of the typography in the word doors is achieved by the two colour
work in the letters and in the bold contrast with the word pneumatic printed in red.
His version of the London Transport bullseye emblem is a forceful reduction of the
symbol that anticipates his interest in transparent forms. The circular lens centered
on the pair of doors is a powerful means of focussing attention to a specific element
in the design and is a feature of constructivist and avant-garde techniques of graphic
design. The lens also implies a technical scrutiny of both macro and microscopic
worlds that was implicit in the rhetoric of scientific progress and business efficiency
during the 1930s.
This poster is a rare example Moholy's work in Britain. Museum archives in
London -at the London Transport Museum and at the Victoria and Albert
Museum -and in New York at the Museum of Modern Art have examples
of this poster. Beyond that, it is probable that only a few copies survive.
Authentic examples of first period modernism in Britain are extreamly rare - a
reflection of the limited interest in design and in the avant-gardist origins of the
modernist project in Europe. Examples, such as this, that are evidence of the
modernist diaspora of the time are especially significant.
For more information on Moholy look at Richard Hollis - A History of Graphic Design,
other LT posters