John Burningham’s favourite painting
The artist chooses an overlooked poster commissioned by the LNER that once graced stations all over the country
Tom Purvis said: ‘i loathe the word artist. Personally i am proud of being called a Master Craftsman.’ one can understand his indignation. The work of ‘fine artists’ commissioned for advertisements is art-historically revered, but how many art students know the graphic work of Purvis and his fellow ‘commercial artists’? Academia and the market disdained commercial art, so their lives have gone largely unrecorded, their work mostly junked.
Purvis was born in Bristol, the son of the marine artist T. G. Purvis. After Camberwell school of Art, he entered the advertising agency Mather and Crowther. His first poster was for Dewar’s Whisky, when he was 19. He served with the Artists’ rifles in the First World War and also made red Cross posters. After the war, he went freelance and, in 1923, began a long association with the LNER (London & North Eastern railway), paid a retainer of £450 per annum.
Between 1923 and 1934, he produced more than 100 LNER posters. His other major client was the gentleman’s outfitter Austin reed (opened in 1926). in the second World War, he was an official war artist attached to the Ministry of supply. After the war, his romantic style went out of fashion. He turned to portraiture and, being a devout Catholic, religious pictures.
The inclusion of wild geese, winter migrants, makes this an indian summer day. His contemporary Bert Thomas wrote: ‘His posters were the finest that ever appeared on the hoardings… one could take them in at a glance while passing on a bus, which is the test of a good poster.’ A selection of his LNER posters is preserved at the railway Museum, York.
John Burningham is an artist, best known for his many illustrated children’s books ‘I was privileged enough to do seven-plus posters for London Transport in the 1960s and, to some extent, it still provides a good opportunity for artists with its “Art on the Underground” scheme, launched in 2000. But what a tragedy that we’re no longer able to see wonderful pictures like this one, done for the LNER, on railway stations around the country. Let’s bring it all back again. It was such a great thing for both the artists and the railway companies and it gave people who might never set foot in a gallery a chance to see good art. PS: Had Tom Purvis painted in oils, he Tate’ would surely now be in the
Lincolnshire LNER—IT’S Quicker by Rail, 1930s, by Tom Purvis (1888– 1959), 40in by 50in, Private Collection