The Train Takes You: Vintage Travel Posters from Near and Far
The Special Collections Research Center celebrates the peripatetic joys of summer with this exhibition of vintage travel posters. The twenty-five posters representing the U.K., France, Germany, U.S.A., Australia, South Africa and Switzerland are drawn from the large collection of railroad publications, posters, and related ephemera assembled by alumnus Jeremiah J. O’Connor. The collection was donated to the library in the 1960s by his sister, Margaret M. O’Connor.
Whether targeting a domestic or an international clientele, these vivid lithographic posters from the era before air travel present the viewer with images of far-away or enchanting destinations. While most of the advertising posters we see today use the camera to capture distant vistas, their predecessors relied on the eye of the artist to embellish upon or artfully extract from the beauty of nature. Some feature dramatic images of trains but all use minimal text, relying on their imagery to communicate more directly with the public.
The north, south and east walls of our gallery feature French, German and United Kingdom posters respectively, while the longest, east wall displays a more international array of rail posters from the 1920s through the 50s. Preliminary selection and research for the exhibition was performed by art history undergraduate intern Marvin J. Aguilar (COL ’11).
A related exhibition from the O’Connor collection was presented in 2001 and is also viewable online.
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
This historic poster marked the 100th anniversary of America’s first passenger and freight railway, under the management of the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Road Company. To celebrate this landmark occasion, the company planned an elaborate Centenary Exhibition and Pageant for a three week period beginning September 24th, 1927. The Fair of the Iron Horse, attended by 1.5 million and held west of Baltimore in Halethorpe, Maryland, intended to document all inland transport since the inception of the country. The company erected four mammoth exhibition halls and as its central feature, the “pageant of inland transport in America” featured a historic collection of “actual locomotives, ancient and modern,” as explained in the exhibition catalogue. To augment the B&O’s extensive collection, other railroads contributed examples, including the mighty new King George V sent over by the Great Western Railway of England.
The two men in the foreground of this poster are operating Peter Cooper’s Tom Thumb, a small, experimental engine and the first one built and operated in the United States, from 1829-30. A reproduction of the original was exhibited at the centenary festivities.
These two posters, produced for the Australian national market, attract the viewer with the lure of the fabulous beaches along the southeastern coast. Aldyth Russell’s image of children playing on the sand provides the primary message, with the minimal slogan at the bottom which inspired the title for our show.
The majestic cliffside scene touts the extensive network of Victoria’s Flier, an express service linking the seaside towns listed on the poster with points inland. Melbourne-based Percy Trompf was a successful commercial artist specializing in poster design. He later created posters to support the war effort and served as a pilot for the Royal Australian Air Force during the Second World War.
South African Railways
This South African poster beckons visitors from far away England with its sun-baked mountainous terrain along the route to Sunland, a popular destination in the majestic Sundays River Valley, which stretches from Addo in the south to the village of Kirkwood northwest of Sunland.
The German-born George Paul Canitz studied painting in Dresden and moved to southwest Africa in 1909 on the advice of his doctor. He began exhibiting his work with the South African Society of Artists and became highly regarded for his classical rendering of native landscapes. Canitz opened his own art school and also taught at the University of Stellenbosch, about thirty miles east of Cape Town.
Compagnie du Chemin de Fer d'Orléans
The Cantal department in south-central France, a province of the Auvergne region, takes its name from the range of ancient, eroded volcanic peaks covering much of the territory. The highest peak is the Plomb du Cantal, which rises approximately 6,000 feet.
The Swiss town of Martigny is at a junction of roads joining Italy, France and Switzerland, and on the high-speed Simplon line of the Swiss Federal Railway. From Martigny, narrow gauge railroads ascend the nearby mountains on both sides of the Rhône valley. One railroad runs west to the French ski resort of Chamonix, crossing the border at Le Châtelard. This poster tantalizes viewers with a glimpse of the snow covered Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, framed by dramatic mountains in the foreground.
This majestic Alpine view in bright, Fauve-inspired colors, advertises the Furka-Oberalp, a narrow-gauge mountain railway in the Swiss Alps. The Furka Pass connects the cantons of Graubünden and Uri between Disentis and Andermatt. Its dramatic scenery was the setting for a “cliff hanging” chase sequence in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger.
Named for a Bavarian saint, the St. Gotthard line links Zurich and portions of Germany with Lugano and Italy via another dramatically high Alpine pass. The artist Daniele Buzzi created a number of travel posters, these being his earliest, promoting destinations in Switzerland and Italy. His style transformed in the 1940s and 50s to flattened planes of saturated color.
The locomotive shown here is the King George V No. 6000, which traveled to the United States for display as a state-of-the-art steam engine in the Baltimore & Ohio Railway Company's pageant in 1927 (See 100 Years of the Railroad above). Ironworkers in Baltimore outfitted the engine with a commemorative plaque and a bell, which can be seen in the illustration.
Aberystwyth, on the west coast of Wales, has been a popular resort town since the railroad "arrived" there in 1869.
The above five posters were printed in the 1950s, soon after the nationalized British Railways emerged from the Big Four regional railway companies.
The dreamy scenes, all from the north of Great Britain, suggest the rewards of travel off the beaten path: the two posters with artwork by Thomas Gilfillan were actually published for British Railways by a Scottish ferry company, which is still extant today.
Germany promotes its national heritage in three pictorial maps depicting local foods, churches and castles, and folk tales. While the placement of the churches and castles are accurate, the local delicacies map is vague in areas and the folk tales’ locations are almost entirely whimsical. Illustrator Lou Faller drew the maps in the 1930s for the German national railroad, but these posters were produced in the 1950s as railroad museum souvenirs.
Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français
France’s rail system was nationalized in 1938 with the merger of its five main rail lines to form the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF). In the mid-1950s, SNCF commissioned the country’s leading artists to design posters targeting the international market, with a “Discover France by Train” slogan.
The posters by Foujita and Dufy portray the pastoral charms of the countryside in Normandy along the northwestern coast. Those by Hambourg and Ceria depict Île de France with its majestic Chârtres Cathedral, and the fishing boats along the coast of Brittany, the westernmost tip of France.
LuLen Walker · Art Collection Curator
Christen Runge · Assistant Curator
Karen O’Connell · Rare Books Librarian
Marvin J. Aguilar (COL ’11) · Curatorial Assistance
David Hagen · Graphics Production
Each of the artworks represented here is under individual copyright protection. Images on this page may not be used for any purpose without express written permission of the copyright holder.