The Tube Train by Cyril Power - 1934 Dulwich Picture Gallery The Tube Train by Cyril Power - 1934 Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Tube Train

linocut •
  • Cyril Power - 17 December 1872 - 25 May 1951 Cyril Power 1934

The radical printmakers of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art produced an art form based on the flexibility of humble linoleum that was vibrantly modern and optimistic in spirit—though not without it’s more disquieting aspects too.

One of the four principal artists to emerge from the Grosvenor School, Cyril Power (1872–1951) was inspired by the modernity of the London Underground, which featured in many of his linocut prints. There is an implicit social criticism in many of these works, akin to the caustic quality of German Expressionist art from the same period. 

Buried in their newspapers, the disengaged passengers depicted in Tube Train display a typical English reserve, despite the fact that their tube carriage appears to be twisting and lurching through time and space. There is a likeness in the mood of this linocut to the opening sequences of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1931 darkly comic film Rich and Strange, which shows a bored, stressed-out commuter descending the Underground escalator as though he is entering a hellish underworld. A shot shows the train lurching melodramatically along the overcrowded platform, followed by a hysterical crush to get aboard. Like Power, Hitchcock was representing the mechanical tedium, sensory overload and strangeness of modern urban life—something with which many commuters can identify! 

Despite his ambivalence, Power and his colleague Sybil Andrews were commissioned by Frank Pick, the Managing Director of the London Underground. They produced eight posters for the London Passengers Transport Board from 1929 to 1937 under the pseudonym Andrew-Power. The eye-catching posters celebrate the various venues of sporting and leisure activities that could be reached via stations on the underground and bus network, from Wimbledon to Lord’s Cricket Ground. 

You can see Tube Train, on display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London until 8 September 2019 as part of Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking, the first major exhibition of The Grosvenor School.

P.S. If you feel like taking a trip with London Underground, do it here with Rosemary Ellis and her lovely posters designed for the London Passenger Transport Board!