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Underground: 100 Years of Edward Johnston’s Lettering for London
12 March 2016 – 11 September 2016
This exhibition marks the centenary of Edward Johnston’s world famous typeface for London Underground. Remarkably, it has barely changed over 100 years, a testament to its success as station way finders.
Hand drawn by Johnston whilst living in Ditchling this alphabet is gloriously simple, but its design is rooted in much earlier lettering since it bears the proportions of Roman capitals. The design was initially proposed in 1913 by Frank Pick, commercial manager of London Underground Railway as a joint project for Edward Johnston and Eric Gill, but Gill was unable to proceed since he had agreed to a major commission of Stations of the Cross stone reliefs for Westminster Cathedral.
Johnston’s typeface is known variously as Underground, or Johnston Sans. It is also known as the basis on which Eric Gill, one of Johnston’s first pupils at Central School of Arts & Crafts, designed his typeface Gill Sans for the Monotype Corporation, released in 1928. With similar proportions to Johnston’s earlier typeface, it was initially criticised for being too similar but both Johnston Sans and Gill Sans have become modern classics.
This exhibition shows Johnston as a true man of letters, resurrecting and redefining calligraphy in the West, and designing an elegant typeface for London Underground. Highlights include Johnston’s calligraphy for W R Lethaby which secured his post as a teacher at Central School of Arts & Crafts; manuscripts showing his development as a calligrapher; rarely seen working drawings of the Underground typeface, and original drawings for Gill Sans.