Tom Purvis ((12 June 1888 – 27 August 1959) was the greatest and most influential poster-designer of the twentieth century; his work was prolific, stylish, colourful, unique and defined an era.He was born in Bristol, the son of a sailor and marine artist – T.G. Purvis.He trained with the legendary German artist Walter Sickert and the equally legendary French artist Edgar Degas and also at Camberwell School of Art, then for six years he worked for the advertising company Mather & Crowther before becoming a freelance designer.His most famous posters were created for the London & North Eastern Railway, Shell and Austin Reed during the 1920s and 1930s.Tom Purvis’ exclusive method of painting consisted of a bold, two-dimensional style which made use of large blocks of vivid, flat colour whilst eliminating detail; it was particularly suited not only to advertising work, but also the “Art Deco” vogue of the 1930’s.From a fashion perspective, Purvis’ work for the gentlemen’s outfitters Austin Reed is of particular interest/merit.Austin Reed opened their shop in Regents Street in 1926 and through the advertising agency of Pritchard Wood, Purvis was commissioned to produce a series of stylish posters which would define the corporate sense of style that Austin Reed sought to promote and the type of client they wished to entertain/cater for.The posters were a resounding success, promoting an aspirational life-style via Purvis’ superb use of bold, flat, colour and a keen sense of British (class) culture and fashion. Purvis served on the committee for the British Art in Industry exhibition at the Royal Academy (1935) and was made one of the first Royal Designer’s for Industry in 1936.He gave up his poster-art after the second world war (he had fought himself in the first world war in “The Artist’s Rifles”) to concentrate on portraits and religious pictures.Tom Purvis was an incredibly talented/expressive artist and his work for Austin Reed forms a significant part of the rich legacy he left for us to enjoy.
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TEXT © Gary Alston 2013