An unsung poster heroine: Margaret Bradley

Until recently the huge literature on British interwar commercial art has largely ignored the significant contribution made by women designers. Thankfully, the genius of Freda Lingstrom, Sybil Andrews, Anna & Doris Zinkeisen, Dora Batty, Herry Perry and many mores is finally getting the recognition it deserves, with new publications and at least one major London-based exhibition in the planning. But the work of Margaret Bradley remains obscure, largely due to the lack of readily available information about her career. This blog is an initial attempt to rectify matters!

Margaret was the daughter of William Fletcher Bradley (1876-1969) the European correspondent for the motoring magazine Autocar. Her early life was spent in France where she studied art in Paris at the Ecole de la Ville and Academie Jullian as a pupil of Marc Saurel and Rene Vincent. One of her first commissions was for a full page illustration in the Graphic magazine entitled ‘A Fishy Look’ (August 1930), a Deco-ish take on traditional Japanese woodblock prints complete with a bejeweled Flapper dressed in a daring swim suit.

The Graphic, 1930

Over the next ten years, Bradley worked as a free-lance illustrator and designer between London and Paris. Fittingly, her best known poster from this period was for the Southern Railway’s cross channel night ferry linking the two capital cities by train (1939). She also produced illustrations and posters for Southern Railway guide books, most noticeably Sands Across the Sea (1938) which promoted rail services to northern France, especially Normandy and Brittany.

Illustration for AA booklet, 1933 

In the early 1930s the Automobile Association (AA) commissioned Margaret’s father to undertake a motoring tour across Europe from France to Turkey along the route of a proposed Transcontinental Highway, with Margaret acting as the ‘official artist and navigator’. The artworks for the resulting booklet were donated to the National Motor Museum (Beaulieu) by Margaret in the mid-1980s and include numerous sketches of the characters that she and her father met enroute.

Examples of newspaper illustrations, c.1935

Back in the UK, Bradley supplied regular illustrations for the Daily Herald, The Queen, Everywoman, Autocar and The Morris Magazine, among other clients – often depicting contemporary women’s fashions. She was represented at this time by the London agencies Vernon Tovey and A.S Knight, and exhibited widely at the Salon des Humuristes, des Independants, Galerie 55 (Paris), la Ciamaix (Paris), Monte Carle International Alwin Gallery, Hamwic Gallery (Southampton) and Heals (London).

Proof for French language Southern Railway publication, c.1938

In 1939 she married Lt Col Claver Henry Smallwood and lived for a while in Kensington before moving to Lymington in Hampshire. Her post-war clients included British European Airways, British Railways, Ford and Cassels, although I haven’t been able to find illustrations of any posters produced during this period. Margaret retired to the south of France in the 1980s and was livening in Hyères in 1990.

Unpublished design for Southern Railway 'Golden Arrow' service, 1930s

Twentieth Century Posters is currently offering a small archive of original and specimen works owned by Margaret. We would welcome additional information about her career and especially details of her post-war poster output.

To find out more about British female poster designers, read Ruth Artmonsky’s excellent survey Designing Women, Artmonsky Arts (2012).

Comments on post  (2)

Tim says:

Margaret was my mother’s closest friend for much of their lives. My wife and I knew her quite well visiting her home many times. We have two of her original artworks – one quite an early one. She and Twiggs’ ( her husband) lived at Milford-on-Sea, near Lymington until their respective deaths.

Patricia Elaine says:

Hi David, You made my day with this first newsletter.. I couldn’t wait to add this information into my files… The new glass blowing school & Gift shop are still not open. Although we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have been stealing time to work on my female artist project … However, I have been doing is keeping up to date with auctions and new information. I have made minimal progress on getting anything published.. although I have been cleaning up the data within the files…

Although, I have no spare money I have to ask , What are you offering on Margaret Bradley? more posters or maquettes? … Please let me know what and how much ?? I would at least like to think about it.

As soon as we are up and running, I hope to get back to the UK and would love to see you again.

Best Wishes and your first newsletter made a hit with me.

Thanks for keeping me in the loop


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