Picture yourself in Portofino. Maybe Monaco, Nice is nice, could go to Cannes? Don’t bother. Save yourself the awkward run in with Elton John and spend this summer in Scarborough. Long before Easyjet had decided on the orange future of holidays, the Yorkshire resort was seen as the ultimate summer destination. And this exhibition takes us on a nostalgic trip down a sun soaked lane.
The first thing you notice is how this apparently traditional town has continually reinvented itself. From a ‘sportsman’s paradise’ to Yorkshire’s answer to the French Riviera, to the perfect family destination, Scarborough was continuously remoulded into the ultimate tonic resort. And all this was depicted in the famous and popular railway posters.
It all started towards the end of the Victorian era when pictorial designs were first introduced to advertising posters, and this new commercial art form was being driven by graphic artists. By the 1920s and 1930s Bradford’s Frank Newbould and Scarborough’s Frank Mason along with Tom Purvis, Fred Taylor and Austin Cooper were the London and North East Railway’s top poster artists.
The first room features large scenic views of Scarborough brought to life beautifully through the use of pure colours. The older posters of the 1920s and 30s are mostly screen prints boldly set apart by their block colours. Yet the standout scenic poster in the exhibition breaks away from the traditional screen print. Frank Mason’s striking painting of the Open Air Theatre beautifully captures light and atmosphere. As a founder of the famous Staithes Group and a light impressionist Mason was routinely commended on his depiction of light, and his railway posters are captivating.
The second room transforms Scarborough to the Riviera, as the resort tried to appeal to the romanticism of the middle-classes. Not able to afford holidays abroad but desperate to find the continental magic they saw in the movies, tourists lapped up any mention of European sunspots. A 1934 brochure boasts that ‘only at Monte Carlo can one find anything approaching the splendour of its setting’. Along the way people’ dress in the posters shows the changing fashions. Posters from the 1930s feature formal dress compared to the risqué bikinis of the 1960s.
Finally the exhibition has a family friendly children’s corner. Scarborough’s tradition as an ideal family resort is plastered over the room, from 1950s posters to life size family beach huts.
The exhibition is much more than the posters on show, it is a nod to the wider changes in British society, fashion and of course holiday making. You might feel a little short changed in the lack of information about the artists and their techniques. Still, the exhibition is a bit of nostalgic fun, especially for those who might remember the ice cream licker or moustache cup.
Last Stop Scarborough runs at the Art Gallery until next January