Tom Purvis was born in June 12 1888, the son of a sailor turned marine painter (marine artist TG Purvis (1861-1933)). Purvis studied at Camberwell School of Art, and with Sickert and Degas. He then spent six years working as a designer for the advertising agency, Mather and Crowther, before establishing a freelance practice, whilst studying lithography at the Avenue Press. In 1907 he designed his first independent posters, for Dewar’s Whisky. Other major commissions followed, including many well-known works for LNER. During the 1914-18 war Purvis served with, and became a captain of, the Artist Rifles in France, until he was wounded. In the 1930s Purvis was a very successful poster designer, charging up to £250 for a design. Influenced by the Beggarstaff Brothers and German designers such as Hohlwëin, Purvis’s style was varied, ranging from flat areas of colour for LNER, to ‘massive representations of the human form and forceful lettering in his posters for Austin Reed and the British Industries Fair’. Purvis ‘moved British poster design away from its reliance on traditional imagery to a symbolism influenced by European designers’ such as Hohlwëin. Purvis was involved in the design of the ‘Purma’ camera in the 1930s.
In 1935 Purvis served on the Committee for the British Art in Industry Exhibition, and in 1936 was made one of the first eleven Royal Designer’s for Industry, becoming master of the RDI Faculty in 1940. In October 1939, Advertising World presented a summary of Purvis’s thoughts on poster design, taken from Poster Progress, a five-year survey of world-wide poster design, to which he wrote the introduction. In 1940, Purvis designed ‘Lend to Defend His Right to be Free’, for the National Savings Committee, using his son Roger as the design, as he never did preliminary sketches. Purvis worked as a war artist for the Ministry of Supply, based in London, from 1940 to 1945. In 1941 he assured readers of Advertiser’s Weekly that he had not abandoned poster design whilst ‘painting for posterity’ in factories in Scotland, but was working on a poster for the Air Ministry. Purvis was also a book illustrator, including Bomber’s Moon by Negley Farson (1941). Post-war he gave up poster designing to paint portraits, and in the last years of his life, religious pictures. He died on August 27 1957/9.
Information taken from: Darracott, J. and Loftus, B., Second World War Posters, 1981 (1972), p.50, London Transport Museum Database, February 2000, taken from Green, 1990, Livingston, A. and Livingston, I., Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers, 1992, p.161, Outdoor, ‘Plain Speaking to Poster Buyers – By Tom Purvis; in New Book’, Advertising World, October 1939, pp.23-24, Anonymous, ‘Tom Purvis is Painting in Scotland’, Advertiser’s Weekly, July 17 1941, p.58; Email from Prof Denis Mollison, May 2005
- Rennie, P., ‘Tom Purvis’, http://www.rennart.co.uk/purvis.html, accessed April 30 2004
Mass Communications Academic, @MMUBS. British Home Front Propaganda posters as researched for a PhD completed 2004. In 1997, unwittingly wrote the first history of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster, which she now follows with interest.