Our treat today is to luxuriate with not only one zone where brilliant graphic design is a given–namely, Canadian Pacific marketing–but a second powerhouse, namely, the masterful, Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971), one of the treasures responsible for the great stature of British Rail posters (and also a brilliant watercolorist and optics genius–devising camouflage for British ships during World War I).

Wilkinson was most memorable in mustering landscape and seascape atmospheres that went to the heart of the rapturous powers of panoramic space. His commission (in the 1920s) to illustrate an extensive booklet spotlighting the Canadian Pacific fleet of ocean liners manages, within the constraints of small size and offset printing, to evoke reveries of those moments of the elements taking over which we’ve all been touched by, however briefly.

Here we have the Empress of France making its way to the Atlantic by way of the St. Lawrence River. The publication wants prospective passengers to understand that a significant percentage of the voyage from Montreal to Europe benefits from the placid waters of that river. This nocturnal moment of vintage celebration has been provided with the serenity to absorb the depths and quiet sparkle of the vast night. The craft’s signature gold smokestacks basking in moonlight emit a signal of “all is well.”  



Here again the optics, giving direction to the graphic design, want it implied that the shore is never far away. The spray of seagulls, however, in Wilkinson’s very able hands, does so much more! The dash of that formation, against a void enhanced by the dark flag at the bottom of the frame and the amplified horizon of blue sea, functions very much like the epiphantic cascading, billowing cloud formations in Wilkinson’s British Rail landscapes.




Wilkinson’s coverage of the process of berthing a large ship through congested waters (by a mariner called a pilot, who is most familiar with local waterways) of a European port is a dazzler! The sharp edge and massive heft of the great craft with its happy voyagers overlooking the port intensifies the frisson of the opening skies and their foggy apparition which dwarf the smaller craft.




All of the factors just dealt with–calm St. Lawrence River run; awe-inspiring skies; masterful bustle; and observatory to see far into the universe–are apparent here. But in addition we have a revelation that the Canadian Pacific shipping enterprise is so extensive that its marine highway can resemble a roadway. There is something about the tug of a pragmatic transport system cutting through pristine wilderness which whets the traveller’s appetite to give the route a try.




In the same vein as that which is shown directly above, this depiction of the 1885-era of the company’s first fleet–given a deliciously raw and quietly wild chromatic touch–wants especially to inform the prospective client that so magisterial is the company strutting its stuff that a traveller on board an incoming ship could board a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Quebec City or Montreal and travel in remarkable comfort and at great speed to the West Coast and board another CP ship bound for the Orient and beyond. (Also pointed out are the many rail connections to the US.)




To offer a taste of the various energies being approached by the Company’s ships, Wilkinson juxtaposes this jaunty and sun-dappled moment via the Empress of Scotland at the port of Southampton…




…with the somewhat gritty presence of Hamburg. The former port’s  light-colored waters seem to portend playful depths (hence the little craft). The scene here, on the other hand, implies an industrial invasion against the waters; and therewith the visit would be informed by  the excitements of urban life.




Norman Wilkinson;10 3/4″x8 1/4″;Cruise Ship Booklet (c.1925)19 ill;12 full page color


Something quite fully poetic floods this publication’s smashing cover! We have a school of porpoises leading the way, as only they can, through seas of the most clean and perfect blue. With thrilled onlookers crowding the decks, the craft seems to gather bounce as it follows the spectacle to last a lifetime.




More whimsy–the fascinating playground that is the St. Lawrence River. I love the geometry of the tall ship’s masts and the implication that these happy sailors are also formidable craftsmen, conversant with both the waves and the clouds.




Quebec City (clearly cherished by those conceiving this campaign) looking every bit to be a Mediterranean port! And Wilkinson’s little trompe l’oeil does not miss the opportunity to evoke a meditative frame of mind for those embarking to more venerable civilizations.




The Empress of Scotland, its greys met by a grey sea, the better to show off its superb technical component, and the energies that went into its construction, energies with a kinship to the vast natural sweep of its true habitat.




In addition to the very moving color work, Wilkinson provides chromatically slight but optically potent vignettes on the margins, pertaining to the major subjects. How lucky we feel, to have come across this dazzling little production!






As if the above were not enough, this promotion also includes several renderings of historical crafts to more explicitly ally the Company to the fabulous history of seafaring.

Share Button
Like this:Like
Be the first one who likes this post!
This entry was posted in Illustration Art, Illustrators, Poster&Graphic Artists and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(Spamcheck Enabled)