Purvis Archive

Scope and Content

This collection includes:

  • Lecture notes (1929-1938)
  • Project folders (c.1934-1959)
  • Sketches and sketch books (no dates)
  • Letters of sympathy written after his death to his widow Jane and biographical notes and letters from various sources (c. 1959-1979)
  • Personal letters, photographs and other documents e.g. passport, RSA certificate etc. (c.1920s-1959)
  • Extensive newspaper clippings and copies of Purvis’ own artistic work and articles written by or about Purvis (c.1920s-1940s)

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Charles Purvis (1888-1959)

Tom Purvis was born in Bristol in 1888, the son of the sailor and marine artist, T.G. Purvis (1861-1933). After leaving school he attended Camberwell College of Art in London for 3 ½ years, during this time he studied under both Sickert and Degas.

After leaving art college Purvis began working for the advertising agency Mather and Crowther however little of his work from this time has survived/has been identified. Purvis left Mather and Crowther after 6 years and began working freelance for Avenue Press, whose facilities he used in his spare time in order to master the art of lithographic printing, which defined much of his poster work.

Purvis was widely known as one of the most important English poster artists of his day, recognisable for his simplified, symbolic, two-dimensional and colourful style of printing. He is probably best known for his work with Austin Reed and the LNER, for whom he produced over 100 posters from 1923-1945. During his time collaborating with the LNER and Austin Reed Purvis created posters and magazine/newspaper advertisements for other company’s including: Aquascutum, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Bovril, The British Industries Fair (B.I.F.), Colgate, The Daily Herald and Shell. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s he contributed to various publications through freelance work with Odhams Press, illustrating stories and front covers for titles including: 20 Story Magazine, The London Magazine, Modern Man, PAN, Passing Show Magazine, and Punch. The style Purvis employed for this work is often significantly more naturalistic than that seen in his poster work. During the Second World War Purvis was also an official poster artist for the Ministry of Supply.

During his career Purvis lobbied for the professionalisation of commercial art. He publicised his views concerning what he perceived as a lack of practical training for commercial artists through articles and lectures. In 1930 Purvis joined the Society of Industrial Artists and in 1936 he became one of the first designers to be made a Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts.

After the Second World War Purvis withdrew from commercial art however he continued to work with Blackpool Pleasure Beach until his death in 1959, alongside undertaking commissioned portrait work.

In his later years (c.1950s) Purvis converted to Catholicism and focussed on religious paintings.


It has not been possible to ascertain how Tom Purvis arranged his papers. Articles written by or about Purvis have been numbered, it is unknown who arranged these papers however it is known not to be Purvis as the series contains his obituary. Some cuttings, proofs etc. of his commercial work have been numbered and several series are discernable, for ease of use these have been listed as one series. Again it is unclear who arranged these items but it is possible that it was Purvis.

Notes have been prepared, probably by Purvis’ step-son Teddy Trimmer, detailing some of the contents. These notes are now in box 1 and annotations have been added to them detailing new locations and reference numbers for the items listed.

The collection has been arranged into 10 series as follows:

  • 1. Lecture Notes
  • 2. Project Folders
  • 3. Sketches and Sketch books
  • 4. Biographical notes and letters about Purvis’ life
  • 5. Letters written by Purvis to his wife Jane
  • 6. Personal Documents
  • 7. Newspaper cuttings of articles by and about Purvis
  • 8. Proofs, cuttings and originals of commercial work
  • 9. Photographs of portrait work
  • 10. Personal photographs

Access Information

Access is given in accordance with the NRM access policy. Material from this archive is available to researchers through the Search Engine reading room.

Opening times:

Search Engine is open to the public Wednesday to Saturday 10.00-5.30. You don't need an appointment to use the library collection but you will need to book at least a week ahead if you wish to look at archival material.

To make a booking, email: search.engine@nrm.org.uk. We recommend you contact us at least one week before your visit.

Contact details:

Address: Search Engine, National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ. Email: search.engine@nrm.org.uk

Check full details on the website at: http://www.nrm.org.uk/ResearchAndArchive/enquiriesandvisiting.aspx

Acquisition Information

The papers were purchased from Onslow’s Auctioneers, London in March 1990.

Other Finding Aids

A list of the contents of the collection is appended to this catalogue.

Alternative Form Available

Not applicable.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

The collection contains a variety of material including newspaper cuttings, handwritten and typed notes, printed posters, photographs and one glass negative.

Archivist's Note

This catalogue was compiled in January 2009.

Description created by Jane Ronson (Archives Hub team) using the Archives Hub EAD Editor, May 2015.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies may be supplied of items in the archive, provided that the copying process used does not damage the item or is not detrimental to its preservation. Copies will be supplied in accordance with the NRM’s terms and conditions for the supply and reproduction of copies, and the provisions of any relevant copyright legislation.

Appraisal Information

No appraisal of this collection has been undertaken.

Custodial History

Purvis’ papers appear to have been passed to his widow, Jane, upon his death. Jane has added letters of sympathy and notes from friends of Tom Purvis to the papers (as well as various other items in series 6). A biography was started by Bevis Hillier, art historian, but was never completed or published, the manuscript of which is in the collection. It is likely that the papers were passed to Purvis’ step-son Teddy Trimmer before their eventual sale.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

The National Railway Museum holds 90 posters and 1 original painting by Purvis for the London and North East Railway: See Appendix 1 for a full item list.

The National Archives holds 10 original Purvis posters including designs for the British Industries Fair: See Appendix 2 for full details.

The London Transport Museum holds 6 posters including designs for the British Industries Fair and London Underground: See Appendix 2 for full details.

The Imperial War Museum holds 11 posters in its Posters in Conflict collection: See Appendix 2 for full details.

The City of Westminster Archives contains correspondence and postcards relating to Purvis during the period that he occupied 57A Abbey Road, London with T Watt Corfe, Joseph Wolinski, c1884-1915: See Appendix 2 for full details.

The Glasgow School of Art, Scotland contains some correspondence between Purvis and William Oliphant Hutchinson, Director of the Glasgow School of Art, 1933-1943: See Appendix 2 for full details.

The National Portrait Gallery holds 2 portraits completed by Purvis and four portraits of him by Howard Coster: See Appendix 2 for full details.

Location of Originals

Not applicable.


A. A. Braun, ‘Artists who help the advertiser: number 15, Tom Purvis’, Commercial Art (Oct 1924)

John Hewitt, The Commercial Art of Tom Purvis (1996)

John Hewitt, ‘East Cost Joys: Tom Purvis and the LNER’, Journal of Design History , volume 8, no. 4 (1995) pp 291-311

A. Livingston and L. Livingston, Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers, 1992, p.161

Geographical Names