MacDonald 'Max' Gill – A Digital Resource

Chapter 7: The Thirties

A colourful drawn map of the world showing mail steamship routes

“GPO Mail Steamship Routes” poster, 1937. Produced for the General Post Office, with ships from the Vikings to the brand new Cunarder “Queen Mary”. Private collection.

The ‘Hungry Thirties’ were troubled times: they saw the ravages of the Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and ultimately the start of the Second World War. In Britain, hunger marches underlined the deepening social divisions, the Abdication Crisis of 1936 shook the Monarchy to its foundations, and there was growing discontent within the British Empire.

But it was also a time of rapid progress in the world of technology. On land, motor traffic was fast replacing horse-drawn vehicles and the London-Brighton railway was the first main line to replace steam with electric trains. In the air, streamlined metal monoplanes were replacing wood and canvas biplanes, and at sea, the last square-rigged sailing ships were giving way to steam. With the coming of the National Grid, more and more homes switched to electric power and the ‘Electronic Age’ was born, as radios, telephones and even the first television sets began to transform everyday life.

A colourful map of the UK shown sideways with the Post Office Wireless Stations showing on it

“Post Office Wireless Stations” poster, 1939. Produced for the General Post Office. Private collection.

Max Gill charted many of these changes in his maps, which reflect the sense of novelty and excitement these new discoveries created. He could draw switchgear or a transmitter mast with the same enthusiasm and meticulous eye for detail that he brought to the Spanish galleons in the Lindisfarne wind-dial map.

The Thirties also saw a flowering of graphic design, particularly in advertising, which was beginning to be seen as a valid art form in its own right. Posters increasingly relied on simplified images and the bold use of block colour. Max Gill continued to produce his elaborately detailed decorative maps, but he also moved with the times and images like ‘Mail Steamship Routes’ demonstrate a more striking and less cluttered style.

A colourful illustrated poster depicting Lands of Literature

“Lands of Literature” poster, 1930. Produced for publisher James Nisbet to celebrate the children’s author Stella Mead and her series of tales about different ‘Lands’. Private collection.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • November 12, 2015

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