Retro airline art from the Golden Age of air travel

Fly TWA: San Francisco, Fly TWA: New York, and Fly TWA: Los Angeles
14"x11" ($60) | 20"x16" ($240) | 24"x20" ($600) | 40"x30" ($1800)

The best things in life are three. Preeeeetty sure that’s what the proverbial “they” meant to say, and this extra-special triple edition release is evidence. These midcentury airline ads are the nifty fifties artworks (and present-day travel aspiration inducers) we’ve been hunting for. Graphic, gold-washed, vibrant, and vivacious, they sum up their respective destinations with classic allusions to some of their most commonly recognizable colors, textures and locales. All three are referential works of fantasy, stirring a desire to take to the skies—or hunker down in a retro day dream. Whether you’re partial to SF, LA, or NYC, each of these new editions is a one-way ticket to chic walls. If you’ve got a real case of old school wanderlust, go ahead and collect the lot! Just imagine how good this trio would look as a triptych.

These top-flight (heh) poster designs were all created for Trans World Airlines in the 1950s, aka the Golden Age of air travel. Airline advertisements at the time touted an in-flight journey that was just as luxurious as a vacation itself. These three new Vintage Editions are conduits to a serious nostalgia moment, flashbacks to when people used to get dressed up to fly, to extensive legroom and swirling scotches. (Nevermind the fact that only the elite could afford to take a flight, cabin air was thick with cig smoke, and the piston-powered planes of the first years of the decade were so loud and turbulent those sick bags came in mighty handy.)

The destinations these prints depict are three of the major cities on TWA’s route. At its peak, TWA was known as the “Airline to the stars”, a darling of the Hollywood set. That La La Land reverie and drama is evident in these eye-catching posters, created to entice hardworking Americans to forfeit serious sums of money for a ride thousands of feet in the sky.

An illustrator named David Klein is responsible for both the San Francisco and New York ad artworks we’ve editioned. Interestingly, Klein was a favorite artist of Broadway advertisers—during the late 1940s and early 1950s, many of the most popular Broadway productions featured his work on their window cards and posters. You can see the influence of the genre in his Fly TWA: New York and Fly TWA: San Francisco posters, both of which tell a theatrical story, calling on conspicuous landmarks to convey a distinct sense of mood, while suggesting dynamic movement in an inherently static medium. They are at once persuasive airline promotions, and a journey to digest in and of themselves. It’s no surprise Klein had established himself as one of the country’s leading commercial illustrators by the mid-1950s, going on to produce a number of award-winning travel advertisements. Fly TWA: New York (which depicts NYC’s Times Square) is even a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.

Artist Robert Harmer Smith continued the mid-50s trend of TWA’s bright, striking posters with his illustration for Fly TWA: Los Angeles, no less cinematic than our other two TWA editions. Warm and tropical-feeling, this illustration beckons would-be travelers to the Golden State by highlighting the architecture of California’s historic Spanish missions, telltale SoCal palms, and the yellow hues of the West Coast’s setting sun. It’s an overture that insists on a one-of-a-kind, utopian trip.

Between all three of these images, there’s a definite sense of exciting exclusivity, as if the onlooker has an opportunity to be a part of a very special, rare experience only TWA could offer. We don’t know if TWA delivered on that promise, but we can say that our 20x200 prints of their dazzling designs are a cut above. Be one of the vintage art lovers to collect our carefully restored limited-edition TWA poster art prints and you'll secure your membership in a new, less naked kind of mile-high club.

Please place your art in the framed, upright position. You are now free to roam about the editions.

With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200

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