Significant in subject, setting and style, this work depicts the 20th Century Limited, the nation's foremost passenger train, as streamlined by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss in 1938. Recognized today as a defining American machine age poster image, it is often compared to the work of renowned European poster artist A. M. Cassandre. Set along the Hudson River, famously promoted as the "Water Level Route," the image focuses on the locomotive's hallmark aluminum fin (meant to recall a Roman Centurion's helmet) while deliberately masking mechanical details in shadow.
Artist Leslie Ragan was a prolific creator of transportation imagery during the 1930s, '40s and '50s. He drew inspiration from the work of pioneering American illustrator N. C. Wyeth, to create images characterized by strong contrast and vivid color. His clients included the Budd Company, Norfolk & Western and Seaboard Air Line. While American poster advertising never matched the popularity or creative diversity of its European counterpart, America's railroads set an ambitious example. New York Central, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific were the leading proponents of the medium, typically displaying posters in stations and metropolitan ticket offices. Not by coincidence, the three carriers were generally acknowledged as the industry's most innovative advertisers.
--Michael E. Zega