The Great Poster Movement (A general History of Posters)
"From the years 1890 to 1900, Europe and America were in a
frenzy over a new form of advertising, which was also a new form
of art: the illustrated colour advertising poster. Gone were the
drab streets and boring broadsides. The boulevards of Paris, the
tiny streets of Belgium and Holland, the otherwise solemn squares
of London, and the shop windows of America proliferated with colourful
images, a veritable public poster parade, created by some of the
most talented artists of their times." (Fusco
Paris street picture
Cheret) The Father of the Poster
"All the evidence that has been gathered indicates that towns
(in the middle of the 19th century) were covered with posters having
one point in common: an absolute lack of artistic value. The poster
existed but the art of advertising had not yet been born. In order
for it to develop, in order for it to be recognized, the intervention
of an artist of talent was necessary. Furthermore, this artist had
to be an accomplished lithographer in order to arrive at a mastery
of colour. It is Jules Cheret,
who is recognized, rightly, as the Father of poster art (designing
over 1000 posters). From 1860, he gave the world the final impetus
which allowed it to establish itself in France and the world over...he
undeniably pointed the way for all Europe." (Weill
The great artists of Paris led the way in the poster movement. Their
designs were influenced, in part, by Japanese woodcuts. This notable
group headed by Cheret and including the great masters, Steinlen,
and the most famous artist of them all Toulouse-Lautrec.
Their designs were decorating the walls of their city with lithographic
masterpieces and bringing light and gaiety to a workday world. The
influence of these artists spread internationally, and many of their
designs have never been excelled.
Among the earlier American designers the names Rhead,
and Penfield stand out. In
England artists including Greiffenhagen,
Morrow, and Price
had begun their contributions to the field, while artists like Dudley
Hardy appealed alike to the critic and the man in the street
by his bold groupings and strong colour arrangements. As well The
Beggarstaffs, consisting of Nicholson & Pryde, perhaps the
most influential graphic designers of all time, virtually created
the modern poster, with clear outlines and large areas of flat colour.
Names like Mucha "The
Father of Art Nouveau," and Cappiello
"The Father of Modern Advertising," as well Misti,
Henri Meunier, De
Feure, and so many others were soon added to this growing list
of great poster designers whose work can now be found on display
in major museums and private collections around the world.
"The Industrial Revolution in full swing, once basic consumer
need's were covered, marketers found it profitable to create new
needs, ones consumer's never knew they had. Posters were an ideal
way to educate consumers about what they should want.
To convince consumers that fashion, status and convenience were
as valid reasons to buy as necessity, marketing experts soon discovered
the persuasive technique of showing products being enjoyed by beautiful
people in beautiful settings. Pretty women soon smiled out of billboards
selling everything imaginable (from gas lighting, laundry soap,
medicine, cigarettes, bicycles, cookies, travel destinations, stores,
art exhibitions, magazines, to wine and beer).
Posters for alcoholic beverages provide a good example of art leading
the way to break a taboo. In the 19th century, drinking by women
was regarded with scorn. As a result liquor ads were addressed almost
exclusively to men. Knowing how persuasive men find a pretty face
(and a good figure), the posterists put women in liquor posters
and showed them not only praising the product but actually sampling
it (such as Dubonnet, Vin Mariani, Absinthe Robette, and Mumm Champagne).
With more money and leisure time, the urban population reached
out for intellectual and spiritual experiences. Now better educated,
people acquired an appreciation of culture, art, and literature.
As the posters for publications attest, there was a hunger for books,
newspapers and magazines that brought the outside world to the reader
as never before (such as Harper's, Lippincott's, Le Journal, Pan,
Gil Blas, Le Rire,
and La Revue Blanche)." (Gold)
With the debut of Sarah Bernhardt, and the poster that immortalized
her (PL. 27), other female stars
emerged, and graced the most beautiful posters ever created. Striking
images of Yvette Guibert, Eugenie Buffet, Camille Stefani,
Jane Avril, La Goulue, and Loie Fuller are not easily forgotten.
"A Sunday afternoon ritual for the folk of Paris was to journey
to the dance halls set up in former windmills atop the butte of
Montmartre to dance and drink wine. The
Moulin Rouge opened there in 1899. With Montmarte home to as
many artists as cabarets and music halls, it's not surprising the
quality of entertainment posters was so high. Grun
lived in the Bohemian quarter and depicted its characters as well
Toulouse-Lautrec spent his
most productive years, just a stroll away from the night spots he
haunted." (Gold) Wonderful poster
images were created for all forms of entertainment, at venues like
the Moulin Rouge, including the Folies-Bergere, Olympia, Theâtre
de l'Opera, and Jardin de Paris, to name a few, immortalized by
the likes of Cheret, Pal,
The First Collectors
"There was a veritable poster collecting "craze"
from the late 1880's until after the turn of the century. The new
and exciting medium was quickly seized upon by collectors. Poster
shows and exhibitions abounded, drawing thousands of visitors, and
poster collecting clubs, societies, and publications sprang up all
over Europe and the United States. It was not long before poster
artists and publishers realized they could overprint a commercial
edition and make it available for sale through print dealers, such
as Sagot in Paris. At the time the posters were issued through Sagot
in the 1890's, posters such as Toulouse-Lautrec's La Revue Blanche
(PL.82) sold for 5 francs (Has
sold in Auction for over US $40,000). Cities were burgeoned with
the rise of a new merchant class, which sought to put art into their
homes. Posters were inexpensive and decorative works. In addition,
illustrated advertising posters were a new notion and had given
the drab streets of Paris the aspect of a public gallery. Each new
poster was eagerly anticipated, talked about, and written about."
(Fusco p. 40)
"Numerous publications and periodicals fanned the fires of
the poster fad. As early as 1886 publishers issued catalogs and
books. Starting in 1886 under direction of Jules
Cheret, a Parisian printing company started producing smaller
versions of the best posters of Europe and America in lithographic
plates (See Poster Printing, below). Called "Les Maitre de
l'Affiche," or "Masters of the Poster," these magnificent
portfolios of miniature masterworks were issued monthly for about
2 1/2 francs per issue. Each issue contained four posters, the first
of which was always Cheret. In all by 1900, 256 plates had been
issued (See les Maitres de l'Affiche)."(Fusco
p.40) A well the French weekly publications, both humorous and
satirical, had contributions from many of the great artists of the
day, including Lautrec, Steinlen,
Cappiello and scores of
others. One of the most famous publications being "Le Rire,"
meaning "to laugh" (see Le Rire).
"In 1878, a German named Alloys Senefelder created the printing
method known as lithography from the word "lithos" or
stone. The ink is carried on a flat surface rather than on raised
edges or in incised lines. It was not until the mid-1800's, however
that the lithographic process would be perfected. It was Cheret
who would refine the lithographic printing technique and master
the creation of colour lithography.
In early lithographic posters, the artist or an assistant would
draw the image desired onto a slab of limestone using a grease crayon
(It should be noted that most posters were actually drawn on the
stone or plate by a master lithographer, other than the artist,
from preliminary studies, with the artist's approval and guidance).
However, most people do not realize what a cumbersome exacting
process stone lithography really was. It had major drawbacks. The
limestone was most often Bavarian limestone which was heavy, fragile
and expensive. In addition, a separate stone was needed for each
different colour of the poster. Sometimes as many as nine or ten
stones were used! When the printing run was completed, often the
stones were ground down to the first image and then used again for
After the ink was applied to the stone, the paper was laid on the
stone, a metal backing was laid down on top, and the entire stone
passed on runners under a wooden bar called a scraper, which applied
pressure to lift the ink from the stone to the paper. The process
had to be repeated for each colour.
Commercial printers started using roughened zinc (plates) instead
of the limestone, and they were called "lithographs."
("les Maitres de l'Affiche")are
lithographs printed in this manner) The distinctive feature about
most lithographs (original posters) is the evenness with which the
ink is applied to the paper. Under a magnifying glass one can see
that the colours are evenly distributed, and it is one method of
identifying a poster as a lithograph (rather than a recently printed
photo offset reproduction of a lithograph which has a visible fine
What would happen to dramatically change the way in which posters
were created and printed was the advent of photography in printing.
They became known as photolithographs (or photo offset, or simply
offset), and it is the printing process most commonly used by commercial
printers today (with digital printing becoming the next level).
Most commercial (advertising) posters since World War II are photolithographs,
while most posters done before World War II are lithographs. Posters
which are printed by stone or zinc (plate) lithography will always
be more valuable than those produced by photographic means."
In recent years rare posters by the great masters of Poster art,
whose posters sold originally for a few francs, are selling for
huge sums of money. Nearly one quarter of a million was paid recently
for Toulouse-Lautrec's "Moulin
Rouge - La Goulue". This and other works of the period
will continue to rise in value.
"One of the strongest changes over the last ten years is that
there is a larger and more knowledgeable group of poster collectors,"
says Lucy Broido (poster historian). "This is due, in part,
to museum exhibitions and increased news about posters."(Fusco
"Today original posters by Chéret,
Steinlen, Mucha, and Toulouse-Lautrec have far exceeded many other
forms of investment. Unlike stocks and bonds, posters can be enjoyed
for their beauty as well as their investment values in the global
Investment value aside, the true collector
collects for the love of the art itself. You should collect what
you like, and expand your interest slowly based upon looking at
posters. This is exactly what they were designed for, to deliver
a message to you, to be admired, to be remembered, and now most
of all, to be enjoyed."