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The humble poster
Simply a large piece of paper, printed on one side with text and images, produced to deliver messages, advertise products and services. Ever since man painted on cave walls, it seems like we’ve always needed to get a message out!
From the Egyptians scribing hieroglyphics on to papyrus, the European monks creating illuminated manuscripts or the Japanese creating woodblock images, it seems the poster’s development was inevitable.
Following the invention of Gutenberg’s first printing press in 1440 a revolution in printing swept through Europe. It reached England in 1476 when William Caxton set one his press in Westminster Abbey. It seems fitting that Caxton printed what is considered to be the oldest surviving advertising poster, created to promote a handbook for priests called Sarum Pie.
The first posters, known as Broadsides, were commonplace between the 16th and 18th century’s and were used to announce proclamations or advertise events such as theatre productions, land sales, public executions and recruitment campaigns. Typically, broadsides were simple textual designs or included a crude woodcut image.
Little changed in the printing process until Alois Senefelder developed a printing method from a stone, called lithography. The process was difficult and expensive, so most prints were still produced in black and white and hand coloured.
Jules Chéret, Belle Epoque and the Art Nouveau movement
However, Senefelder’s method was groundbreaking and led the French painter and lithographer Jules Chéret to further develop the process. He discovered the three stone lithographic system. Using this new method, he could produce works of previously unseen vibrancy, range and intensity. Furthermore, it allowed text and images to be combined in print. And so, the ‘affiche’, or poster, as we now know it was born.
Cheret produced over 1000 posters including ones for the cabarets, music halls and theatres of Paris, such as Folies Bérgere, Moulin Rouge, Eldorado, Oympia, Jardin de Paris and the Theatre d’Opera. Others works included posters for stars of the day such as La Loie Fuller, Louise Webber and Yvette Guilbert, as well as advertising posters for Dubonnet, Cleveland Cycles, Job cigarettes and Electricine & Saxoleine lamp oil. His posters feature beautiful, carefree, flamboyantly dressed women, full of joie de vivre that became known as ‘Cherettes’. The posters were a massive hit with the public.
Such was the demand for his posters. Chéret decided to create a monthly subscription service called Les Maitres de l’Affiche. It offered reprints of both his work and that of many of his contemporary’s. The collection of 256 posters included works from 97 different artists including Toulouse Lautrec, Hugo d’Alesi, Jules Grün, Alfred Choubrac and Steinlen. Les Maitres de l’Affiche made posters accessible to the general public, creating a new phenomenon in collecting posters.
Around the same time, the Art Nouveau movement had grown to worldwide prominence. Inspired by natural forms coupled with asymmetric shapes and lines, Art Nouveau posters almost exclusively feature highly stylised women and flora. Highlights of the era would include Henri Privat-Livemont’s decoratively drawn poster for Robette Absinthe and Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts poster, Paul Berthon’s delicate L’hermitage and Will H Bradleys peacock book cover. However, Alfonse Mucha’s life-size image of Sarah Bernhardt as Gizmoda set the world alight and is now considered an Art Nouveau masterpiece.
By 1910, the art nouveau movement had faded. It was time for a change, and it came in the form of a French poster artist called Leonetto Cappiello. His first poster for the French newspaper Le Frou Frou, laid the blueprint for what was to come. Cappiello created bold, sometimes humorous, often bizarre, figures that popped out of black or bright solid colour backgrounds. His posters were a striking contrast to anything that had appeared before. Between 1901 and 1914 Cappiello created more than 530 advertising posters that revolutionised the art of the poster. Well-known posters include the Maurin Quina with its green devil, Cafe Martin with the Turk, Cinzano and the red zebra and Le Nil with the white elephant.
The Art Deco Movement
The Art Deco movement began in Paris in the 1920s and like art nouveau before it, rapidly became a worldwide phenomenon. It influenced all areas of design: architecture, art, furniture and more. Rather than Art Nouveau’s natural curves, Art Deco instead chose symmetry, sleek lines, and geometric elements. Curved letterforms were replaced by sleek, angular ones that would become synonymous with Art Deco. Some of the most iconic posters of the era include Fix Masseau’s Exactitude railway poster, Heinz Schulz-Neudamm’s Metropolis film poster, Pierre Zenobel’s New Blue Train poster, and Weimer Pursell’s Chicago World’s Fair poster that all became icons of the Industrial Age.
The late 1800s saw an exponential growth of railways across the world. ‘Chemins de Fer de PLM, a French railway company was the first to produce posters featuring colourful, scenic images to encourage rail travel. Posters by artists like Gustave Fraipont, Henri Cassiers, Constant Duval, Hugo d’Alesi and René Péan are amongst the world’s most collected railway posters.
At this time in Britain, Chéret’s printing methods hadn’t yet made an impact. Whilst railway posters were being produced, they were often simple typographical posters that were crude, garish and poorly composed, reminiscent of the broadsides from 200 years ago. The better-designed posters from the period have a charming and nostalgic appeal today. However, the use of small scenic views coupled with superfluous decoration and confusing layouts made them challenging to understand and virtually illegible when viewed from a distance.
In 1905, the L&NW railway took a different approach, commissioning Norman Wilkinson to produce a railway poster with a simplicity not previously seen on British railways. Wilkinson’s image of a small steamer crossing the Irish Channel with the words ‘To Ireland’ in the bottom right-hand corner, was a revelation. Other railway companies quickly replicated the format.
Seaside towns, historic buildings, towns, cities and countryside landscapes were all used by artists such as Ronald Lampitt, Alker Tripp, Frank Newbould, Jack Merriott, Chas Pears, Frank Sherwin, Frank Mason and Tom Purvis. A few even used the trains themselves as the focal point such as Charles Mayo’s Speed to the West poster, Grineaux’s Scot passes Scot, Maurice Beck’s Flying Scotsman poster and several produced by Terence Cuneo. This period is widely considered the Golden age of railway posters.
By the early 1900s, the new ocean liners could make Atlantic crossings in just 14 days. Shipping companies such as Cunard, White Star, Norddeutscher Lloyd, the East Asiatic and others were keen to embrace the poster to encourage greater numbers of passengers to use their services. Many shipping posters have become well-known pieces of art. Almost everyone is aware of Fussey’s famous Titanic poster and Cassandre’s innovative Statendam and Normandie posters, which have become art deco masterpieces. The Cunard White Star poster featuring both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth liners is fantastic. John Bainbridge’s SS France Compagnie Generale Transatlantique poster for the French Line stands out for its modernist geometric style.
Aviation & Airline Posters
Ballooning displays by early aeronautic pioneers such as the Montgolfier brothers, Jacques Charles and the Roberts Brothers, became a massive phenomenon throughout Europe. Several rare ballooning posters still exist including Grand Ballon Captif produced for the 1900 Paris Exposition and a delightful one featuring early pioneer Charles LeRoux promoting his own ballooning act.
It may seem unlikely now but derigibles, zeppelins and blimps were also a relatively common form of transport for the wealthy. Surviving posters such as those by the artist Ottamar Anton for the Hamburg-Amerika Line show that they were widespread in 1935.
Following the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903 and the Frenchman Louis Blériot’s successful flight across the English Channel in 1909, the general public was enthralled. Only a month after Blériot’s Channel flight, air displays were being put on at venues across the world to publicise and promote this new phenomenon. A poster created by Ernest Montaut for an air show at Reims in 1909 features a woman waving at a variety of aeroplanes, dirigibles and balloons of the day. Almost 500,000 people attended the event. Several other posters from these early air shows exist including one produced by the Great Western Railway for England’s first airshow, held, surprisingly at Doncaster in 1909.
The first commercial flight took place in America in 1914. By 1930 many airlines across the world had been formed. A considerable increase in air travel, whether for business or pleasure, lead to fierce competition between the companies. The poster formed an integral part of airlines marketing strategy leading to some incredible airline posters being designed. Over the years artists like Lucien Boucher, Jean Even, Vincent Guerra, Rene Gruau, Edmond Maurus and Bernard Villemot made stunning posters for Air France. David Klein had a long association producing posters for TWA (Trans World Airlines). Artists including Joseph Binder, Joseph Feher and Stan Galli worked with United Air Lines used artists and Herbert Loupin and Donald Brun produced incredible poster designs for SwissAir. Harry Rogers produced a range of international posters using a geometric, collage-style for Qantas and Otto Neilson’s, loose oil painting technique was used to good effect on a series of travel posters featuring animals for SAS (Scandanavian Airlines Systems).
War Posters and Propaganda Posters
By the time the First World War broke out in 1914, each of the nations involved understood the importance of posters in the wartime effort. The war created the biggest poster advertising campaign to date. America alone produced approximately 2,500 wartime poster designs, about 20 million posters, almost 1 for every 4 citizens, in just over two years. World War posters were used to recruit soldiers and sailors for the war effort and encourage women to replace men in factories. They advertised war bonds to raise much-needed funds, promote better and faster productivity in the workplace, and improve collective efforts on food rationing and wastefulness at home.
Several world war one posters have become iconic symbols. In recent years the discovery of the relatively unknown Keep Calm and Carry On poster has featured on everything from mugs to bedspreads and is known to millions. Other well-known posters include Alfred Leetes, finger-pointing Lord Kitchener saying ‘Your Country Needs You’ and James Montgomery Flagg’s American homage featuring Uncle Sam in a similar pose saying ‘I want You for the US Army’.
The success of the poster in WWI, ensured their recruitment again! Even though other media such as radio, newspapers and cinema newsreels were available, the poster was still considered important enough in the battle against the enemy. Creativity was impressive, and many posters from WWII have become iconic. Famous posters like Loose Lips, Sink Ships, or Be Like Dad, Keep Mum. J Howard Miller’s ‘We can do it’ poster and Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter poster. Artists on all sides were doing their utmost to try to spur their respective countries to victory.
In the 1950’s and 1960s, a Space Race between America and Russia began with both nations vying to be the first nation on the moon. Russia was leading the race. They put the first animals in space, the first man and woman, the first humanmade object and carried out the first spacewalk. Artists Iraklii Toidze and Konstantin Ivanov were engaged to create the world’s first space posters. The Russian posters are incredible pieces of art and were an influence on future movie poster artists. Unfortunately for Russia, the US landed on the moon first, overshadowing all Russia’s earlier successes.
Few subjects have a greater following of collectors or offer more dramatic and dynamic posters than motor car racing. Vintage posters such as Coulon’s 1927 art deco styled Klausen Rennen plakat, Aldo Mazza’s 1922 Circuit de Milan poster or Roy Nockolds 1930 Brookland’s poster exude speed and excitement. As do the impressive styles of Walter Gotschke and Hans Liska for the Mercedes Benz victory posters. The French illustrator Geo Ham was a prolific artist who created 100’s of motor racing images, many of which were produced for the French Grand Prix. Ham also completed designs for the Monaco Grand Prix races. Other artists including Falcucci, Michael Turner, J Ramel and A Giampaoli, have all contributed in creating Monaco posters over the decades, with more posters surviving for this race meeting than any other.
Even non-racing, advertising posters are often extremely impressive. Examples include the 1904 impressionist ad for Peugeot by G de Buggeill, the 1935 Peugeot Acceleration poster and Roger Soubie’s classic 1924 Bugatti poster.
Whilst rare posters for any genre command high prices, it’s film posters that command the highest prices at auction. For example, an Italian poster for the 1942 Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film, Casablanca, sold for £388,000 in 2017. Two horror movie posters, an American poster for the 1927 film London after Midnight starring Lon Chaney and a 1931 Dracula movie poster sold for £388,000 and £426,000. However, top billing goes to a 1927 German sci-fi poster for the Fritz Lang film Metropolis. There are only four known copies of the iconic poster. The Museum of Modern Art owns one, and the other is at the Austrian National Library Museum. Because these posters are incredibly rare, they often disappear into private collections for decades, rarely appearing on the market, making it all the more remarkable that two came to auction within months of each other recently. The first sold for an incredible £510,476 to one Leonardo DiCaprio. The second sold for a staggering $1.2m.
In the early days of cinema, the silent movie era, posters were used for advertising purposes. They’ve evolved into glorious works of creative genius. In an age where photography, retouching and digital effects can be carried out on a mobile phone, the poster artist’s skill often gets overlooked.
Our favourite film poster artists include the American artist Reynold Brown who produced many Hollywood movie posters for films such as Cat on a Hot tin Roof, The Alamo and The Time Machine. He also created many horror and B movie posters for films including Attack of the 50ft Woman, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Reptilicus, where often the quality of the poster outshone the quality of the film. Another favourite is the Italian artist, Jean Mascii. He is responsible for some of the best-known film posters such as Elvis Presley’s King Creole, Paul Newman’s Cool Hand Luke and the Italian manifesti for Clint Eastwood’s, the Good, the Bad & the Ugly.
The French artist Guy Gerald Noel is considered one of the greats in horror poster art and was responsible for many of the Universal film company’s classic posters, including the ones for the Dracula, Werewolf, and Frankenstein films. Other great artists include Frank McCarthy, Rodolfo Gasparri, Drew Struzan, Robert McGinnis, Anselmo Balleste and Renatto Casaro. However, top of the pile for us is the great Boris Grinsson, a Russian born artist who created over 2000 works of art for genres as diverse as Film Noir, Westerns, Thrillers, Romance and James Bond and Batman movies and while all his posters have a similar style, no two looks the same.
The role, significance, and appearance of the poster has changed continuously for almost a century and a half to meet society’s changing needs. Although its role is less critical than it once was, we’re in no doubt; the poster will continue to evolve and be relevant in the future. What began as a simple, low-cost promotional tool, has turned in to an accessible and often lucrative art form.
What type of posters are you looking for?
We have hundreds of fantastic reproduction vintage posters for you to browse. So, first and foremost, whether you’re into films, trains, cars, music or vintage advertising, not to mention, art nouveau, art deco, la belle epoque, or equally, maps and antique prints or vintage travel posters, we offer a fantastic range of reproduction posters. For that reason, we know there is going to be something here you’ll just love.
Affordable, Quality Reproductions
As can be seen on this website, our posters are affordable, quality reproductions of many noteworthy, rare, out of print or hard to find originals. Each carefully and professionally retouched to provide as accurate a representation of the original that we can achieve. Providing them, as an extremely cost-effective way to get to see these posters on your own walls.
Authentic Vintage Look
Whilst we take great care in the production of our posters and for the most part, we try to maintain the vintage look of the original. Therefore, there may be small imperfections, fold marks, scuffs, tears or marks that were part of the original poster master, that, consequently, may appear on our reproduction. We feel these only add to the authentic look of the reproduction.
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