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Posters Throughout History

Curated by mhz | January 24, 2019

World AIDS Day 1996
Health Education Authority

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poster is any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface.[1] Typically posters include both textual and graphicelements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be used for many purposes. They are a frequent tool of advertisers (particularly of events, musicians, and films), propagandistsprotestors, and other groups trying to communicate a message. Posters are also used for reproductions of artwork, particularly famous works, and are generally low-cost compared to the original artwork. The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the 1840s and 1850s when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production possible.[2]

According to the French historian Max Gallo, “for over two hundred years, posters have been displayed in public places all over the world. Visually striking, they have been designed to attract the attention of passers-by, making us aware of a political viewpoint, enticing us to attend specific events, or encouraging us to purchase a particular product or service.”[3] The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when several separate but related changes took place. First, the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production of large and inexpensive images possible. Second, government censorship of public spaces in countries like France was lifted. And finally, advertisers began to market mass-produced consumer goods to a growing populace in urban areas.[4]

“In little more than a hundred years”, writes poster expert John Barnicoat, “it has come to be recognized as a vital art form, attracting artists at every level, from painters like Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha to theatrical and commercial designers.”[5]They have ranged in styles from Art NouveauSymbolismCubism, and Art Deco to the more formal Bauhaus and the often incoherent hippie posters of the 1960s.

By the 1890s, the technique had spread throughout Europe. A number of noted French artists created poster art in this period, foremost amongst them Henri de Toulouse-LautrecJules ChéretEugène GrassetAdolphe WillettePierre BonnardLouis AnguetinAlfred ChoubracGeorges de Feure and Henri-Gabriel Ibels.[6]Chéret is considered to be the “father” of advertisement placards. He was a pencil artist and a scene decorator, who founded a small lithography office in Paris in 1866. He used striking characters, contrast and bright colours, and created over 1000 advertisements, primarily for exhibitions, theatres, and products. The industry soon attracted the service of many aspiring painters who needed a source of revenue to support themselves.

Chéret developed a new lithographic technique that suited better the needs of advertisers: he added a lot more colour which, in conjunction with innovative typography, rendered the poster much more expressive. Not surprisingly, Chéret is said to have introduced sex in advertising or, at least, to have exploited the feminine image as an advertising ploy. In contrast with those previously painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, Chéret’s laughing and provocative feminine figures, often called “chérettes,” meant a new conception of art as being of service to advertising.

Posters soon transformed the thoroughfares of Paris, making the streets into what one contemporary called “the poor man’s picture gallery.”[7] Their commercial success was such that some fine artists took up poster design in earnest. Some of these artists were, like Alphonse Mucha, in great demand and theatre stars personally selected their own favorite artist to do the poster for an upcoming performance. The popularity of poster art was such that in 1884 a major exhibition was held in Paris.

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