Antiques: Posters – a pastiche of the last 120 years
When it comes to collecting posters, it’s hard to be brief. Despite the fact that posters in the modern sense only date from around 1880, the category has since fragmented into a million different segments. There are posters celebrating music and cinema, travel and adventure, art and events, military and politics, advertising and promotion and countless other topics. Most collectors necessarily specialize by artist, era, subject or other division. And while collecting original artwork can be hugely satisfying for those who have the resources, great poster assemblies can be put together for much less. Let’s investigate.
To begin with, a Frenchman named Jules Chéret (1836-1932) is widely recognized as the father of the modern poster. Originally trained in the nascent art of lithography, Chéret was a temperamental and prolific artist by nature. Over the course of a long career, he has created over 1,000 posters, most of them in a striking style. He was an early advertiser, hoping his posters would attract customers to whatever they displayed. And they did.
Chéret’s success did not go unnoticed and, at the turn of the century, posters were suddenly everywhere. In 1891, Henri de Toulouse-Latrec’s legendary poster promoting the French cabaret Moulin Rouge broke all records, featuring multiple fonts, vibrant colors and the creative hand of a brilliant artist. This and other posters spurred key advancements in both letterpress and color lithography – the first because of the need for larger, more stylized type, and the second because of a new need for a myriad of dazzling colors.
Thus starting in France, the poster boom was born. New ones came swiftly and furiously from all over the world, many promoting icons from their homelands. In France, the privileged subject was food and drink. In Italy, fashion; in Spain, bullfights; in Germany, business. And in America and Britain there were posters screaming about upcoming events. Over the years, brand promotion through posters began to dominate as designs were influenced by the ebb and flow of art movements.
World War I was a boom time for posters, with America producing over two million copies of some 2,500 different designs. Every aspect of wartime accountability has been promoted, all with a dominant theme of us versus them nationalism.
By World War II, however, the concept of posters as a major advertising vehicle had started to fade. Print advertising and radio began to infringe, a trend fostered by the advent of postwar television. By the 1950s, posters had largely become a subsidiary medium of exhibition. Yet all types of goods and services have been promoted with travel and consumer themes dominating the category. A decade later, we are witnessing the birth of rock and roll posters with their surrealism and breathtaking psychedelic designs. In the 1980s, the so-called post-modern look began, a graphically interesting though unromantic and charmless precursor of the digital age we find ourselves in now.
So what should we take away from all of this? This is because the world of posters is a pastiche of the past 120 years and a fascinating quest for anyone interested in the visual arts. There’s more to come on this topic, but for now, surf around a bit and take a look at some online poster auctions. There will surely be something that will please.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Drop him a line at [email protected].