Do you have that one friend on social media that just spams you with event invitations every other day? We all have one of those and some of us have deleted him from our friend lists. The internet is full of every kind of information and that can also be applied in specific local areas, and the events, services or goods that are available in it. Which movies are in cinemas now? Just go check it out on the internet. What cultural events are in my neighborhood this week? Yup, internet is here to give you the answer. Keeping all this in mind, it is a rather interesting question how do the posters in their physical form still manage to hold relevance. Well, for once, it is because of their advertising and/or propaganda service. The maker of the information wants you to see it even when you are outside, and not looking into your smartphone. Second, in spite of being a carrier of the information, poster is also a form of art. So, if a festival is in your town, it is a small chance that you will not see a poster advertising it.

Poster of the movie “Tarzan and his Mate”, originally shot in 1934. This is the first original print from the early ’50s (when the movie was translated and the rights bought) in Serbian language for the territory of Yugoslavia.

We will be talking about prints soon enough but before that we will take about the history of poster art. The story begins with certain technological innovations that happened before the mass production of posters was possible.  First step was an introduction of lithography. Invented in 1798, lithography was at first an expensive technique for poster production. Most posters were wood or metal engravings with little color or design, and engraving technique was mostly used for book illustrations and small-series maps, portraits and landscape productions.

Russian Imperial poster from the year 1913 announcing an upcoming event in the Polytechnic Museum of Moscow. Printed before in one color, not very inviting but quite informative.

Invention of the 3 stone lithographic process by Jules Chéret was an essential element that would make mass productions of poster possible. It was invented in 1880s, and it allowed artists to achieve every color in the rainbow with as little as three stones – usually red, yellow and blue – printed in careful registration. Jules Chéret, a French painter and lithographer, became himself a master of Belle Époque poster art. He has been called the “father of the modern poster”.  Although the process was difficult, the result was a remarkable intensity of color and texture, with sublime transparencies and nuances impossible in other media. The ability to combine word and image in such an attractive and economical format finally allowed the lithographic poster to usher in the modern age of advertising.

The Belle Époque

The Belle Époque was a period of Western European history. It is conventionally dated from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to the outbreak of World War I in around 1914. Occurring during the era of the French Third Republic (beginning 1870), it was a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations. In the climate of the period, especially in Paris, the arts flourished. The Belle Époque was named, in retrospect, when it began to be considered a “golden age” in contrast to the horrors of World War I. In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec, a French painter, printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator made his extraordinary first poster, Moulin Rouge and elevated the status of the poster to fine art and touched off a poster craze.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is an international style of art, architecture and applied art (especially the decorative arts), that was most popular between 1890 and 1910. As a reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, not only in flowers and plants, but also in curved lines.

Two-dimensional Art Nouveau pieces were painted, drawn, and printed in popular forms such as advertisements, posters, labels, magazines, and the like. Japanese wood-block prints, with their curved lines, patterned surfaces, contrasting voids, and flatness of visual plane, also inspired Art Nouveau.

Japanese woodblock prints that predate and inspire the Art Noveau. The contours and the way colors are matched resemble works of French great artists from the end of the XIX century.

Some line and curve patterns became graphic clichés that were later found in works of artists from many parts of the world. Only 4 years after Toulouse-Lautrec made iconic Moulin Rouge poster, another artist, Czech origins but working in Paris, Alphonse Mucha, created the first masterpiece of Art Nouveau poster design.


Lautrec’s famous Moulin Rouge.

Bearing multiple influences including the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Byzantine art, this flowering, ornate style became the major international decorative art movement up until World War I. In each country, the poster was used to celebrate the society’s unique cultural institutions, and was made in distinctive national style. In France, the cafe and cabaret was omnipresent; in Italy the opera and fashion, and posters were famous by their drama and grand scale; in Spain the bullfight and festivals; in Germany trade fairs and magazines, and were distinct for their directness and medievalism, in Britain and America literary journals, bicycles and the circus were often depicted in posters.

Stay tuned! To be continued in our next article.
Dušan Dimitriev


Images from actual listings on the Poster section in  Sigedon Books and Antiques store 
Moulin Rouge image from Wikipedia Commons.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Add a comment