The last time we talked we mentioned the early days of posters. As the 20th century begun, things started moving faster in the world of poster and art in general.

Early modernism

Toulouse-Lautrec died in 1901 and Mucha and Cheret (both the representatives of Art Nouveau) turned to painting and abounded poster making. Art Nouveau lost its original appeal and the dynamic that it had in the end of 19th century. Detail of Art Nouveau made place for a more simplistic and vivid visual representation. Leonetto Cappiello (an Italian and French poster art designer and painter) arrived in Paris in 1898, and his new art designee was almost opposite of those who worked before him. Leonetto is now often referred as ‘the father of modern advertising’. Ability to create a brand identity established Cappiello as the father of modern advertising. His style would dominate Parisian poster art until Cassandre’s first Art Deco poster in 1923.

“Plakatstil” Danish poster from the year 1922.

Meanwhile, artists working in Scotland’s Glasgow School, Austria’s Vienna Secession, and Germany’s Deutscher Werkbund were also transforming Art Nouveau’s organic approach. These schools rejected curvilinear ornamentation in favor of a rectilinear and geometric structure based on functionalism. German “Plakatstil” or “Sachplakat” was one of the most popular styles in the early 1900’s. Bold eye-catching lettering with flat colors and simplified shapes and objects were the main characteristics of this style. Lucian Bernhard and Ludwig Hohlwein were two most influential artists in Germany from this period.

Using posters for propaganda

WWI brought yet another function for the poster: Propaganda. WWI had the biggest advertising campaign to date, and behind the battlefields it was the posters job to advertise and promote all the causes: raising money, recruiting soldiers, boosting volunteer efforts, spurring production and provoking outrage at enemy atrocities. Here is a prime example:

James Montgomery Flagg’s very recognizable “Uncle Sam”. This poster was to be found covering many walls from it’s first display in 1916.

America alone produced about 2,500 striking poster designs and approximately 20 million posters – nearly 1 for every 4 citizens – in little more than 2 years.

Родна Мат’ Зовет! The Motherland Calling is arguably the most famous propaganda poster of WW2. Drawn by Irakil Moiseevich Toidze, this is a great example of Social Realism.

In Imperial Russia posters played a significant role in the civil war that led to the October Revolution. They knew how to wage a propaganda war and poster became a weapon of choice throughout the century in both hot and cold wars everywhere.


After the World War I modern art movements such as Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism and Dadaism became chief influences in the art of poster making. At the same time, the first courses in graphic design were held in France, Germany and Switzerland and those made a key moment in the transition from illustration to graphic design in advertising.

Alexander Rodchenko’s Knigi.

Constructivism is one of the first manifestations of this radical change. Originated in the Soviet Union in the late 1910’s and early 1920’s , constructivists believed that art should not be autonomous from the society, politics and ideology, instead it should be ‘constructed’, and have a role in creating the new communist society. Constructivism incorporated the avant-garde forms of Cubism and Futurism, strident slogans, powerful typefaces and dynamic compositions constructed of strong diagonals. The colors made a strong contrast, and the messages were commonly social, with a strong emotional charge. The most influential artists of this movement were Barutchev, Blik, Dlugach, Klutsis, Koretsky, Pernikov and Rodchenko. Constructivism influenced major trends such as the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. The style was ultimately superseded by Social Realism, a less dramatic and graphic approach favored by Stalin as the Thirties progressed.

More on the history of poster in our next article!
Dušan Dimitriev
Picture of the poster Родна Мат’ Зовет! taken from Ebay listing on Sigedon Books and Antiques store.

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