On November 7, 2023, Cambi Auction House presents an auction dedicated exclusively to vintage posters, with a selection of pieces of particular beauty and historical relevance. For this occasion, let’s look back together at the history of advertising posters and the origin and evolution of their style.
First International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art, Turin, Italy, 1902
The 1800s is a historical era littered with political and revolutionary movements. It was from these that the first form of mass communicative announcement was born, in a semi-clandestine manner: the manifesto.
Adherents of revolutionary movements do not in fact have access to the legal press, which at that time is censored and tightly controlled. Therefore, they cannot publish books. They begin to post, clandestinely and at night, simple large sheets on walls, stuck to the walls with glue. These early posters inherit the same graphic layout as the books of which they were, basically, an excerpt. The centered, epigraph-like text prevails, and at first images are absent. Later, satirical vignettes appear, while the text begins to shrink to ensure greater visual impact and faster communication. A more modern style emerges, where strong headlines are paired with images intended to excite and engage. Thus was born the political poster, an important strand of mass communication that will continue to the present day, modifying according to taste and following changes in societies.
The second half of the 1800s saw a series of major social transformations. The bourgeoisie invests its capital in industry, which, as a result of the rapid succession of technological discoveries, changes the physiognomy of the production of goods and commerce itself. Large factories are born at major urban centers. As a result, large masses of people find themselves moving from the countryside to cities, which expand at an impressive rate. For example, in 1801, London had about 1 million inhabitants. By the end of the century 6.5 million.
Au Bon Marché department store, Paris
This process triggers a series of transformations in relations between person and person, class and class, and people and the environment. Major lines of transportation, services and communications are born or structured. In major urban redesigns, the facades of entire neighborhoods become uniform, furnishings are simplified, and places of public gathering and recreation multiply. Commerce explodes, changing consumer habits, fashions, and everyday objects in a climate of fierce competition. Stores multiply and the first department stores are born. In Paris Au Bon Marché opens in 1852, Le Printemps in 1865 and La Samaritaine in 1869. In New York Macy’s in 1858, in Brussels A L’Innovation in 1901, in London Harrods in 1901, in Milan the Magazzino Contratti in 1903.
With department stores people begin to become masses of consumers, and in the climate of increasing depersonalization and great competition it becomes essential to attract their attention. The spectacular element of commerce grows, and businesses feel the need to equip themselves with a definite image, with a distinctive character, first with signs and storefronts, then with print ads in magazines and with posters put up on the street.
Thus the first billboards were born, and from the very beginning they grafted themselves powerfully, with their striking force and street-syllabus format into the realities of cities. The “power” of this medium is extraordinary: they possess the gift of synthesis, poetic vein and strength in the play of colors, immediately capturing everyone’s attention.
Henry de Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster for the Moulin Rouge
In particular, the poster fathers Lutrec and Chéret were the two main protagonists in France. With their refined figures they conquered the walls of Paris, from the brands of fine Champagne to the iconic Moulin Rouge venue. Among the first billboards, those for announcing Operas and Plays also appear. In Italy, Officine Grafiche Ricordi were the first to introduce the production of posters, and they called upon, only the best artists of the time-Dudovich, Hohenstein, Metlicovitz, and Villa are just a few of the prominent names.
Their majesty was such that the collector’s market of them was born in conjunction with their creation, in fact today’s finding of billboards occurs thanks to the preservation foresight of such figures who, chased in some cases, “the stickers” to get the posters before the stage of wall drafting in the streets.
The advertisement changes in style and composition of visual elements as fashions, needs and advances in printing and communication technologies change.
Three movements contaminated each other: Arts and Crafts, Nieuwe Kunst, and Art Nouveau. Some characteristics, therefore, are found in each or pass from the first two to the third. It is also necessary to keep in mind that Art Nouveau, Art Nouveau, Floral Style, Jugendstil are different designations for the various national manifestations of the same artistic style. This style traverses across the countries of the West (including the United States), with a gap of only a few years from one nation to another, and remains a dominant pattern of communication in everyday life for quite some time.
Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898), Autonymous Pseudonym, 1897, Lithograph on woven paper.
The Arts and Crafts movement takes place in England roughly between 1860 and 1890. It is characterized by a strenuous opposition to massified industrial production, the revaluation of the formal quality of craftsmanship, the exaltation of the figure of the craft artist, and the abolition of the difference between academic art (noble and superior) and useful art (inferior to the former). This point is particularly relevant: it will in fact allow a progressive detachment of graphic design (and later art direction) from pure pictorial art to become an autonomous art, with its own aesthetic stylistic features, its own leading figures, its own schools and currents, its own history. It also allows a progressive democratization of this art form, which becomes autonomous from the academies and linked to commerce and its sudden changes. Arts and Craft spred a substantial push toward simplification of the image. Indeed, the influence of Japanese style is very strong. Line takes on importance and becomes much more expressive than before. This is particularly evident in the illustrations of Englishman Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898): essential, two-dimensional, iconic, based on the expressive power of the curvilinear black line on a white background.
Beardsley’s influence carried over to Americans Will Bradley (1868-1962) and Edward Penfield (1866-1925), along with influences typical of Art Nouveau. In particular, Bradley’s many commercial posters feature single, two-dimensional figures, flat-colored uniform backgrounds, color contrasts, and extreme stylizations. The lettering of the titles is modern, impactful, with a strong reduction or absence of text. There is often asymmetry of elements and dynamic tension in the composition. These are all functional features of a communication based on immediacy and “one glance” coding typical of later advertising production.
Poster for Delft Salad Oil by Jan Toorop (1893)
English influence passes into the Netherlands with the Nieuwe Kunst. This current is influenced by Japanese art and the art of the island of Java, at the time a Dutch colony. Poster titles are an integral part of the visual aspect. That is, image and text are not separate entities that happen to coexist almost by accident in the same perimeter (the poster). This is particularly evident in the 1925 advertising poster of the Delftsche Slaolie at the hands of Jan Toorop (1858-1928).
Art Nouveau poster for Biscuits Lefèvre-Utile, Alfons Mucha
Art Nouveau characterizes the new urban and commercial culture of the late 1800s and early 1900s, up to the First World War. It is a mass art, directed at an increasingly large audience. The main prominent features of advertising communication are: the systematic use of mass media: posters, cinema, magazines; the integrated declination in several media of the same message of graphic or advertising communication (posters, postcards, packaging, point of sale); the rich production of excellent advertising posters, created by outstanding artists; the proliferation of illustrated magazines, in which more and more advertisements find their place; the immediacy of communication, entrusted to a skillful use of line and iconic image; the harmonious integration of text and image, which marked the end of the dependence of the advertisement on its ancestor, the book; the use of new printing technologies or their modernizations: Xylography, Photolithography, Lithography, Photography, Monotype, Linotype. New techniques that allow a systematic recourse to color, often used in large backgrounds and with chromatic contrasts; the blending of different artistic influences and disciplines, experienced and developed increasingly outside the traditionalism of the academy.
F. Champenois. Woman with flowers in her hair sitting leafing through an album against the background of a floral entanglement, ADVERTISING LOCANDLINE, ca 1897 – ca 1897, Alfons Mucha
Art Nouveau in all its variants is characterized first and foremost by the expressive power of line, which is understood as a “natural,” sinuous, curvilinear line borrowed from natural forms: it is the so-called whiplash line.
Art Nouveau expressed itself with particular richness of achievement through the medium of the poster, and the list of artists to remember would be very long. Among the many great poster designers in this period it is worth mentioning: the French Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret, Eugène Grasset, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlein, and the Czechoslovakian Alphonse Mucha. Belgian Henry van de Velde. The Italians Leopoldo Metlicovitz, Franz Laskoff, Aleandro Terzi, and especially Enrico Sacchetti, Marcello Dudovich, and Leonetto Cappiello. The Germans Thomas Theodor Heine, Lucian Bernhard, Hans Erdt, and especially Ludwig Hohlwein.
Among the lots up for auction on November 7, 2023 at Cambi Auction House is a poster of important historical significance from the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art (see image 1). The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art was a major international exhibition of the Art Nouveau style, held in Turin in 1902. It was the first on this theme, and in fact is officially called the “First International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art.” The artist, Leonardo Bistolfi, a famous sculptor, set the emblematic transition from Symbolism to Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau characteristics of the work, are the fluid, curvilinear stroke, the elegance of the forms, the musical progression, the floral quotations, the choice of cool colors, and the lightness of the four barefoot maidens dressed in white, united by a white ribbon whose scrolls form the letters of the Latin word “ars” art.
Also in the catalog is the poster for the International Automobile Show in Italy, Rome, by the famous artist Riccobaldi. The automobile is often the protagonist of posters of historical significance, in this case the she-wolf, symbol of Rome, is also highlighted.
Also prominent is the poster of the Triennial Exhibition of Fine Arts of the Royal Academy of Brera, Milan. It represents an important exhibition held in Milan between September 8 and October 9, 1900 in the historic Brera Art Gallery.
Another top lot, the particularly beautiful turn-of-the-century poster, Cicli Fiat, by renowned painter, poster artist and graphic designer Plinio Codognato.
Check out all the lots at cambiaste.com!