Posters have been used frequently for over 100 years as a way to advertise products, films, festivals, musical events, political candidates, and for propaganda purposes.
Posters came into vogue during the late 19th century as a form of cheap advertising. Throughout the years, the poster has echoed the changes in our society and the way we do business by romanticizing, and sometimes mirroring, our attitudes and interests.
The lithograph was the forerunner of the poster. It was developed in 1798, but was far too expensive to produce and took too much time to print to be used as a regular means of advertising. The lithograph struggled along until the 1870s when Jules Cheret developed a stone lithographic process consisting of three colors: red, yellow, and blue, which, when mixed together, offered a spectrum of intense colors. This process made the poster something that could be mass-produced at an affordable price. Suddenly the poster was embraced for commercial purposes in Europe and the U.S.
The major cities in Europe understood how to utilize the poster by including images and colors that would interest and entice the viewer. In 1891, the Moulin-Rouge poster, created by Toulouse-Lautrec, raised the status of the poster to an art form. By the end of the 19th century, the Arts and Crafts Movement, along with Art Nouveau style, dominated poster designs. These were the posters which featured wine prominently, namely Champagne, along with other alcoholic beverages.
Poster art changed again in 1901 when Leonetto Cappiello scorned Art Nouveau’s intricate style and opted instead for a simple image that captured the viewer’s eye. With the start of WWI, posters took on a different use – propaganda; this became the biggest advertising campaign that had ever been attempted. Posters encouraged men to sign up for the service, urged people to support the war funds, boosted morale and fueled indignation against the enemy. In American alone, over 20-million posters were printed during the war. The U.S. had begun to grasp the idea that enticing images and vivid colors sold products and campaigns better than massive amounts of text.
After the war, Modernism took hold of the country, and in 1923 the first Art Deco poster, designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, appeared. His modern style touted travel, wine, liquors and fashion. Cassandre’s ideas were embraced and he led the poster market with his designs for several decades. But Cassandre was not alone; poster designers throughout the world were crafting Art Deco posters that promoted the sleek, modern structures and forms that made Art Deco appealing.
With World War II came another chance for posters to
gain recognition across the
world, but this time posters shared the stage with other
media: radio and newspapers. Stone lithography was being replaced with a
process known as photo offset (using a dot pattern that made up the image), and
actual photos were becoming more accepted on posters. The pin-up poster became a morale booster to the servicemen of WWII since society had loosened it’s
morals, and “real” images were now in vogue.
After the war, a more informal approach to advertising began. Images were borrowed from Pop Art and Surrealism as we made our way into the “Brave New World" of the 1950s, and into the social upheaval of the 1960s. The computer age unleashed advances in poster designs that had not been considered before. By the 1980s, designing and printing a poster was something anyone could do in their home or office. Images went from cutting edge to modern to a more retro look and could be changed at a moment's notice.
While the poster has evolved, it is not nearly as popular as it was from the 1910s through 1940s. Our manner of social interaction has changed dramatically, and the media have also changed our way of receiving information throughout the world. Posters are still a go-to form of advertising for festivals, theatre programs and political campaigns, but sadly not so much for wine and liquor, which means those nostalgic posters from the past should be regaled and treasured even more.