– Persuading Presence

Posters: A Brief History

image:Gutenberg’s printing press. Source: / Wikimedia Commons
Gutenberg’s printing press.
Source: / Wikimedia Commons

Posters (or their equivalents) have been around for a long time. Before the invention of the printing press, news of events and proclamations was spread by heralds and town criers, whose loud voices – perhaps accompanied by trumpets and drums – rang out across town squares to an often illiterate populace.

With the invention of Johann Gutenberg’s printing press in fifteenth century Germany, it became possible to reach more people through printed materials. The world changed radically.

Printed books and pamphlets were extremely expensive, but available. Literacy became a valued asset, and more people were able to read printed proclamations, warnings, declarations and advertisements.

The plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries would have been advertised by printed posters, alerting play-goers to what was being performed, and where and when. But these posters would have been text-only, as the production of illustration was costly and cumbersome.

A new technique, called lithography, emerged in Germany in 1796. Lithography allowed for the inexpensive mass production of printed materials, and was followed quickly by chromolithography, which made vibrant colour available.

France’s Jules Chéret, an artist and lithographer, is considered to be the “father” of posters as they are recognized today. In mid-nineteenth century Paris, he made vivid use of design elements, including colour, contrast, rhythm, and the human figure to sell products, exhibitions and shows.

The poster, and poster art became hugely important. Their artists became stars, and many French artists like Toulouse-Lautrec created celebrated examples of the art of the poster.

Through posters, we are able to see wonderful examples of many of the movements in art of the last two centuries, like Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

Check out these talented international poster artists from the late 19th and the 20th centuries

  • Alphonse Mucha (Czech-French artist working in the Art Nouveau style)
  • Eugène Grasset (Swiss French artist working in the Art Nouveau style)
  • Jules Chéret (often called the “Father of the Poster” and the "Father of the Liberation of Women” for his pioneering portrayal of women in everyday urban scenes)
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French fine artist working in the Post-Impressionistic style, who also created posters)
  • Jean Carlu (French graphic artist who recognized early that product recognition could depend on associated graphic images or “branding”)
  • Henryk Tomaszewski (Polish artist who won many international awards for his work in posters throughout the mid to late 20th Century)