Early Posters

One of the first poster artists was Jules Cheret, he began his poster art career in 1867 with a theatrical poster announcing a performance by Sarah Bernhardt. He was born to a poor family of artisans this meant that he had a very limited education; at age 13 he began an apprenticeship as a lithographer. He had an interest in painting and this led him to study at École Nationale de Dessin. Here are a few examples of his work:

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He used poster art to promote entertainment in Paris, he did that by using an illustrated figure and then different fonts to inform. The colours he used were bright and attract the eye, I especially like how all the characters have energy, this makes the reader feel that the show will be energetic and entertaining.

Cheret’s modest illustration of women led him to be given the name of “father of the women’s liberation.” Previously, in art, women were portrayed as either prostitutes or puritans; the women Cheret drew were neither, they became known as Cherettes. This depiction of women actually led to a freedom amongst the women in Paris, they began to participate in activities that had previously been taboo such as smoking in public.

This, to me, shows the true power in the poster; that a piece of paper can actually change the way somebody acts or turn the traditional culture completely upside down.

Do posters have this same power today?

The next artist to make a significant contribution to poster was Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, he was prominent during the 1890’s and depicted Parisian personalities through his poster art.

Shown below are some examples of his work:

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Toulouse Lautrec tended to illustrate personalities that would appear in Parisian cabaret performances. As you can see his style is very different from that of Cheret; the posters aren’t as bright, he isn’t afraid to use a large amount of black of grey. The text on these posters is a lot less prominent that in Cheret’s, the main draw on these posters is the large image not the bold text.


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