Back in the 1870s, long before any photo editing software, the world of vintage posters for advertising began. Having previously only been able to print black and white text, the introduction of French artist Jules Chéret’s three stone lithographic printing process meant artists all over the world could develop marketing ideas into striking, colourful poster art. They did just that, and have been creating striking designs ever since, from beautiful travel posters and iconic movie posters. But here we’re looking back at vintage poster designs to inspire you. Here are 28 of the best…
01. Kaffee Hag
Lucian Bernhard was the full design package – graphic designer, type designer, interior designer and artist. He was also the main force behind the Plakatstil (‘poster style’) design style, which used reductive imagery, flat colour and bold typography to convey a message simply and quickly. His 1914 poster for Kaffee Hag is a brilliant example, instantly selling the notion of decaf as a cup of coffee that won’t turn around and bite you with side-effects.
The advent of the motor car in the early 20th century provided new opportunities for poster designers in the form of roadside advertising hoardings, as well as new challenges: how do you get your idea across to people in fast-moving vehicles?
Ukranian-French painter and poster artist Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron (known as Cassandre) rose to the challenge with this 1932 poster for Dubonnet, designed to be read and understood from cars whizzing past at high speed. Cassandre also introduced the idea of serial posters; a set of posters placed to be seen in quick succession, in order to convey the full message.
03. Le Chat Noir
Perhaps one of the most well known vintage posters of all time, this iconic advertisement for the Parisian entertainment establishment Le Chat Noir, was created by Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker Théophile Steinlen.
It epitomises the Bohemian, Art Nouveau style and cabaret culture of late 19th century Paris that stemmed from the legendary venue, which, in its heyday, served as an artists’ salon, music hall and busy nightclub.
04. Braniff Airways
Back in 1967, leading Central and South American airline Braniff International Airways underwent an image overhaul, along with new brand colours and aeroplane designs. Following its redesign, the company merged with Panagra Airways and released a series of fun, whimsical posters advertising its destinations.
This poster for Argentina features an Argentinian gaucho. A cultural icon, these country people lived off the land north of Patagonia, and were the South American equivalent of the North Western Cowboy.
05. Max Huber
Swiss graphic designer Max Huber, worked with numerous advertising agencies throughout his prolific career. However, he is perhaps best known for his seminal poster for the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza 1948 Grand Prix. His typographic style relied on a grid system and is committed to a clear, bold and rational aesthetic. Many of Huber’s logo designs are still in use today.
06. We Can Do It!
Perhaps one of the most iconic images of the 20th century, American graphic designer J. Howard Miller’s beloved Rosie the Riveter was designed to boost morale in during WW2. This poster is still used today, and has been re-modelled for use on everything from modern feminist texts to tattoos, as well as spawning numerous parodies. His bold illustrative style mirrors the comic books popular at the time and defined an era of advertising.
07. Vers Le Mont Blanc
These gorgeous travel poster designs were created by artist Geo Dorival in 1928. The minimalist design features a silhouetted countryside, through which a single road leads your eye to the big, beautiful mountain in the French Alps that it’s promoting. Dorival created three different versions – day, night and dusk – and all are equally beautiful.
American artist David Klein designed and illustrated dozens of posters for Howard Hughes’ Trans World Airlines (TWA) during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957, this stunning TWA poster of New York City became part of the permanent collection of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in NYC.
In many of his designs, Klein used bright colours and shapes in an abstract style to depict famous landmarks and scenes of cities around the world. Best known for his influential work in the field of travel advertising, Klein’s iconic images are much imitated.
09. Biere Allary
Created in 1928, Jean d’Ylen was the artist behind this beautiful Art Deco poster design. Influenced heavily by Italian poster art designer Leonetto Cappiello, much of d’Ylen’s work features large, colourful images on a contrasting background – this striking beer poster being a prime example.
10. Rouge Baiser Blindfold
Renowned fashion illustrator Rene Gruau’s artistic career began in the 1920s and continued right until his death in 2004. Gruau created a vast library of chic fashion illustrations, including pieces for Miss Dior, Vogue and Elle. Using strong lines and stark contrast, his illustrations made him a favourite in the haute couture world.
It’s impossible to talk about American poster design without mentioning graphic artist Edward Penfield. Often referred to as a master of graphic design, it was during a school exhibition that Penfield’s work was first noticed by the art editor of Harper’s Magazine, the company that he went on to create no less than 75 poster designs for.
Born in 1896, Hermann Kosel studied at Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and began his artistic career as a portrait painter at the age of 24. For a time, his work involved creating commercial posters for various travel companies, including this one, which highlights the beauty and culture of Austria perfectly.
13. Absinthe Robette
In the late 19th century, the popularity of absinthe coincided with the increase of large lithographic advertising posters as a commercial and artistic medium. Some of the greatest artists of that period created posters for the alcoholic beverage, including Belgian posterist Henri Privat-Livemont, who illustrated this iconic Art Nouveau Absinthe Robette image in 1895.
Poster artist Leonetto Cappiello became a household name in the early 1900s after producing nearly 1,000 eye-catching advertisements for various campaigns. Probably his most famous is this beautiful Parapluie-Revel poster. The design features three figures blown about by a storm while the Revel umbrellas stand firm.
15. Monaco 75
This striking design for the 1975 Monaco Grand Prix was created by talented artist Michael Turner. With minimal type, Turner let his illustration do all the talking. The vibrant and eye-catching colour palette lets the car take centre stage, with the beautiful destination of Monaco in the background.
Disneyland has been using silk-screen posters since 1956 to give visitors a taste of the attractions inside. And the majority of the most brilliant designs advertised the sci-fi rides of Tomorrowland. This Space Station X-1 graced the park’s walls in the late 1950s, the ride taking visitors to view a large painted panorama of the continent via a rotating platform.
17. Perrier Girl
In 1936, artist Jean Dommergue created this beautiful illustration for bottled mineral water Perrie – the first to feature the ‘Perrier Girl’. This is just one of many beautiful campaigns by the young, dynamic and attractive brand, with others created by famous artists including Andy Warhol and Jean-Paul Goude.
Cassandre created this image to promote travel on the famous ocean liner Normandie. The design has since become an icon of 20th century Art Deco and Modernist poster design. The original print featured the name of the ship underneath it, however, a few rare variants can be found with with the type replaced with ‘New York’ (as above).
19. Austin Reed
Regarded by many as one of the finest commercial artists of the 20th century, British artist Tom Purvis created countless poster designs during the 1930s, one of the most famous being his campaign for retailer Austin Reed. For years, many of his beautiful poster designs graced the walls of the flagship clothing store in London’s Regent Street.
20. Canadian Pacific Railway
This iconic design was part of a campaign for Canadian Pacific Railway during the 1940s and 50s. The series was created by Canadian artist Peter Ewart, who during his commercial career was inspired by the likes of Cassandre and Tom Purvis. His dynamic designs and illustrations caught the eye of many, and led to a 17-year relationship with Canadian Pacific in which Ewart designed 24 posters and two serigraphic prints for the company.
21. New York’s World Fair
Austrian-born designer Joseph Binder is the man behind this beautiful poster design for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Titled ‘Building the World of Tomorrow’, the fair’s main purpose was to try and lift the spirits of the US following the height of the Great Depression, and drive much-needed business to New York City.
During this period a renewed belief in science and technology provided hope and a much-needed antidote to the general feeling of hopelessness and confusion. Binder’s brilliant design offered a stylised version of that better world of tomorrow.
Advertising singer Aristide Bruant’s café-cabaret at the Eldorado on Boulevard de Strasbourg in Paris, this poster was designed by famous French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1892. Having previously created a similar design for Bruant’s debut at the Ambassadors club, Lautrec recognised the power of a brand and simply reversed the image of the singer, shown here as a powerful figure. The eye-catching illustration makes an impact with simple outlines and a pared-back colour palette comprised of solid blocks of colour.
23. Design for Living
In addition to his famous TWA series, American poster artist David Klein also created various posters for his local theatre The Brooklyn Heights Players during the 1950s and 60s. This one for the production of Noel Coward’s play Design for Living follows true Klein style, featuring bright colours and geometric shapes.
24. A Willette exposition
Jules Chéret was a French poster illustrator and graphic designer often referred to as the father of the modern poster. During his career, he created hundreds of posters for cabarets, theatres, well-known brands and expositions, including this one for artist A Willette. Chéret’s composition shows careful consideration, drawing the eye to the dominating central figure, and also using prominent hand-lettered titles, areas of glowing colour and a simple background.
This striking Orangina poster was created by graphic artist Bernard Villemot, who created equally memorable designs for Bally and Perrier. Villemot used simple, elegant lines and bold colours to produce his humorous, contemporary designs. Since his death, his iconic images have become increasingly sought-after by vintage poster collectors.
26. Moulin Rouge
This poster design for the Moulin Rouge is another by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. When the cabaret opened, Lautrec was commissioned to create a series of posters, with this design being one of his most well known. The piece features Moulin Rouge dancer La Goulue and her partner Valentin le Desosse. Lautrec captured La Goulue’s provocative kicks and Valentin’s lanky frame perfectly in this design.
27. Bitter Campari
Italian painter and art designer Leonetto Cappiello designed this beautiful Bitter Campari poster in 1921. Cappiello’s work caught people’s attention immediately, with many of his creations featuring bold figures popping out of black backgrounds – a startling contrast to the posters seen up until that point. He is now often referred to as the father of modern advertising because of his innovation in poster design.
28. Tintin Orange
In 1962, illustrator of the Tintin comics, Georges Remi (aka Hergé), collaborated with French graphic artist Raymond Savignac on this vibrant print advertising the Tintin Orange Soda soft drink. This is just one of many striking posters by Savignac, the talented artist also creating various designs for Pepsi and Perrier during his career.
Contributors: Jim McCauley and Alice Pattillo