POSTER, a placard in the form either of letterpress or illustration, for posting up or otherwise exhibiting in public to attract attention to its contents. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, before the Fire of London the rails and posts which protected foot-passengers in the streets were used for affixing theatrical and other announcements, whence the name of posting-bills or posters; and in later times the name has come more generally into use for any fairly large separate sheet, illustrated or not, used to attract publicity, even though not actually posted up. In the article Advertisements the use of posters is discussed, and newspaper posters (or contents bills) under Newspapers. But the illustrated poster has come to represent a special form of artistic design.
The earliest examples of pictorial posters were adorned with rough woodcuts. When lithography became a common commercial process, wood-blocks ceased to be employed. The modern artistic poster made a definite beginning in France about 1836, with a design by Lalance to advertise a book entitled Comment meurent les femmes. His example was followed by C. Nanteuil, D. A. M. Raffet, Gavarni, Bertrand, Grandville, Tony Johannot, E. de Beaumont, T. H. Frère, Edouard Manet and other artists of high repute. Most of these early designs were printed in black on white or tinted paper. Between 1860 and 1866 crude attempts at printing posters in colours were made in both France and England; In 1866 Jules Chéret began what was destined to be the most noticeable series of pictorial placards in existence, a series containing over a thousand items. Chéret was originally employed in a lithographic establishment in England before he began to work for himself, and he used his knowledge there acquired to adapt all three primary colours, economically used, to astonishingly brilliant ends. For a considerable time he remained without a rival, though he had hosts of imitators. Eugène Grasset, a decorative designer of great versatility, produced the first of a small number of placards which, though inferior as advertisements to those of Chéret, were learned and beautiful decorations. Somewhat later a sensation was caused in Paris by the mordantly grotesque posters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, in which the artist reduced detail to a minimum and obtained bold effects by the employment of large masses of flat colour. Important work, similar in character to Lautrec’s, was produced by Ibels, Bonnard, T. A. Steinlen and others. A new and contrary direction was given to poster design by Mucha, a Hungarian resident in Paris, whose placards are marked by delicate colour and richness of detail. The following are amongst French artists who have designed posters of conspicuous merit: J. L. Forain, Willette, Paléologue, Sinet, ]ossot, Roedel, Mayet, Cazals, Biais, De Feure, A. Guillaume, Ranft, Réalier-Dumas, F. Valloton and Metivet. Occasionally eminent French painters, such as Carrière, Boutet de Monvel, Aman-jean, Schwabe, have made essays in poster-designing.
In England the first artists of repute to attempt the pictorial placard were Godfroy Durand and Walter Crane; but the first bill to attract widespread attention was one by Fred Walker to advertise a dramatized version of The Woman in White (1871). This was engraved on wood by W. H. Hooper. Shortly after this time pictures by Royal Academicians and others began to be reproduced as advertisements (the best-known case being that of Sir John Millais’s “Bubbles”), but these have nothing directly to do with poster-designing. Stacy Marks, Hubert von Herkomer (the great poster for the Magazine of Art), Sir Edward Poynter and Sir James Linton are among popular painters who have made special drawings for reproduction as posters.
About 1894 the English poster began to improve. Designs by Aubrey Beardsley for the Avenue Theatre, by Dudley Hardy for various plays, and by Maurice Greiffenhagen for The Pall Mall Budget, were widely noticed by reason of their originality, simplicity and effectiveness. Simplicity was carried even farther by “ the Beggarstaff Brothers ” (James Pryde and William Nicholson), whose posters are perhaps the most original yet produced by Englishmen. Among other British designers the following have executed artistic and interesting placards: Frank Brangwyn, R. Anning Bell, John Hassall, Cecil Aldin, Phil May, Leonard Raven-Hill, Henry Harland, Robert Fowler, Wilson Steer, Charles R. Mackintosh, MacNair and MacDonald, Edgar Wilson, Charles I. Foulkes, Mabel Dearmer, Albert Morrow and C. Wilhelm.
Poster design on the continent of Europe has been largely influenced by French work, but designs of much originality have been made in Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain. In Germany, among the most typical posters are those of Sattler, Otto Fischer, Gysis, T. T. Heine, Speyer, Max Klinger, Dasio, Hofmann and L. Zumbrusch. The principal Belgian designers include Privat Livemont, Rassenfosse, Berchmans, Meunier, Duyck and Crespin, V. Mignot, Donnay, Everzepoel, Cassiers and Toussaint. Of Italian designers those whose work is most characteristic are Mataloni and Hohenstein; while the best Spanish posters—those to advertise bull-fights and fairs—are mostly anonymous. The Spanish artists Utrillo and Casas have signed posters of more than ordinary merit. Curious if not very artistic bills have been produced in Russia; and in Austria good work has been done by Orlik, Schliessmann, Oliva and Hynais.
In the United States of America, however, with the exception of some designs by Matt Morgan, few posters of artistic interest were produced before 1889, in which year Louis J. Rhead commenced a notable series of decorative placards. Will H. Bradley began to produce his curious decorative grotesque posters a little later. If American artists are behind Europeans in the artistic designing of large posters they have no rivals in the production of small illustrated placards for publishers of books and magazines. Chief among those who have devoted themselves to this branch of poster design is Edward Penfield. Others who have achieved success in it include Maxfield Parrish, Ethel Reed, Will Carqueville, J. J. Gould, J. C. Leyendecker, Frank Hazenplug, Charles Dana Gibson, Will Denslow, Florence Lundbourg and Henry Mayer.
Exhibitions of artistic posters have been held in the chief cities of Europe and America, and the illustrated placard has already a literature of its own. In England a monthly magazine (The Poster) was for a time specially devoted to its interests, and collectors are numerous and enthusiastic.
See Ernest Maindron, Les Affiches illustrées (Paris, 1895); Les Maîtres de l’affiche (Paris); Les Affiches étrangères illustrées (Belgium, Austria, Great Britain, United States, Germany and Japan) (Paris, 1897); Charles Hiatt, Picture Posters (London, 1895); J. L. Spousel, Das Moderne Plakat (Dresden, 1897); Arsene Alexandre, M. H. Spielmann, H. C. Bunner and A. Jaccacci, The Modern Poster (New York, 1895). (C. Hi.)