It was roughly in 1872 that color lithography came into popular use; it was also about 1872 that the modern bicycle evolved. Naturally, these two inventions converged and matured at about the same time, and by the 1890s, both the poster craze and the bicycle craze were at their heights. And they relied on one another: poster artists were fascinated by the new bicycles, and bicycle manufacturers relied heavily on the poster for their marketing, both on city walls and in their agents’ shops. By the turn of the century, more posters were created for bicycles than any other product. Today, these posters tell a story not just of the incredible technological developments in the bicycle, but of the shifts that affected and shaped culture, art, and marketing as we know them today.
33 3/4 x 47 1/8 in./85.8 x 119.7 cm
This is one of just two bicycle posters that Chéret created during his career of 50 years. L’Etendard Français was a small manufacturer of bicycles and tricycles that sold primarily out of Paris. Its name translates as “banner,” which explains why the cyclist is holding her country’s flag and wearing patriotic colors to boot. Here, the company is offering a payment plan of fifty francs down and twenty-five per month thereafter; however, we are not told how many months it will take to pay off our new bicycle.
63 x 46 5/8 in./160 x 118.3 cm
M. Stéphane’s rare, brilliant, and futuristic design elevates the humble ball bearing to its rightful place: ball bearings, in fact, are the spheres upon which the entire Earth turns. Other planets look on with envy, comets blaze past, and a beautiful nude Muse lies back in dreaming repose, confident in the knowledge that MAB-brand ball bearings spin the gears that crank the Cosmos.
54 7/8 x 39 in./139.4 x 90 cm
“What a poster! Here, for Papillon, the ‘premiere Belgian marque,’ Arthus proposes a very original interpretation of his thematic takeoff point. The immense ‘papillon’ (butterfly) on which he installs his cyclist appears to be ready to evaporate with a simple beat of its wings. What could be lighter, more airy than a butterfly? This very tempting publicity, with its freshness, appeals to our innocence with a certain childish vision: it’s Tom Thumb mounting a bicycle. The image is equally a great excuse to introduce broad, flat plains of color, with the butterfly being used as a pretext for the sun-yellow tint that was so popular in the posters of the period. The boater, the belt and the russet-red hair of the fair young woman also make an echo of this. One senses standing in front of this image that the important thing is not the drawing of the bicycle, nor its design features, but the idea of freedom that the bicycle elicits” (Ailes, p. 67).
13 1/8 x 40 1/2 in./33.3 x 101.8 cm
Bradley produced at least half a dozen designs for this brand of bicycle; this elongated version is quite rare. As always, the floral ornamentation is profuse and meticulously executed, and the width of the border makes it stand out so much stronger. Victor was the brand name of manufacturer A. H. Overman of Chicopee, Massachusetts, who started making bicycles in 1887. This poster was exhibited in “L’Affiche au 20e Siècle” at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1985.
26 1/4 x 40 in./66.7 x 101.6 cm
Best known for his Harper’s series, this is one of three spectacular bicycle posters produced by Penfield in a larger format. It’s not just the size: they “show the true genius of the artist. In these and other posters, Penfield can be compared most favorably to Lautrec—his figures are at once introspective and yet powerful, gathering their impact from a delicate balance in composition and the use of wide areas of flat colors” (Bicycle Posters, p. 10). This poster was exhibited in “Posters American Style,” 1999, National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (Nr. 77).
35 1/2 x 50 in./90.2 x 127 cm
It’s the height of the bike craze in 1890s France, and Robbe has given us a glimpse of the impact: our stylish lass has substituted bloomers for the typical skirt, and by the look of her cool offside glance, she knows that she’s creating a fissure with fashion. Accompanied by her steadying comrade, she has everything she needs to hit the road. Robbe styles them photographically, and applies minimal color to create an eye-catching and lovely scene.
47 x 63 in./119.5 x 160 cm
This is the first of all the Bibendum designs. In 1896, O’Galop showed that Michelin tires can take it by personifying a tire about to down a cup of rusty nails and broken bottles, presumably with no ill effects—and for the heading, he mockingly used the venerable Latin phrase, “Let us drink.” Many people apparently believed that “Bibendum” was the figure’s name, and that’s how he’s been known in France for over a century. It’s one of the world’s longest lasting advertising images, and one still enjoying widespread popularity today. The company was started by André and Edouard Michelin in 1892 when they obtained a patent for a pneumatic bicycle tire. Rare!
40 3/4 x 57 1/2 in./103.4 x 146 cm
An intense design for Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, or FN, a firm which produced everything from bicycles to armaments, and symbolized it appropriately in its logo. Whatever destiny this motorcyclist is rushing to remains a product of the viewer’s imagination, but one can rest assured that he will arrive expediently aboard his FN cycle. Rare!
30 7/8 x 47 1/4 in./78.5 x 120 cm
Nizzoli’s arresting Art Deco design with a phantom-like motorcycle rider emphasizes both power and comfort, as the fashionable passenger can easily put on her lipstick during the ride. Nizzoli was a most versatile artist: painter, decorator, textile designer, and posterist. Many of his posters were for automobile companies. In 1938 he joined Olivetti and was responsible for some of their finest designs in the 1940s and 1950s. He produced a monograph on the firm in 1968.
31 5/8 x 45 3/4 in./80.3 x 116.3 cm
Cycles Dilecta was founded by the racing bicyclist Albert Chichery in 1912. Eventually, he would buy out De Dion-Bouton, and combine their markets for cycles, motorbikes, and even some automobiles. What’s interesting is that Favre’s design here seems to imitate the original logo of the manufacturer, in which an A is laid on top of a very ovular C.
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