Designs for World War I, World War II, and mid-century issues by top artists: Christy, Flagg, Leyendecker, Spear, Hohlwein, Klutsis, and more.
30 x 40 1/8 in./76.2 x 102 cm
Although Flagg was already a successful and prolific illustrator by the time World War I started, this poster was to become “his greatest public triumph.” He used himself as a model, and the work was “originally used on a Leslie’s Magazine cover in late 1916, and was quickly adopted by the Army when the war broke out. All told nearly 5 million were printed in both world wars” (Theofiles, p. 9).
27 7/8 x 41 7/8 in./71 x 106.2 cm
Adventure, pride, desire, and the power of a noble cause are evoked in this rare West Coast take on World War I recruitment. The demanding officer atop the white stallion may be Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force.
28 1/8 x 40 5/8 in./71.5 x 103.4 cm
With the mastery of new technologies centering in Europe during the war, American aviation was not well-equipped to produce the enormous number of fighter planes the French were seeking. This made the production of each plane crucial, and vigilance in the workplace was vital. Britton’s depiction of the consequences is graphically powerful—and extremely rare. This is one of only five known copies.
20 1/8 x 29 7/8 in./51 x 75.8 cm
A beautiful and desirable Columbia, laurels upon her temples, appears as the guiding spirit over marines manning one of the guns on the deck of a destroyer. The veracity of this picture is notable; Christy was one of the U.S.’s best war artists, and he produced illustrations to accompany the articles of war correspondent Richard Harding Davis.
15 1/2 x 19 3/8 in./39.3 x 49 cm
“Colored Man is No Slacker”—or rather, he’s no draft-dodger. For this World War I enlistment ad, an African American infantry unit marches with the American flag held aloft as a couple tenderly says goodbye. Patriotism is both literally illustrated and subtly implied with notes of red and white punctuating the flowers around the woman’s blue dress; “these are good people who serve their country,” the poster intones. In fact, more than 350,000 black men, trained and deployed in segregated units, served in the U.S. military during World War I, and 42,000 of them saw action in Europe. There’s no denying the conflation of American ideals at this time: Americans were encouraged to enlist, to form a strong united front, to fight the evils of Europe together—and yet the troops were segregated, and black men were usually given burdensome non-combat shifts. The Peters Sisters astutely highlighted this oxymoronic ideology in their 1919 poem, “The Slacker:” So when the Victory is won / And the world is at peace / When the shedding of blood is done / And mankind again is free / Uncle Sam, if giving up life / For the deliverance of men / Does not give all, equal rights / Who will be, the slacker then?
22 1/2 x 31 5/8 in./57.2 x 80.4 cm
This is the original half-sheet version of Spear’s haunting image. Rickards calls this “perhaps the most powerful of all war posters” (p. 21); Theophiles declares it “without a doubt the rarest and most elusive of war posters produced in the United States” (p. 21). Commissioned by the Boston Committee of Public Safety in 1915, it depicts the sinking of the Lusitania, which cost over a thousand civilian lives, many of which were women and children. Spear represents the tragic event with a mother and child embracing as they sink into the ocean’s depths, their love immortalized—their lives taken far too soon. “Like the occasion that produced it, it was unforgettable” (Rickards, p. 22). Rare!
33 1/8 x 47 in./84.2 x 119.2 cm
Using the refined form of a helmeted soldier in shadow and just two words—And you?—Hohlwein creates a chilling image calling Germans to vote for the Nazi party. “Hohlwein’s stunning poster, used with different texts by both the Steel Helmet and the German National People’s Party in the elections of 1932 and 1933, transforms man and helmet into an inhuman sculptural mass imposed on a schematic imperial German flag” (Persuasive Images, 156).
28 7/8 x 41 1/4 in./73.3 x 104.7 cm
“A Latvian subject of the Russian empire, Gustav Klutsis came to Russia proper during the 1917 Revolution as part of a volunteer machine-gunner unit that helped to topple the czar and safeguard the new Soviet leaders, including Vladimir Lenin. Klutsis had studied painting at home and continued in art schools during and after his military service, ending up at the radically progressive Higher State Artistic and Technical Workshops (VKhUTEMAS)—the cradle of Constructivism. By the early 1920s, Klutsis had worked his way through the rigorous exploration of elemental shapes and basic materials called for by that movement and began to put the Constructivist ethos of honesty and utility to use in agitational propaganda… Klutsis brought photomontage to its peak of expression in posters from 1930 and after that blended workers’ bodies (in some cases his own) and their machines with the heads of leaders of the Soviet state to forge a collective juggernaut for modernization. These posters, printed in the tens of thousands, helped transform the Soviet visual landscape in the early Stalinist era. Nevertheless, Klutsis was killed along with scores of other Latvians on Stalin’s orders during purges later in the decade” (Art Institute of Chicago). The text here reads, “With the efforts of millions of workers involved in the socialist competition, we will convert the five-year plan into a four-year plan.” Please note: all known copies are trimmed at the top and left edges. Rare!
26 1/4 x 37 1/2 in./66.7 x 95.3 cm
Following the destruction of World War II, Warsaw was absolutely devastated. In the face of further international conflict, Polish artists generated images such as these to promote peace while the Communist central state focused on rebuilding the capital. “[Trepkowski’s Nie] (Polish for ‘no’) was the first Polish poster to make an impact on American designers. The ruins of a devastated city framed within the silhouette of a falling bomb, in its graphic way, was as expressive of the horrors of World War II as the numbing photographs of carnage published in Life and other American magazines. Anyone who saw multiples of this poster hanging in rows on what remained of Warsaw’s streets understood that Nie was more than an antiwar image, it was a testament to the redemptive power of art” (Design Literacy, p. 11).