Bicycles and color lithography came into popular use roughly in 1872; by the 1890s, both the poster craze and the bicycle craze were at their heights. Posterists were fascinated by the new bicycles, and manufacturers relied on posters for advertising, forming a mutually beneficial relationship. By the turn of the century, more posters were created for bicycles than any other product. It’s not just the technological innovation that was thrilling; bicycles offered a new form of freedom, especially to women. Poster designers capitalized on this aspect, paving the way for the liberated woman and a form of independence for all.
This trend continued with the development of automobiles, which provided a similar sense of joyous freedom, but with more power, speed, and possibilities. Having won the battle of the bicycle, women quickly took to the driver’s seat, continuing their pursuit of independence.
By J. L. Lesourd
“Careening recklessly down the road at speeds surely in excess of 15 mph, the early motoring couple gives nary a thought to mechanical trouble because they have trusty Motricine in the gas tank. At this time cars were still considered a hobby for eccentrics: you had to enjoy barreling down dusty country lanes where cows and geese were often the only other traffic, endure the weather in open autos, and in the absence of service stations, occasionally locate a blacksmith shop that might sell you a can of gasoline if you needed it. Brava to the plucky passenger here!” (Gold, p. 19).
By Olaf Gulbransson (1873-1958)
Züst was an Italian car manufacturer launched by Robert Züst of Switzerland. They modeled their early automobiles after Mercedes; they then produced trucks and ambulances for the Italian military during World War I. But Gulbransson allows us to relish in the pure joy of an afternoon car ride—an experience as unencumbered as the rural European landscape trailing off in the distance. Gulbransson, a contemporary of Thomas Theodor Heine and contributor to Simplicissimus, understood well that emotion and information can be clearly expressed with simple graphics and a focused hand.
By Henry Mayo Bateman (1887-1970)
Born in Australia, Bateman grew up in London, where he would become one of the most “English” of the early 20th century British illustrators. He began working for Shell in 1920; in 1925, his “Mr. Wiseman” series was the chosen winner of an advertising competition held by Shell and the Daily Express. Each image pairs a word with Bateman’s typical cheeky imagery, such as “Concentration,” in which a driver is so focused on refilling his tank that he doesn’t notice the gas thief behind him—and “Accumulation,” which shows a very pleased older gent with his gigantic stash of Shell Motor Spirit. This is the only known complete set—rare! (14)
By René Vincent (1879-1936)
As both Bugatti and René Vincent were known for their respective elegance and style, this poster serves as a perfect marriage between artist and subject. Set against a simple Deco backdrop, this T46 model oozes class and sophistication while it hovers above the brand’s name.
By Jean d'Ylen (1866-1938)
This is the three-sheet version of the poster for one of the French prestige cars of the 1930s. D’Ylen was a posterist of the Cappiello school, and created startling, effusive designs that exaggerate dimension and movement. It’s interesting to see what he did when constrained by the dignified image of the car: he simply indulged his passion in the allegorical figure in the background. The brand had a slow start: Marius Berliet of Lyon built his first car in a small workshop in 1895, and in his fifth year of operation sold only six cars. But in 1901, he merged with another firm and started building larger cars in the Mercedes style, and the Berliet was on its way. Rare!
By Robert Falcucci (1900-1989)
This is the third poster Falcucci created for the glamourous Monaco Grand-Prix. “In a masterful display of pastels, he contrasted the tranquil and sunny slopes of the Riviera with the blue of two speeding racers. As in his first two Monaco posters, he drew streaks of white around the lead car to convey a feeling of breathless velocity. The cars have emerged from the Tir aux Pigeons tunnel to rush daringly into a tight curve at the water’s edge and on to the finish line. At the top of the hill sits the casino and the majestic Hotel de Paris, 130 feet above the sea. Since the race was now a major success, some streetcar tracks were removed and much of the road was resurfaced to improve the course for the 1932 event” (Monaco, p. 22). That year, first through third place were swept up by Italy in Alfa Romeos, with Tazio Nuvolari leading the pack.
By Geo Ham (Georges Hamel, 1900-1972)
The 1933 Monaco Grand Prix introduced the new policy of determining one’s starting position by practice times rather than randomly by lot. This was also the year when Enzo Ferrari set up what is considered to be the most distinguished team in Grand Prix history: the Alfa Romeo group. And while Achille Varzi still took first place in a Bugatti, the next four places were won by Alfa Romeo. Design-wise, this is Ham’s first poster for the Monaco Grand Prix, and it’s “a perfect example of the Art Deco style favored by such famous poster artists of the 1920s and ‘30s as A. M. Cassandre, Charles Loupot, Paul Colin and Jean Carlu. To accentuate the speed of the race, he set his scene at a spectacular road-level perspective, placing the viewer only a few yards behind a speeding ‘French Blue’ Bugatti just exiting the tunnel a few lengths behind a red Alfa Romeo… Hamel, who signed all his works as ‘Geo Ham,’ designed all six of the famous, beautiful and rare Grand Prix de Monaco posters from 1933 to 1948” (Crouse, p. 24).
By Geo Ham (Georges Hamel, 1900-1972)
With the Nazi regime fully in control of Germany, the Mercedes-Benz team arrived with the most powerful cars ever used in Grand Prix history and easily won first prize. With Italian driver Luigi Fazioli at the wheel, the 3.99-liter Mercedes W25 model led from start to finish, and was never seriously challenged by the three Alfa Romeos and the Maserati that took the next four spots. In the poster, Ham puts us right in the action with a glittering background of sun-drenched Monte Carlo.
By Charles Shaw (1892-1974)
Smokers may in fact prefer Shell, but let’s hope that they don’t indulge in their habit of choice too close to the pump. The foreground is a classic object poster, but the treatment of the background harks back to Cubism, creating an almost surreal overall impression. Little is known of this American artist who did have a one-man show in London in 1936, the year of this poster’s publication. It’s surely one of the best of the Shell series.
A lithographic masterpiece. Acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest posters, this image of a flame-tressed sylph, propelled among the stars by the Gladiator and its winged pedals, has been appropriated throughout culture ever since its debut in 1895. Shockingly, it remains anonymous, despite the presence of the faint initials LW in the lower right corner. Even in the famed 1896 Reims exhibition, it was attributed to “Anonyme.”
By Edward Penfield (1866-1925)
“This beautiful poster for Northampton bicycles well illustrates the impact and power of this masterful artist. It is more the sure power of a revving engine than of actual movement; there is so much self-assurance in both content and style that one does not need proof of speed or even mobility. The composition, design, and color are so perfect here that it’s one of the few posters of which it may be said that to move one line or change one shade would be unimaginable” (Bicycle Posters, p. 11). This poster includes Sagot’s stamp on the verso, and is the finest specimen of this image we’ve ever seen, with vivid colors.
In-gallery viewing February 24-March 25 (11am-6pm daily)