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35 designs that will take you to the skies

From the earliest experiments in “heavier-than-air” kites to modern airlines like Air France, these rare and insightful images reveal the fascinating history and cultural intoxication with flight.

62. Première Exposition Locomotion Aérienne / Grand Palais. 1909.
By Ernest Montaut (1879-1909)
47 x 63 3/4 in./119 x 162 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

“On the heels of the Reims meeting… a memorable exhibition was opened to the public at the Grand Palais in Paris. Apart from a small collection previously shown at the 1908 Automobile Salon, this was the first time that aeroplanes representing the principal French manufacturers were assembled under one roof. Machines that had actually taken part in the Reims meeting were included so that interested persons who had not been able to attend could obtain a close-up view of the Antoinette, Wright, Henry Farman biplanes, Louis Bréguet, and the diminutive Demoiselle constructed by Alberto Santos-Dumont. In the place of honor was Blériot’s Model XI with which he had conquered the English Channel. The huge public response left no doubt that the show would become a well-attended annual feature. The arresting poster by Montaut, the same artist who had memorialized the meeting at Reims [see Grand Semaine d’Aviation, PAI-LXXVIII, 75], portrays in the foreground a primeval figure—seeming to be a blacksmith whose trade is hopelessly outmoded—gesturing toward those marvels in the sky. The Aviation Salon introduced by France was soon imitated in other countries, giving rise to a series of posters on the same subject” (Looping the Loop, p. 43-44).

63. The May Century. 1897.
By Charles Hubbard Wright (1870-1939)
12 x 20 3/4 in./30.5 x 52.7 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

Exhibited: Ils s’envolérent…! Air and Space Museum, Le Bourget-Paris, 2005.

Seven years before the Wright Brothers would achieve powered flight, the May Century turned a fascinated eye toward the possibilities of kite aerodynamics. This was the first American poster depicting “heavier-than-air” flight, illustrated by yet another Wright, Charles Hubbard Wright. It shows Lieutenant Hugh Wise at Governor’s Island in New York City, lifted skyward by a kite designed by Laurence Hargrave (1850-1915) in May 1897. England-born Hargrave invented his first “flying machine” box kite in 1893; his work inspired Alexander Graham Bell to begin his own experiments with a series of tetrahedral kites from 1903 to 1907.

64. Exposition Internationale / Nancy. 1909.
By Ludo
25 3/4 x 39 5/8 in./65.3 x 100.7 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

An aeronautic retrospective is the overwhelming draw in this poster for the International Science, Industry, and Art Exhibition in Nancy, the capital of the industrial area of Lorraine. This six-month event obviously featured more than avionic attractions, but who could resist the thrill of a ride in the dirigible “Ville de Nancy,” with its tremendous views, floating high above its namesake city? The short passenger joy rides offered aboard are the earliest recorded use of an airship for commercial purposes. A Wright-style glider, a tethered hot-air balloon, and the aforementioned dirigible all float through an orange sky over the silhouetted Nancy, which is bathed in the deep red and delicate pink of the setting sun. A previously seen version of this design (see PAI-LIII, 3) includes the same image and French text at top, but here the entire lower-third of the design is in German and French rather than English, spelling out an assortment of details, including that the entire event is “Under the Official Patronage of the French Government.”

66. Meeting d’Aviation / Bruxelles. 1910.
38 1/8 x 58 1/4 in./97 x 148 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

“The Brussels Air Show took place at the Stockel racecourse, right after the Aviation Week of Reims… It seemed most promising, the weather having been beautiful the week before… The meet was completely dominated by the magical flying skills of the Belgian Jan Olieslagers, nicknamed ‘the Antwerp Demon,’ a hotheaded and talented sportsman (a cycling champion) who won all of the prizes” (Affiches de l’Aviation, p. 33). This is the larger format.

70. Exposition de Locomotion Aérienne / Avions Militaires. 1912.
By Georges Dorival (1879-1968)
29 5/8 x 41 in./75.2 x 104.3 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

Two Blériot-style aircraft dance among the klieg lights of the Grand Palais in this magnificent portrayal of what it was like to soar above Paris in an open cockpit in the first decade of powered flight. This image was used in several different formats (see PAI-LXXIII, 72 and PAI-LIII, 16), but here it’s geared specifically toward military aviators, and there is extensive railway information in the text below. This is the smaller format of this variant.

71. Aero Exhibition / Olympia. ca. 1913.
23 1/8 x 40 in./58.6 x 101.5 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

With its echoes of the high-altitude home of the Greek gods, Olympia is a well-chosen name of the site of an air exhibition in London. The excitement of flight is shown with an image combining a biplane at the moment before flight and a scarlet-gowned beauty whose winged feet evoke Mercury, the god of speed. Named after the Greek center of worship from which the athletic Olympic spirit sprung, the Olympia Exhibition Hall and Pleasuredrome—the British equivalent of the Grand Palais in Paris—was erected in 1886 and covered an astonishing area that totaled four acres. The Grand Hall—450 feet in length by 250 feet in breadth—was said to be the largest building in the entire United Kingdom covered by one span of iron and glass. Today, it is a part of London’s Earl’s Court Exhibition Center.

72. Konstanz / Bodensee-Wasserflug. 1913.
By Heinrich H. Schütz (1875-1956)
27 3/8 x 38 5/8 in./69.5 x 98 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

The southern German university town of Konstanz juts out into Lake Constance (or “Der Bodensee” in German), which is shared with neighboring Switzerland and Austria. Konstanz is also the birthplace of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, constructor of the famous Zeppelin airships. But it’s not airships being hailed in this Schütz poster—it’s a Bodensee flying boat air show. The main event of the show was a 200-kilometer flight to test the endurance of new models for the German navy. Here, the strong, allegorical figure resembling the Colossus of Rhodes holds the power of flight in his hands. Three bi-wing hydro-airplanes are depicted, and the one in flight appears to be a Curtis craft on floats. An interesting historical side note: because it practically lies within Switzerland, just one kilometer from the border, Konstanz was not bombed by the Allied Forces during World War II. The city left all their lights on at night, fooling the bombers into thinking it was actually a Swiss town.

75. S.N.E.T.A. 1921.
By Samuel Colville Bailie (1879-1926)
24 x 39 3/4 in./61 x 101 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

S.N.E.T.A., the National Syndicate for the Development of Aerial Transport, was the first air transport organization in Belgium. It was formed in 1919 as an experimental commercial venture by a group of influential businessmen, and began airmail and passenger service between London and Brussels in 1920 with a fleet of nine airplanes. The company expanded its service to include flights to Amsterdam and Paris in 1921, and at the same time, pioneered air service in the Belgian Congo. Although S.N.E.T.A. only carried 95 passengers during its first two years, the investors were encouraged with the airmail business, and by 1922 the airline had bought 31 new planes, including the Farman “Goliath” pictured here. The Belgian government took over S.N.E.T.A.’s assets in 1923, creating a new airline, Sabena, which is still operating in Belgium today.

93. Pan Am / Africa. 1967.
28 1/8 x 42 in./71.5 x 106.6 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Despite the constant reproduction of this image on blogs and online shops, no record seems to exist of the artist’s name. But the reason for its popularity is clear: the image is bold, striking, and transfixing. The woman alone is a vision with her angular face and long eyelashes—and the Ankara fabric she wears simply adds to her allure. The repetition of pattern in the text below further references Pan Am’s groovier 1960s aesthetic.

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