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35 powerful designs for taking 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.

84. Grande Semaine d'Aviation. 1909.
By Ernest Montaut (1879-1909)
46 1/2 x 63 1/2 in./118.2 x 161.3 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

“The true ancestor of the aviation poster genre can be traced to Montaut… for his portrayal of the trailblazing assembly at Reims. Soft tints in the sky indicate that sunset is near, a time of day when the wind was apt to drop and flying was considered to be safer. A svelte female spectator, back to the viewer, lifts her arm in salute to an armada of aircraft rising like a swarm of bees… The curving zebra stripes of her costume—fully consonant with an impression of motion and speed, which after all was the crux of the message delivered by the newfangled flying machine—resonate as effectively as the determined look on the face of the nearest pilot. The Grande Semaine brought together for the first time the world’s greatest fliers. Among them were Louis Blériot, Henry Farman, Léon Delagrange, Hubert Latham, count Charles de Lambert, Louis Paulhan, Roger Sommer, and the American entry, Glenn Hammond Curtiss… Parisians streamed to the event; three thousand Britons came from London by special excursion, and two thousand Americans turned up to root for the single representative of their country. Reims was a watershed in the history of flight. Aviators who had flown ‘before Reims’ were regarded as veterans compared with those who learned to fly later. It dramatically demonstrated the progress made in aviation and provided an incalculable stimulus for the design and production of aeroplanes” (Looping the Loop, p. 42). This is the larger format.

86. Meeting d’Aviation / Nice. 1910.
By Charles Léonce Brossé (1871-1945)
27 1/4 x 40 1/4 in./69.2 x 102.5 cm
Est: $8,000-$10,000

From a bird’s eye view above the cockpit of an early monoplane resembling a Blériot, we share in the pilot’s vertiginous, breathtaking vista of Nice and the Gold Coast as he scatters a bouquet of roses to the town at his feet. Brossé, a graphic chronicler of the city of Nice, not only provided us with a magnificent poster for the 1910 air show, but was also one of the event’s key organizers.

90. Meeting D’Aviation / Strasbourg. 1924.
By R. Carrie
30 x 42 3/8 in./76.2 x 107.7 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

On a Sunday afternoon in July, 1924, all eyes in Strasbourg turned skyward to witness spectacular acts of aviation mastery courtesy of the Aéro-Club of Alsace. The image of the 2nd Fighting and Pursuit Regiment Fokker carving its way through the air hints at only part of the drama that will unfold, as the event also featured only the best known flying aces and even a female parachutist, Mlle. Paulet. The text also tells us that winning participants in the meet will be awarded on the spot in cash.

95. Landung Basel. 1930.
By Otto Jacob Plattner (1886-1951)
35 3/8 x 50 in./90 x 127 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

The LZ-127 model Graf Zeppelin had its first flight in September 1928, accompanied by much fanfare. Here, the good folks of Basel are getting a chance to experience the great silver-skinned craft—shown here hovering over the city spires—in person. Short hops on board were offered throughout the day, and a parachute demonstration occurred in the afternoon. Plattner, a landscape painter and graphic designer well known for his work in Basel, frequently signed his name with the initial “P,” its loop filled by the cross from the Swiss flag on a red ground.

97. Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei / 2 Days to Europe. 1936.
By Jupp Wiertz (1881-1939)
22 x 32 in./56 x 81.2 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

This haunting poster for the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei advertises two-day travel from New York City to Europe. Emerging through a classic foggy New York-in-the-’30s morning, blue sky opens up around the Zeppelin as a shaft of golden light strikes the spire of the Empire State Building, in an imagining of its intended use as a dirigible mooring station—though it was ultimately never used for that purpose.

100. Airmen Prefer Shell. 1930.
By Andrew Johnson
44 3/4 x 29 1/8 in./113.6 x 74 cm
Est: $3,000-$4,000

Johnson was best known as “an agreeable landscape painter [who] expertly rendered the scenic views he was entrusted with” (Weill, p. 226). The designer himself, however, had some simple ground rules for poster making that he adhered to no matter what the designated subject matter: “If the poster forces attention by its dramatic presentation or its ‘newness’ its first object is achieved. It has been seen” (Richmond, p. 149). Certainly one would have difficulty disputing the veracity of his goals after catching a glimpse of the direct, no-nonsense gaze of the young flier that lends his visage to the service of promoting Shell, who comes across as a textbook demonstration of sincerity in advertising.

111. Fly TWA Jets / Paris. 1962.
By David Klein (1918-2005)
25 x 40 1/4 in./63.5 x 102.3 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

This is one of David Klein’s most celebrated posters, and the image itself is jubilant: the City of Light is ablaze with Klein’s stylized fireworks that mimic the illustrated showgirls of the Folies-Bergère in Belle Époque posters.

115. Air India. ca. 1968.
25 1/8 x 39 7/8 in./64 x 101.3 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Air India’s icon, a whimsical whiskered Maharaja, rides into the sky atop his bejeweled elephant, along with the rest of his illustriously illustrated entourage.

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