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28 historic images of flight

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.

1. Meeting Aérien de Reims : Maquette. 1909.
By René Lelong (1871-1933)
12 5/8 x 17 7/8 in./32 x 45.5 cm
Est: $7,000-$9,000

Lelong’s preparatory work for the 1909 Reims Air Meet captures the audience’s awed reactions to the flying machines above them, which include a Wright, a Blériot, and a Farman. While most air meet images focus on the spectacle in the skies, Lelong takes a refreshing—and beautifully expressed—look at the crowds who gathered at street level to take in the newest aircraft. Regrettably, this delicate artwork did not result in a printed poster. Lelong is best known for his posters for Kodak (see Nos. 294 and 295).

4. 4eme Exposition de la Locomotion Aérienne. 1912.
By Georges Dorival (1879-1968)
46 x 61 5/8 in./116.8 x 156 cm
Est: $5,000-$6,000

It’s been 111 years since these two Blériot style aircraft soared over the Grand Palais and the Seine, as Paris turned golden in the sunset and klieg-lights—a momentous occasion preserved here for posterity. This poster was featured in an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the International Aeronautical Federation at the Air and Space Museum; this larger format is very rare!

8. Crociera Aerea del Decennale. 1933.
By Luigi Martinati (1893-1983)
38 1/4 x 55 in./97 x 139.7 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Martinati created this astounding image for the second massive formation flight over the North Atlantic. The event was sponsored by the Italian government in celebration of the tenth anniversary of Mussolini’s rise to power. The massive iconoclastic bust of the Italian dictator serves as a monumental backdrop for the squadron of Savoia-Marchetti flying boats—outfitted with Asso motors; Manelli magnetos, spark plugs, and batteries; Stanavo corroborators; and sponsored in part by the Italo-American Petroleum Industry of Genoa. In one of the most impressive of all early massive formation flights, the planes powered their way from Rome to Chicago before returning to New York. The mission was headed by Italian Air Minister General Italo Balbo, who also led the first such undertaking in 1930. And though neither of these exploits were completed without the loss of life, they gave a remarkable demonstration of the growing reliability and possibilities of aviation, as well as the ability of flight to shrink the globe.

11. Air France / Paris-New York. 1951.
By Vincent Guerra
24 1/2 x 39 3/8 in./62 x 100 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

For the Parisians sitting at a sidewalk café within view of the Arc de Triomphe, the Air France plane flying overhead conjures up a vision of its destination, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty and the stars from the American flag. It’s one of many posters that Guerra created for the airline between 1947 and 1951.

15. TWA / New York. 1955.
By David Klein (1918-2005)
25 x 40 3/8 in./63.2 x 102.5 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Klein is best remembered for the dozens of destination advertisements he created for TWA during the 1950s and ‘60s. For New York, Klein creates a stacked perspective of some of the city’s best known sights, piling landmark upon landmark—St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Rockefeller Plaza’s Prometheus, the Brooklyn Bridge, et al—then crowning them with a bust of Lady Liberty and the typeface of the New York Times.

17. SAS / Africa. ca. 1960.
By Otto Nielsen (1916-2000)
24 5/8 x 39 1/8 in./62.5 x 99.3 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

Founded in 1946 as a partnership between the state airlines of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway to handle intercontinental traffic to Scandinavia, SAS rapidly became the leading carrier of the Nordic countries. In 1954, SAS was the first airline in the world to operate a transpolar route that flew nonstop from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. Almost immediately the route became the air travel option of choice with Hollywood celebrities and production people when traveling to Europe, which conversely became a publicity coup for the airline. Here, Nielsen—who designed posters and other materials for SAS for 50 years—whisks us away to Africa for an elegant sighting of a tower of giraffes.

22. Cuba / Delta Air Lines.
By William G. Slattery (1929-?)
21 3/4 x 28 1/4 in./55.4 x 71.8 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

Despite the contemporary political malaise between the United States and the republic of Cuba, it was not that long ago that the largest of the West Indian islands was the Caribbean vacation destination of choice for many Americans, due in large part to its geographic proximity (a scant ninety miles from Key West) and a reputation as a hedonistic bastion of tropical indulgence. Slattery doesn’t shy away from these pleasurable pursuits in his design for Delta Air Lines, but he doesn’t lay things on too thickly either. Most importantly he sets everything against an oranging sky, which lends every aspect of the poster a tropical flavor without forcing the issue. Delta is one of the world’s oldest airlines going back to 1928 when it began as Delta Air Services.

View all Aviation posters
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