It’s safe to say the Victorian era had some less than desirable fashions in art, with death portraiture a popular mantlepiece theme! And yet the design during the 19th century has remained very prominent in the modern world and has influenced much in the world of art and design and has pockets of work that fascinate me.
French poster artist Jules Chéret (1836–1932) was amongst the first to produce a colour lithograph poster in 1866. The colour prints revolutionised poster art at the time, using waxy crayon and limestone blocks, this method paved the way for Chéret’s ground-breaking invention for large scale poster printing. Victorian posters fascinate me; their limited use of colour, simplicity and hand-drawn illustrations create a subtle naivety which continues to inspire generations of artists, as well as me. They bring a smile to my face, the simplicity, the bold lettering, their slightly flippant and light hearted air is quite refreshing. A whimsical style which also relates to artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, another artist who’s work I enjoy.
While Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha in Paris produced images full of art nouveau colour and life, I could not miss out pair of British artists who gave the poster its most drastic treatment. The graphics of J & W Beggarstaff were pared down to essential lines and monotonic colour. They were driven by the omission of extraneous detail, flat colour and composition. In its simplicity this work anticipated modernism by a least ten years and of course it is this aesthetic which underpins my body of work; composition, simplicity and flat colour.
Poster design soon took on the styles of Art Nouveau and later Art Deco, a style which marvelled at technological innovations. Artists such as Alphonse Mucha, a favourite of mine who I have mentioned before, created famous posters such as the one of Sarah Bernhardt, which made Bernhardt iconic and became a poster regularly taken off the Parisien street walls by admirers. This crossover into Art Nouveau styles and the continuation of poster art influence is a thread I find very interesting.
The designs from these movements were heavily relied on for advertising and became hugely popular.
Illustrator Will Owen ( 1869-1957) of course cannot be left out of this – his ‘Bisto Kids’ is just a timeless classic design. Owen worked with John Hassell (1868-1948) as members of the London Sketch Club and his ‘Jolly Fisherman’ is amongst my favourite poster designs from this time. A recent book on Hassell shows how his work is still so popular, making people smile and lasting as classic images.
I would say these style of posters are aesthetically pleasing and this is something I aim for in my work, my goal as a painter is to create beautiful images, which appeal to an aesthetic sense and make the viewer feel satisfied and pleased with what they see. I enjoy the contrast of bold colours, the play of lines and shapes and the instant gratification provided by a pleasing image.
Later during WWII, posters became a method to recruit and motivate members of the public to become part of the army. With slogans such as ‘We Can Do it!’ and powerful imagery which inspired strength, these propaganda designs continued to play an important role in art history.
From the Victorians to present day artists such as myself, poster art and its unique style has actually played a big role in influencing many artists work. It is a fascinating area of art that is endless in its influences from the past and influences on the future of art.