Today, more and more cultural institutions have started to offer free art resources to the public through online archives. From high-quality reproductions of antique photographs to museum-approved art books, these complimentary materials promote and exhibit the endless possibilities of Internet learning. Recently, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) has opted to contribute to this downloadable, digitized phenomenon with Art of the Poster 1880-1918, a curated collection of posters from the “Golden Age” of graphic design.
Featuring over 200 printed works, Art of the Poster 1880-1918 presents a look at lithography's rise in popularity during La Belle Époque. It was during this time that artists like Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chéret, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec popularized the art form, which gained public prominence thanks to new methods of production.
“In the late nineteenth century, lithographers began to use mass-produced zinc plates rather than stones in their printing process,” the Flickr set's accompanying text explains. “This innovation allowed them to prepare multiple plates, each with a different color ink, and to print these with close registration on the same sheet of paper. Posters in a range of colors and variety of sizes could now be produced quickly, at modest cost.”
Artists and audiences alike favored the bright blocks of color, stylized typography, and contemporary subject matter of the posters. Today, these pieces are considered modern masterpieces, though most would have originally served as advertisements, promoting everything from restaurants and spectacles to liquor and cigarettes.
While inherently commercial projects, these posters played a critical role in elevating graphic design to its own art form. MCAD explains: “Many of the artists who designed posters during this period were already well-known in other media, such as painting and architecture. Their creative success helped to bridge the gap between ‘high art' and popular visual culture, and to introduce even those who never visited museums or galleries to examples of innovative modern design.”
You can see (and download) this comprehensive collection of splendid works of avant-garde art on the Art of the Poster 1880-1918 Flickr page.