The Early Days
The first posters to have made an appearance in public can be traced as far
back as the 15th century. They were used as a means of making public
announcements and proclamations from the King. Under François I, town criers
were no longer used to announce edicts from the King, Church or Brotherhood.
Rather, posters were fixed to billboards as a means of making important
royal announcements to the populace.
The earliest poster that can be traced from its signature is that of
Jean-Michel Papillon. The French theoretician is credited with being the
first poster designer and the inventor of wallpaper. He engraved rustic
designs into woodwork in continuous, matching patterns as early as 1675.
The posters at this time suffered from very slow development. This was due
to the painstaking process of poster production. Artisans had to engrave the
poster into woodwork or metal sheets by hand, with little or no design and
It was until the birth of the lithographic printing that posters made their
foray into mass media.
The Lithographic Revolution
1789 maybe more known as the year of the French revolution, but for a poster
history buff it is just as important a historical date. It is the birth of
lithographic printing, which ushered in a new in poster publishing.
Lithography was invented by Alois Senefelder in Austria. It consisted of a
series of lithos, metal or stone carvings, which are tinted with ink to make
a print. The mechanized process of lithography meant that posters in all
sizes and shapes could be implemented and produced in large numbers.
Posters were soon embraced by the mass media and used for promotional
purposes in France and throughout Europe. Newspapers displayed printed
advertisements, theatre and opera shows in Paris started running “poster
advertisements” to announce important events and soon enough publishers and
writers followed suite. The likes of Hugo, Balzac and Dumas partnered with
great lithographic designers like Raffet, Gavarni and Johannot to illustrate
some of the most acclaimed masterpieces of French 19th literary works.
The Father of the Poster
Despite the major strides in graphic art printing and production since the
advent of photography, posters remained part and parcel of pictorial arts.
This all changed in 1867, thanks to the vision of a simple French artisan
called Jules Cheret.
Cheret saw the potential of the poster as an advertising and promotional
medium and sought to give it an artistic imagery separate from other arts.
His Parisian printing shop produced the first commercial art poster, called
“La Biche au Bois”, to promote the popular comedy Bal Valentino.
But it is not only giving posters a separate artistic identity that gave
Cheret the nickname “Father of the Poster”. He also made huge contributions
in the fields of printing and design techniques to make posters a remarkable
innovation in the period. He improved on the existing lithographic
techniques by introducing the “three stone lithographic process” in
printing. The three stones – which refer to the three colors: yellow, blue
and red – made it possible to combine color and texture with images and
text. Color poster printing in volume was not only possible, but aesthetic
and economical at the same time.
Cheret went on to produce posters in mass throughout his illustrious career.
His innovation influenced future prominent poster artists, such as Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec and Edouard Manet, and ushered in the new era of the art
poster as we know it today: a powerful communications and advertising