The modern poster

Posters as rallying calls or for information have existed for many hundreds of years, and have developed constantly since the art of printing was invented, which in Europe was in the 15th century. What we call the modern poster, however, is a much more recent phenomenon, which first emerged in the 19th century. 

Artistically designed posters began gradually to appear in the 1830s, after colour lithography appeared in 1827 and opened up new possibilities. Apart from the effective colours, the new graphic technique meant that larger posters could be produced.

Artists drew their motifs with lithographic crayons on paper, and then the motif was etched like a kind of transfer into the lithographic stone that was used for printing. Some artists drew directly on the stone. Normally the process was carried out in close collaboration between the artist and the lithographer-craftsman.

Posters were produced in relatively small runs of a few hundred copies until the appearance of serigraphy, when the motif was transferred to a silk screen in a frame. The process came to Denmark from England at the end of the 1920s. When offset printing was introduced in the early 1960s, lithography became less and less common as a technique.

Artistically, the modern poster was born in France, where Jules Chéret (1836-1932) started printing large, colourful posters on his own lithographic press in 1866. The posters were advertisements for a whole series of amusements.

The poster was not seen as a work of art until a breakthrough in the 1890s, when, strongly inspired by Chéret’s posters, the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) enthusiastically adopted the poster as his form of expression. His total production of graphic posters does not exceed 28. The essence of Art Nouveau, their distinctive lines and compositions set a fashion over many parts of Europe.

Danish posters, too, rode on a wave that had started in France. At an exhibition in 1896 at the Museum of Decorative Art in Copenhagen, posters by Toulouse-Lautrec were featured among the international art posters shown. This exhibition drew attention to the latest style in posters. Since posters were now shown in museums, and had come from the street into the best rooms, they acquired a completely new status. Consequently, after 1896, there was a change of approach in Danish-produced posters as a medium, and they moved away from the anonymous broadsheets. Instead, posters were now signed, and demands were made on their artistic quality.