Art Nouveau posters

The modern advertising poster was created by Art Nouveau artists. These were much concerned with applied art and the poster was a new form of expression. Apart from that, the poster turned out to be a better medium for the elaboration of Jugenstil ideas than the painting. That is why famous artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha and Toorop have ventured to design posters and this soon became a fully-fledged form of art.

Art Nouveau and Jugendstil

Art Nouveau mainly existed as an art movement between 1885 and 1905. Throughout Europe and in the United States, artists stood up against movements such as neo-classicism or neo-gothic, which only relied on static, historical forms of art. Many artists looked for and found new ways, albeit initially without much international organization. In particular, small, regional groups emerged, with a different name in almost every country. In the Netherlands, for example, there was talk of "New Art".
Later it turned out that there were indeed many similar ideas and they were French 'Art Nouveau' and German "Jugendstil" remaining as umbrella names.

Craft work

In addition to having problems with neo-art, the new artists are also opposed to industrialization and the resulting mass production. This already started in England in the 60s of the 19th century with the so-called Arts and Crafts movement. This movement promoted honest and unique craftsmanship over industrially manufactured goods. In addition, the artisan made the entire product himself, from design to execution. Art Nouveau artists would largely adopt this idea. The result was that the current extended to an unprecedented number of branches of industry. The production of ceramics, glassware, jewelery, furniture and even clothing was influenced by it.
It was true that this one artist-artisans never really limited itself to one craft. The Art Nouveau artist learned several techniques and asserted his name in various fields.


The artistic expressions of Art Nouveau and Jugendstil can be recognized by the following common characteristics:
  • Extensive use was made of a dynamic, flowing line that expressed movement. This was often a wavy sine line, but it could also concern a whip line.
  • Two-dimensional images were preferred, with many flat surfaces being used.


There are also many similarities in the area of ​​themes.
  • Inspiration for the images and symbols used mostly came from nature. Both plant motifs and animals can be found frequently. In addition, abstract forms were often used that were also derived from natural forms.
  • Women played a very prominent role in Art Nouveau. They were depicted much more often than men and in a very feminine way. There was a lot of emphasis on round, feminine shapes and loose, wavy hairs. There were two types of women: the 'femme fleur', the innocent, dancing flower girl and the 'femme fatale', the male seducer.
  • There was a lot of interest in motifs from non-Western or past cultures. Japanese art in particular, which is also very two-dimensional, appealed to the imagination
Note: click on the images below to see a larger format
Sarah Bernhardt by Grasset / Source: Eugиne Samuel Grasset (1845-1917), Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

The acceptance of poster art as an art form

Making posters, mostly for commercial purposes, was fairly new to art. Previously it was not exactly seen as work for a self-respecting artist. That was undoubtedly also because there was not much honor to be gained; the posters consisted largely of printed text. There were also no adequate printing techniques for reproducing large quantities of colorful posters.
That changed pioneer then Jules Cheret discovered that the poster was perfect for creating images on a flat surface with the use of elementary lines. Where paintings often seem scanty with an overly basic use of lines and surfaces, a poster actually did extra justice. Chéret himself became the first poster artist. To make that possible, he also personally improved the printing process lithograph.
An increasing number of artists would follow in his footsteps and plunge into the new medium with great success. As a result, making posters by the turn of the century was accepted as a fully-fledged art form with its own exhibitions and galleries. As a result, that development went fairly quickly. This was also due to the emergence of new media as magazines, which spread the images throughout the Western world in a short time.
Eventually the successive poster artists would go through a development that contributed significantly to the emergence of modern art. The development is described in more detail below.

Jules Chéret, creator of the modern advertising poster

Up to the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century, posters, as stated, consisted largely of pieces of text, only occasionally interrupted by an illustration. Advertisers wanted to provide as much information as possible about the advertised product.
The French artist Jules Chéret saw that the reverse was better. He came up with a large, colorful, eye-catching image, supported by a minimum of information.
Chéret 1896 / Source: Jules Chйret, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
In this way, Chéret thought, an advertising poster could compete much better with all the distractions that the busy, urban street had to offer. Within this framework it was also important to stick to simple shapes and bright colors. The handling of flat surfaces was also better, because an image with perspective blends in too much with the surroundings, instead of jumping out.
The danger, however, was that such an image would become too dull and static. To bring movement and dynamics into the whole, the use of a mobile baseline was necessary.
Thus it were practical considerations that prompted Chéret to elaborate his style. However, he surprised painters and designers around the world with his posters and the completely new way in which he portrayed an image. Eventually many would be inspired by it and Chéret came to be at the basis of the characteristics that would become so characteristic of Art Nouveau.
This not only concerned the use of dynamic lines, flat surfaces and bright colors, but also the themes used. At the center of the Chéret posters were usually dancers or women moving in some other way. Something that benefited the liveliness and dynamics of the image.
Yet his style was not yet completely typical of Art Nouveau. Chéret was in fact strongly influenced by impressionism, the most prominent new art movement of its time. As a result, the lines he used were not as tight, firm and pronounced as with his followers. He also used a little more perspective than would later become customary and the lettering in his posters was still separate from the image. He did not adjust the choice of fonts to the style of the drawing.
Other artists, however, enthusiastically took up Chéret's ideas and would further refine them.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Grasset

The two artists who probably took the next steps in the development of poster art more than others were Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Eugène Grasset.


Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was primarily a painter who had his heyday during the 80s and 90s of the 19th century. That meant that he worked in the midst of a large number of innovative artists and movements. However, he was not the man to make sharp choices. He allowed himself to be influenced by numerous contemporaries, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch and especially Degas. As a result, he did not become the representative of one particular movement, but he acted as a sort of bridge function between the different directions. He combined what he liked in his own work.
Toulouse-Lautrec 1892 / Source: Toulouse-Lautrec, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Within this framework, Toulouse-Lautrec was also one of the admirers of Chéret. That could not have happened. Like Chéret, he was a man of the good life with a preference for portraying dancers and a regular visitor to the Moulin Rouge, the Paris nightclub. Moreover, he was more interested in graphic design than other artists of his time.
That led to him also producing posters himself. He went a few steps further than his example. Even more than Chéret, Toulouse-Lautrec opted for large, flat, eye-catching color boxes, making them more explicitly present in the image. Furthermore, the lines he used are stronger and smoother and are continued in the lettering. Thus the Toulouse-Lautrec posters are more a whole. The looseness that characterizes his style was achieved, among other things, by the fact that, contrary to what was common, he immediately painted the image on the lithography stone.
Because of their powerful expression, the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec are often seen as the best that Art Nouveau has produced poster art. Because he was influenced by so many movements, he also did not make the ultimate Art Nouveau poster. Just as with Chéret, the influence of Impressionism is still clearly present.

Grass set

Eugene Grasset was a man with many skills. More than Toulouse-Lautrec, he had a connection with the idea of ​​the artist-craftsman. He was proficient in various forms of industry, including graphic arts. Through Chéret he also became interested in poster art, in which he himself came to a form that exerted a great influence on designers after him.
Important in the development of his style was the affinity and experience that Grasset had with making stained glass. This was clearly reflected in his posters that had thick lines with very flat surfaces in between.
Grasset also focused on portraying lively women. For him, however, it happened more in the way that would become so typical of Art Nouveau: with loose hair and clothes that flew in all directions.
This combination of style and theme and caught on enormously with other designers. This was what the rest wanted to build on. In addition, some would make a name for themselves as poster artists, while others would only produce a single poster.

Alphonse Mucha

Sarah Bernhardt was not only the most famous actress of her time, but also the ultimate personification of the Art Nouveau woman. This made her play an important role in the world of artists. She was a model, client and patron of and for various artists.
Originally Czech artist Alphonse Mucha owed a lot to her. He broke through with a poster made for a Bernhardt show and then became one of her most important protégees. In addition, he would not only make posters for her, but also jewelery for example.
Mucha, 'Dance', between 1896 and 1900 / Source: Alphonse Mucha, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
Mucha became a much sought after designer, albeit more for the promotion of shows and exhibitions than for products. Apart from that, he was one of the few who also made posters or magazines for a calendar without a specific assignment.
Ultimately, especially during the 1990s, his production was probably the greatest of all poster artists and he also became the best known name in this field. Although not all of his works achieve the same quality.
Characteristic of Mucha's posters was that he usually chose a size that was longer and narrower than the standard size. That gave him better options to portray women in their full height. What is striking about his female figures is that over the years they are dressed more and more scarcely, until not much was left behind. Mucha used all kinds of complicated patterns to decorate the flat surface. He also worked out his images in more detail than many of his colleagues. Finally, his use of color is very recognizable, with soft, usually earthy colors.
Mucha used many motifs from non-Western and historical civilizations, which give his work an exotic face. For example, he used elements from Czech folklore that he knew, but he also introduced a font based on Hebrew characters. Japanese, Moorish, Arabic and Celtic motifs also feature in his designs and he was influenced by Byzantine mosaics.
All this led to the name Mucha becoming practically synonymous with Jugendstil.

Georges de Feure

The Frenchman Georges de Feure was very interested in graphic art, but was much more concerned with book illustrations than posters. Yet he has made a reasonable number of posters.
His work can be recognized by lively characters that are dressed in lavish costumes. Often the chic ladies from the cultural elite are provided with fur coats and large hats. In terms of style, he combines the solid lines of Grasset with the use of color by Chéret.
Source: Jan Toorop, Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Jan Toorop

The Netherlands was not the country where New Art really flourished, but thanks to Jan Toorop poster art became very popular here. That was because of a poster that he made in 1894 'Delft salad oil'. This is still seen as one of the most ultimate Art Nouveau posters ever made. In the Netherlands, this one poster had such an impact that the Jugenstil here even nicknamed it 'salad oil art' received.
Toorop was actually a symbolist painter with a mystical and occult style, strongly inspired by Javanese shadow games. Nevertheless, he managed to make the transition to a decorative image based on clear lines without any problems. In fact, by filling every flat surface in his image with moving shapes, he managed to bring so much dynamism into the image that he definitely lifted the design of posters to a high artistic level.

Henry van de Velde

The Belgian Henry van de Velde, who later emigrated to Germany, was an important person within Art Nouveau. He became best known as an architect, but started his career as a graphic artist. Just like De Feure, however, he had more to do with book illustrations than advertising posters, because he had little talent for the commercial aspect. Finally, he made a poster in 1898. Coincidentally it became the most famous Art Nouveau poster in art history.
It's about a poster "Tropon", a German brand that offers preserved food. The reason the poster stands out is the fact that Van de Velde simply did not care about the commercial requirements of the product. He depicted intriguing abstract forms that have nothing to do with food, but express an almost liquid movement. The image is all lines and surfaces and clearly moves in the direction of abstract, modern art.

To modern art

With this, the Art Nouveau poster has traveled a path that began with a visual language still leaning strongly on Impressionism and Degas and ended with abstract forms that formed a precursor to modern art that was to emerge in the new century. The influence of these posters on 20th-century art is therefore undeniable.

Video: 100 Art Nouveau Posters and Advertising (April 2020).

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