Saturday, 23 November 2013



During the final quarter of the 19th century posters were made for advertising and propaganda with increased frequency in Great Britain, on Continental Europe and in North America. The Worlds great transportation companies were forefront in utilizing new developments in lithography and serigraphy that improved printing in the 1880s and 1890s. The Canadian Pacific Railway was among those companies taking advantage of the improved printed poster both for regional, national and international advertising. As poster production expanded on the eve of the 20th century, there was also an invested interest in the quality and style of poster design. For example, Belle Epoque Parisian poster designs by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) and Britain's Beggerstaff Brothers (active 1894-1899) observed close ties to contemporaneous fine and decorative art movements of the time such as art nouveau, the arts and crafts movement, and symbolism.

Poster design became a worthy fine art form. In the 20th century it would not only present itself as a form of fine art, but was to be a leading medium within which modernism would take flight in the arts.

The desired effectiveness of advertising campaigns lent well to simple, bold and linear combinations of text and image. This enticed designers to draw heavily from avant-garde art movements at the time that held similar stylistic principles such as cubism and constructivism. Pictorially and textually minimalistic designs of bold and linear compositions were first employed by the precocious German designer Lucian Bernhard (1883-1972). He is known best for his winning contest design for Priestler cigars in 1906, which comprised solely of black space, the company name and two stylized matchsticks. Bernhard and half a dozen other innovative German designers were given exclusive contracts with the forward thinking Berlin Lithography firm Hollenbaum and Schmidt. This school of design born out of Germany became known as Plakastil, translated simply as Poster Style.

Poster production reached a zenith of importance by the First World War. During the war governments had employed poster advertising to attract assistance and for propaganda. After the war poster production remained steady. Industrialism, technology and machinery were at this time embraced during the years following the First World War, which manifested in poster design through a continued influence of stream-lined prevailing artistic movements such as cubism, the Bauhaus School, and Art Deco. According to Phillip Meggs, author of A History of Graphic Design, the term Art Deco “is used to identify popular geometric works of the 1920s and 1930s. It signifies a major aesthetic sensibility in graphics, architecture, and product design during the decades between the two world wars.” One leading designer who embraced Art Deco aesthetics in his poster designs was Russian emigrant to Paris, A.M. Cassandre (1901-1968) He employed boldly simplified iconographic images that were often distorted in scale in order to send an effective message about what was being portrayed. This is exactly the case with Cassandre’s well-known L’Atlantique, 1931.

Poster design first caught my attention and subsequent admiration at university when I was taking a History of Graphic Design course. When I opened the textbook and saw an image of Cassandre’s Atlantique, 1931 it left an impression on me. I was already a lover of Art Deco by then. Cassandre’s early image of a oceanliner was to be an innovative model for travel posters featuring ships for decades to come. His influence can be seen in the still fresh looking designs made for the Canadian Pacific into the mid and second half of the 20th century.

Another means through which my increasing affection for poster design as a fine art form arose came via vintage ski posters. For a long time I have reveled in the notion of collecting good early ski posters, as much so as I desire to ski at some of the great old European resorts that the posters advertised.

Both Cassandre’s ship and the ski posters are of the travel and tourism genre, which is an area in the history of poster design within which Canada has produced a prominent contribution. The catalyst in this was the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and in particular the company's Exhibits Branch of the Immigration and Colonization Department. The height in poster popularity coincided with what was often referred to as the Golden Age of the CPR from the turn of the century through World War One. Utilizing posters in extensive advertising campaigns intended to attract visitors and new settlers to Canada, the CPR was instrumental in shaping International perceptions of the country. Advertisements were aimed at portraying the country’s scenery, fertile land, and varying geography in a good light. Often pleasurable activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, swimming or skiing were featured.

Poster production increased again during the post-war years, and the CPR and its newer competitor the Canadian National Railway (CNR) both created numerous travel and tourism posters with exceptional designs at that time. Peter Ewart (1918-2001) was one Canadian artist whose art deco inspired designs were used for almost 25 CPR posters over many decades. His first was a ski poster from 1940 “Sports D’Hiver.” Masters Gallery sold another of his ski posters earlier in 2013, and has the pleasure of offering a selection of vintage Canadian travel and tourism posters both in our Calgary and Vancouver galleries this fall, including one of Peter Ewart’s most praised railway posters.

Acquiring vintage posters is an excellent way of delving into art collecting. Original examples of vintage posters are sometimes rare and hard to find, but they are not unobtainable and can be financially reasonable in comparison to collecting in other branches of the fine arts.

For further reading on Canada’s contribution to the history of poster design I recommend Posters of the Canadian Pacific by Marc H. Choko and David L. Jones (Firefly Books, 2004)

and for an excellent overview of the history of poster design see

The History of Poster Design by Max Gallo (Norton & Co. New York, 2000)


Meggs’ History of Graphic Design by Phillip Meggs (J. Wiley & Sons, 2006 Fourth Edition)


Photo Credits:

1. Canadian Pacific Railway Poster, anonymously designed, 1887

2. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. La Vache Enragee, 1896

3. The Beggarstaff Brothers. Lyceum Don Quixote, 1895

4. Lucian Bernhard. Priestler Cigars, 1906

5. Julius Klinger. Kriegsanleihe, Vienna, 1918. (Poster promoting German war bonds with symbolic defeat of the Allies)

6. A.M. Cassandre. L'Atlantique, 1931.

7. Tomagno. Chamonix-Mont Blanc Sports D'Hiver Train Express, circa 1905

8. Cortina D'Ampezzo, designer unknown, circa 1920

9. Pierre Kramer, Zermatt/ Matterhorn, 1931

10. Emil Cardinaux, St. Moritz circa 1920

11. Roger Broders. Sports D'Hiver a St. Pierre de Chartreuse, 1930

12. Canadian Pacific Railway, Empress of Britain, anonymously designed, lithograph, circa 1930

13. Alfred C. Leighton for CPR,Chateau Lake Louise, silkscreen, 1938

14. Peter Ewart for CPR, Sports d"Hiver, silkscreen, 1940.

15. Peter Ewart for CPR. Ski Canada silkscreen, circa 1941 (sold in 2013 at Masters Gallery)

16. Peter Ewart for CPR. Canadian Pacific lithograph, 1952

17. Canadian Pacific Railway The New Empress of Canada, lithograph, anonymously designed, 1961

18. Canadian Pacific Railway, Holidays in Canada, lithograph

19. Canadian Pacific Railway, Alaska and the Yukon lithograph

20. Canadian National Railway, Ski in Canada's Laurentian Mountains, silkscreen, circa 1950s


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