Movie Poster Artists - An Introduction
In this, a new series of blog posts, we look at some of the artists who have contributed to the development of the movie poster. In this, the first of the series, we set the scene for future posts, by exploring the origins of the first movie posters.
We are going to begin in England, a little under three hundred years before the invention of the moving picture.
William Jaggard is best known as the publisher of the first folio of plays by William Shakespeare, famously of Stratford upon Avon, England. Following his father in to the printing business, Jaggard eventually owned one of the largest print shops of his generation and, in 1611, was appointed the official Printer to the City of London. It is less well known that Jaggard also held a monopoly on printing playbills (poster advertisements) for productions by the “The King’s Men”, Shakespeare’s company of actors.
Clearly, even the best known of script writers, directors and producers have always needed to publicise their work.
Whilst no Elizabethan playbills survive, we know that they would have contained printed text, detailing the play name and theatre, the date and time of the performance, and, perhaps the theatre company and leading actors. As Shakespeare’s reputation grew, perhaps they would also have contained the name of the playwright.
Playbills are unlikely to have changed dramatically (excuse the pun) for the next two hundred years or so.
And so, we now find ourselves in Inverness, Scotland in 1850, and, as we can see in the playbill below, with the possible exception of the wide range of typefaces, and the density of print, very little has changed since Elizabethan times.
Playbill from 1850, reproduced with permission from Am Baile and the Highland Archive Service.
The development of the earliest ‘moving pictures’ occurred a few years later, in a golden period of European history, the late nineteenth century. In contrast with the trials and tribulations of the 20th Century, “la Belle Époque” provided a period of stability and prosperity that allowed the arts to flourish, and, flourish is what Jules Chéret did.
Born in 1836 to a Parisian family of limited means, at thirteen Chéret apprenticed with a lithographer (more on lithography in a future blog post) before later attending courses on art.
After a seven year period in London, again developing his lithography and artistic skills, he returned to France and began creating posters for the theatres, operas and music halls of Paris. His bright and colourful artwork captured the mood of the time. As a result he expanded in to product advertising and, posters for festivals and touring troupes of actors. These posters were now a world away from the dour playbills of a few years before.
It is however, a small number of his works from the 1890s that we are most interested in.
Below, on the left, you can see Chéret’s poster for “Projections Artistiques”, shown at the ‘Pavillon de la Ville de Paris’, on the Champs Elysees. From 1890, it is the first poster known to advertise a cinematic show. (We haven’t been able to find out anything more about “Projections Artistiques”. If you have more information on this, please do let us know and we’ll add it to this blog entry.)
“Théâtre Optique” was an animated moving picture system invented and patented in 1888 by Emile Reynaud. His show “Pantomimes Lumineuses”, featuring three cartoons, debuted at the 'Musée Grévin' in 1892. The second Chéret poster (on the right) dates from this period. It no doubt contributed to the half a million people that eventually saw Reynaud’s show between 1892 and 1900.
During that period, the Lumière Brothers had also received patents relating to the development of the moving picture.
They held their first public screenings in December 1895 at the ‘Salon Indien du Grand Café’ in Paris. Their show comprised of ten films, each lasting under a minute.
Coming in at less than fifty seconds, the second of these films was entitled "L'Arroseur Arrosé” (“The Sprinkler Sprinkled”). Starring François Clerc and Benoît Duval, it is believed to be the first film comedy and the first fictional story captured on film.
The poster below, by illustrator Marcellin Auzolle, clearly shows the scene from this short film. It is the first poster known to advertise a specific film.
Auzolle continued a career in illustration. Many fine examples of his advertising posters, in particular those for a range of Champagnes, can be found on-line. He died in 1942.
Around 1900, Chéret retired from poster making to focus on painting. By that time, he had created over one thousand posters and was decorated as a ‘Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur’ for his contribution to the art industry. He died in 1932 at the ripe age of 96. He is now recognised as the father of the art poster and a major force behind development of lithographic printing techniques.
Future Posts in this Series
Whether you are Shakespeare, a Lumière, Spielberg or a Coen, the need to encourage people through the door remains a constant. Even in the digital media age of the early 21st Century, the poster remains a crucial device to help achieve that.
Both Auzolle and Chéret left behind indelible marks on cinematic history and the development of the fledgling movie poster. Since their time, the movie poster has undergone many stylistic and artistic developments.
In these posts, we’ll introduce artists that have been part of that evolution.
If you are interested in seeing how the movie poster has evolved over time, you can use the 'filter by' option in our Catalogue and then choose a decade. This will filter your view to posters for films that were originally released at that time.
We hope you find something you love.
Adam and the 'Art of the Movies' team