Commercial Art: Travel Posters in Special Collections
From romanticism to Art Nouveau, Special Collections houses more than a thousand posters of various styles from the first half of the twentieth century. Within this substantial collection are travel posters that used art to advertise unique landmarks and attract tourism. This exhibit focuses on nine European travel posters from Spain, France, Italy, Britain, Germany, and Norway. In a century of much social, political, and economic change, these posters functioned as a way to search for national identities and to promote tourism to countries in financial need pre- and post- World Wars.
The aesthetics of these posters drew from many sources, including the styles of new movements such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau, ideas of tradition and national symbolism, and the personal visions of the artists who created them. Publishing bodies throughout Europe had to produce pleasing designs in tune with the art world. Art, however, was always shifting in response to societal tensions, and while some aspects of these posters’ designs remained popular symbols in their respective countries’ advertising, some were controversial, poorly-received by the public, or later rejected by their governments.
Though less frequently considered “propaganda” than their cousin war posters, each travel poster still serves the purpose of advertising its country. In doing so, each poster helps to construct and disseminate a national image and identity. The artists, slogans, descriptions, and styles of illustration, including typography, can reveal the values of the tourism industries publishing the posters.
As a way to resolve tensions in a now split continent, these travel posters were featured in railways, subways, and many other transportation centers across Europe to reassemble the now broken tourism industry. We invite viewers to consider how the art and design movements represented by these posters shaped and were shaped by the cultural moments in which they were created, as well as to keep in mind that the twentieth century was an entirely new era with rapid change, not only in the world of art but in society too.