This week on Facebook we’re featuring our Polish posters and offering a giveaway contest: for every Polish poster purchased on-line or in the gallery, we will give away, for free, a copy of the exhibition poster that our favourite Polish poster artist Tomasz Walenta designed for a 2014 L’Affichiste exhibition.

Although I’ve written about Polish posters before (here and here), I thought a little refresher course might be a good idea:

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“Polish posters of the second half of the 20th century contributed significantly to modern visual culture and museums, collectors and design educators around the world recognize their significance. Known as ‘the Polish school’ of poster design, these works, while stylistically diverse, can be recognized as part of a unified, and ultimately national, approach to poster art that reflected the soul of a population during a long period of repressive governance and political unrest.” (From a great on-line article you can find here).

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Another great synopsis of this country-specific artform states (in part) that, “The state Publishing Agency, Wydawnictwo Artystyczno Graficzne (WAG), supported the creation of hundreds of posters each year for cultural events, providing comfortable income for the leading poster artists. In 1966, Poland held the First International Poster Biennial, and, in 1968, the world’s first poster museum was established in Warsaw. By the 1970s, posters were so popular that the government, although still monitoring for subversive content, eased censorship and sponsored design competitions. Winners were awarded prizes and allowed to compete internationally, and poster artists were given solo exhibitions in state-run galleries. Polish poster design was becoming a source of national pride.

Polish Poster

CYRK, the First Wave of International Recognition

Poland became an autonomous Communist country in the early 1960s. The Polish agency called ZPR (Zjednoczone Przedsiębiorstwa Rozrywkowe) or United Entertainment Enterprises was placed in charge of improving and modernizing the public image of state-sponsored “Cyrk” (circus) entertainment. Rather than using traditional advertising methods to accomplish that, ZPR commissioned and permitted leading artists to create personal and responsive designs for posters. Without the restriction of having to portray the circus using literal realism, artists were free to express their own interpretations of Cyrk. The style varied by artist, but in general was similar to commercial illustration being done during the 1950s and 1960s in Europe and the United States: playful and in a cartoon-like abstraction, with loose, painterly brushwork or with painted cut paper and collaged textures. Vividly colorful designs reflected a Polish folk-art heritage.

The resulting work received wide exposure through poster competitions that attracted international entries and achieved global recognition in the field of graphic design. Cyrk posters (like most posters) used a simple primary image to send an instant message. Often it was a circus performer, a figure with a prop, or small grouping of figures in a stylized action. Polish artists complemented the images with playful typography or hand lettering integrated into the design, which typically read only the single word, CYRK.” (Source)

“Waldemar Swierzy, who has created more than 1,000 designs, brought a painterly background to poster design which shows in the wide stylistic variety of his early work. As much of the Polish Poster Art in the 1970’s did, Swierzy’s work became very illustrative and let the picture speak for itself. Swierzy’s power conies through clarity and caricature. He has the ability to capture the feel of the subject in one, succinct statement. The bete noire of Polish poster artists Franciszek Starowieyski promoted an elitist quality in his work and carefully maintained the facade of the idiosyncratic artist. That is, wrapped up in his own little world, he created posters that suited his tastes and attitudes. He didn’t mean for everyone to be able to understand his work nor freely read the text.” (Source)

At L’Affichiste we are inordinately fond of Polish posters. We like the old movie posters, we like the new exhibition posters, we like the Swierzy zoo posters … in short, we like it all! We invite you to share our enthusiasm – and we’ll even add to your collection, by giving you (for free!) a poster that we normally sell for $100. What could be better than that??

One of the most wonderful aspects of my Klinger project (if you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that I’ve been – forever! – working on a book about Julius Klinger, which, if the fates align properly, will be published later on this summer) is the fascinating people I have met along the way. Curators from around the world, poster experts from the US, UK, Germany and right here at home, as well as dealers, auctioneers and aficionados who have shared their posters (and their love of posters) with me from the moment I began this project … they have all played a huge role in helping and guiding me over the last five years.

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Nicho Lowry of Swann Galleries in New York – shown here during one of his regular stints on the Antiques Road Show

The poster world – populated by people I often refer to as the Poster Mafia – is actually a small group of people who buy and sell posters for a living. But, like any intimate group activity, these people work in the field because they love posters. They can tell you about the posters that got away from them at auction, about the posters they sold and wished they hadn’t, about the posters they keep for themselves… They (ok, we) can tell you about the history of a poster by looking at the paper upon which it is printed and how the ink has been absorbed by that paper. We can trace the development of individual poster artists through their work and through the influence they had on their peers. We can explain these things to you because we spend our days and nights around and about posters – because we love them. (Or at least I do.)

Working on the Klinger book gave me entrée to another group of poster people: museum curators (and the people who work with and for them) at both private and public institutions in Israel, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Canada, the United States and Switzerland. While dealers work (in a very hands-on manner) with posters, touching them, showing them, packing and unpacking them, curators rarely handle their posters, and when they do, they do so while wearing white gloves (generally in climate-controlled environments).

Recently I had the opportunity to meet Bettina Richter, the curator of the poster collection at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich. Bettina, and her registrar Patrizia Baldi, had consented to letting me reproduce some of their Klinger posters in my book and as I was travelling nearby, I asked if I might be able to visit their archives. (The Museum für Gestaltung has a few Klingers that I have not been able to locate elsewhere and I was very excited to see them.) After a guided tour of the general design archives (which were exquisite, immaculate and absolutely fascinating), and a brief meeting with Bettina, she took me down to the poster archives and graciously let me see some of ‘her’ Klingers.

When I was able to see the ink on these wonderful Klinger posters and discern which lithographic plate had run through the press first, or when, before Bettina uncovered an entire poster, I could tell from just a corner which poster it was going to be, I realized how much joy this project has brought to my life, and how much I have grown and learned through the process. In those moments I thought of Hans Sachs and how when describing his own (lost) poster collection he wrote: “I am grateful to the fates for the decades in which I was able to find such joy in my treasures. They were an infinitely rich and significant part of my spiritual, artistic, and human development… In gratitude I should like to shake the hand of each (poster artist) for the hours of artistic stimulation their creative work has afforded me.”

I am grateful to the fates Sachs mentions, but also to the humans – people like Susan Reinhold and Marc Choko – who have consistently (and insistently) helped me bring this project to life. I’m grateful to the people who work with and for me at L’Affichiste, for their dedication to the gallery (and by extension, to me) has permitted me to be absent for weeks and months at a time while working on this book. But most of all, I’m grateful to Julius Klinger, for it is his work that has made me fall in love with posters, poster history, and the Poster Mafia, all over again.

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Our friend, the handsome Danish diplomat, Hans Glaubitz

Years ago we put together a questionnaire that we occasionally ask our friends and clients to answer. I recently stumbled across the answers provided by our friend and poster consignor Hans Glaubitz (you can read about him here…)

I met Hans shortly after I opened the gallery, and although our friendship began within the constraints of client/dealer, I am now happy and honored to all him a friend. He taught me a great deal about maritime posters (his passion), Dutch diplomacy, and discretion. He is a kind and elegant man with a zest for life and a sense of adventure that would be hard to match.

I realized that although I had sent Hans the questionnaire ages ago, we had never posted them (horrors!!), so, without further ado …

The Poster Romance Questionnaire (with apologies to Proust and Vanity Fair):

1.    Where is it that you best express your creativity – the boardroom, the classroom, the bedroom or the kitchen?

At 65, the kitchen.

 2.    An alien arrives on your doorstep. In a limited amount of time, you would like to introduce him to our culture and way of life. Which three places would you take him to, and why?

To the kitchen – that’s how we stay alive (alternatively to the medical cabinet in the bathroom, for the same reason). To the car in the garage – that is what we need to get the things we need to stay alive in the house. To the internet, where would we be without it in the 21 st century?

Of course, there are people, former CNN presenter Lou Dobbs comes to mind, shivering, who think that aliens, especially illegal ones, know our society so well (otherwise they would not be here) that they could easily do the introductions themselves.

3.    How would you describe your present state of mind?

Relaxed, peaceful, difficult not to be with a good glass of wine at hand.

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We think Hans would like the Grande Liqueur Étoile Anis almost as much as we do…

4.    Six words that best describe you…

Paradise = good company, food, drinks, books (not necessarily always in that order).

5.    Your new extra-terrestrial buddy asks for a definition of ‘happiness’ (a concept which does not exist on his planet). What would your definition be?

See above, answer to #4, substitute “Paradise” for “Happiness”.

6.    If you were going to be confined to a space with four blank walls for a period of time, which kind of artwork would you like to bring with you?

I would seriously fight such a confinement, but if I lost, I might like to have Salvador Dali’s May West Lips’ Sofa around to sit on, but more probably a beautifully designed ladder to climb out.

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I think this horse might let Hans use his ladder, don’t you?

7.    The alien wins $10 million in the lottery and asks for advice on what to do with it. What would you suggest?

Buy a seat in Richard Branson’s space-craft and get out of here, quickly, in style.


8.    If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Nothing, I am happy the way I am.

9.    What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

This still has to come.

10.  Before returning to his planet – having decided Earth was no place for a sane extra-terrestrial – the alien asks one final question: how do you find peace on a place like Earth?

Not, so take inspiration from people like Winston Churchill, who famously once said (when accused of drinking too much): “I have always taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me,” so invest heavily in Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Scottish single malts, for starters.

If you would like to take Hans’ advice, we think you should start with an investment in posters that feature wine, aperitifs, or digestifs … like those featured above!

 

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Perhaps the most famous poster by Toulouse-Lautrec: La Goulue

 

Our very own Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is set to launch an exhibition devoted to the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (you can find more information about the exhibition here).

Toulouse-Lautrec, a man described by Cora Michael of the Metropolitan Museum in New York as “an aristocratic, alcoholic dwarf known for his louche lifestyle … created art that was inseparable from his legendary life.” Sounds like just the kind of guy to invite to a party. (I’ve written about this artist before: you can find my previous blog post here.)

Michael continues, “His career lasted just over a decade and coincided with two major developments in late nineteenth-century Paris: the birth of modern printmaking and the explosion of nightlife culture. Lautrec’s posters promoted Montmartre entertainers as celebrities, and elevated the popular medium of the advertising lithograph to the realm of high art. His paintings of dancehall performers and prostitutes are personal and humanistic, revealing the sadness and humor hidden beneath rice powder and gaslights. Though he died tragically young (at age thirty-six) due to complications from alcoholism and syphilis, his influence was long-lasting. It is fair to say that without Lautrec, there would be no Andy Warhol.” (You can find Michael’s entire article here.)

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A favorite muse of Toulouse-Lautrec: Jane Avril

 

Lautrec was a strange child, prone to a variety of illnesses (due in part to the fact that his parents were first cousins) and, because of two separate accidents in his teen years, his legs ceased to grow while his body did not. This resulted in in a normally proportioned upper body, but the short legs of a dwarf – he walked, painfully, with the aid of a cane. Shunned – and shunning – proper society, Toulouse-Lautrec spent a great deal of time in the bordellos and whorehouses of Paris, drawing their occupants and clients with an acerbic wit and a singular (and slightly skewed) view.

I fell in love with the work of Toulouse-Lautrec when I was a young girl: many of his early works featured horses, and like many fillettes, I loved anything equine. (Actually, I credit my attraction to these works with my first exposure to what would later become my abiding passion for posters.) Any of his works that feature horses indicate his appreciation not only for their beauty, but also for the way they moved. An exhibition poster we recently received, for a show held at the Palais de la Méditerranée in Paris in 1957, gracefully illustrates the artist’s skill and finesse.

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The horses, heads back, ears pointed, regally split the crowd of carousers around them… it’s a small piece, and one which is often overlooked, but in this format is both striking and charming.

 

 

150 years before selfies, Toulouse-Lautrec was not shy about having his photo taken – these images were shot in 1892 and show that the artist had (at best) a warped sense of humor. We love him for that reason, as well as for the fact that although he created fewer than 40 posters in his lifetime, his work provided the framework and foundation for every poster artist who followed in his footsteps. If you’d like to learn more about his style, you can do so by clicking here, or by watching a full-length documentary devoted to his style.

Some of the Toulouse-Lautrec works in the L’Affichiste collection.

 

His work has been exhibited and celebrated at some of the finest museums in the world. The Museum of Modern Art in New York created this video to commemorate their show, the press is already lauding the MMFA exhibition, and there will no doubt be other, equally exciting shows in the years to come.

The team at L’Affichiste is excited by the fact that more Montrealers will come to realize what we already know: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters are singular, spectacular, and yes, for sale at the gallery and on-line at laffichiste.com.

 

 

 

This gallery contains 6 photos.

We meet some of the most interesting people: folks who live in Montreal, people who are just passing through, some who know a lot about posters, and some who are new to them … and from all of them, we learn something. For instance: A very dapper Dutch man came in certain that we would …

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