Download 200+ Belle Époque Art Posters: An Archive of Masterpieces from the “Golden Age of the Poster” (1880–1918)

Europe at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and begin­ning of the twen­ti­eth: what a time and place to be alive. Or rather, what a time and place to be alive for peo­ple in the right coun­tries and, more impor­tant­ly, of the right class­es, those who saw a new world tak­ing shape around them and par­took of it with all pos­si­ble hearti­ness. The peri­od between the end of the Fran­co-Pruss­ian War in 1871 and the out­break of World War I in 1914, best known by its French name La Belle Époque, saw not just peace in Europe and empires at their zenith, but all man­ner of tech­no­log­i­cal, social, and cul­tur­al inno­va­tions at home as well.

We here in the 21st cen­tu­ry have few ways of tast­ing the life of that time as rich as its posters, more than 200 of which you can view in high res­o­lu­tion and down­load from “Art of the Poster 1880–1918,” a Flickr col­lec­tion assem­bled by the Min­neapo­lis Col­lege of Art and Design.

“In the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, lith­o­g­ra­phers began to use mass-pro­duced zinc plates rather than stones in their print­ing process,” says the accom­pa­ny­ing text. “This inno­va­tion allowed them to pre­pare mul­ti­ple plates, each with a dif­fer­ent col­or ink, and to print these with close reg­is­tra­tion on the same sheet of paper. Posters in a range of col­ors and vari­ety of sizes could now be pro­duced quick­ly, at mod­est cost.”

Like oth­er of the most fruit­ful tech­no­log­i­cal advance­ments of the era, this leap for­ward in poster-print­ing drew the atten­tion, and soon the efforts, of artists: well-regard­ed illus­tra­tors and graph­ic design­ers like Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chéret, Eugène Gras­set, and Hen­ri de Toulouse-Lautrec took to the new method, and “The ‘Gold­en Age of the Poster’ was the spec­tac­u­lar result.” While many of the best-remem­bered posters of that Gold­en Age come from France, it touched the streets of every major city in west­ern Europe as well as those of Eng­land and Amer­i­ca, all places whose well-heeled pop­u­la­tions found them­selves new­ly and avid­ly inter­est­ed in art, pho­tog­ra­phy, motion pic­tures, mag­a­zines, bicy­cles, auto­mo­biles, absinthe, cof­fee, cig­a­rettes, and world trav­el.

The com­pa­nies behind all those excit­ing things had, of course, to adver­tise, but unlike in ear­li­er times, they could­n’t set­tle for get­ting the word out; they had to use images, and the most vivid ones pos­si­ble at that. They had to use them in such a way as to asso­ciate what they had to offer with the abun­dant spir­it of the time, whether they called that time La Belle Époque, the Wil­helmine peri­od, the late Vic­to­ri­an and Edwar­dian era, or the Gild­ed Age. All those names, of course, were applied only in ret­ro­spect, after it became clear how bad times could get in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. But then, none of us ever real­ize we’re liv­ing through a gold­en age before it comes to its inevitable end; until that time, best just to enjoy it. You can enter the poster archive here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

René Magritte’s Ear­ly Art Deco Adver­tis­ing Posters, 1924–1927

A Gallery of Visu­al­ly Arrest­ing Posters from the May 1968 Paris Upris­ing

Glo­ri­ous Ear­ly 20th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902–1954)

40,000 Film Posters in a Won­der­ful­ly Eclec­tic Archive: Ital­ian Tarkovsky Posters, Japan­ese Orson Welles, Czech Woody Allen & Much More

The Strange and Won­der­ful Movie Posters from Ghana: The Matrix, Alien & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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