Download 222 Belle Époque Art Posters: An Online 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 the “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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Scenes from Belle Époque Paris Vivid­ly Restored with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence (Cir­ca 1890)

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

An Intro­duc­tion to René Magritte, and How the Bel­gian Artist Used an Ordi­nary Style to Cre­ate Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly Sur­re­al Paint­ings

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

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  • El Davo Loco says:

    Per­haps these were once avail­able in high res­o­lu­tion, but as of 10/2023, I was see­ing max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion for down­load of 828X1024 pix­els on a sam­ple poster, which would yield a print if less than 3x4 inch­es at 300dpi. So don’t expect a poster size print from these; you can prob­a­bly get a good look­ing post­card, though.

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