Das Moderne Plakat

A copy of this important example of 19th-century lithographic printing is now part of the University of Reading’s special collections. Fiona Barnard writes:

Das Moderne Plakat (The Modern Poster) by Jean Louis Sponsel was printed in Dresden by Verlag von Gerhard Kuhtmann in 1897. It is a bound volume, illustrated with fifty-two lithographic plates of posters, including examples of work by noted artists including Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Steinlen and Alphonse Mucha.

Posters, in the form of posted bills and placards for advertisements and announcements, have a long history. However, the invention of lithography in 1796 allowed for cheap mass production and printing, and the invention of chromolithography which followed made it possible to print mass editions of posters in vibrant colours.

By the 1890s, the technique had spread throughout Europe, and poster art was becoming increasingly popular and commercially successful. Posters soon transformed the thoroughfares of Paris into the ‘art galleries of the street.’

By the end of the 19th century, during an era known as the Belle Époque, the standing of the poster as a serious artform was raised even further, with the publication of the ‘Maîtres de l’Affiche’ (Masters of the Poster) series and Das Moderne Plakat, both of which not only enjoyed commercial success among art collectors, but are now seen as important historical publications, as many of the posters cannot be found today in any other format.