Early 20th Century Poster Art - A Look at What Inspires Us

Early 20th Century Poster Art - A Look at What Inspires Us

 Vintage poster art, the Golden Age of Poster Art, early-20th century art, WPA-commissioned art, vintage illustration, art deco, mod art, retro art... the artwork that inspires us has many names and variations on a similar theme. 

While poster art has been a staple of the visual arts for over two centuries, the ability to mass produce posters with precision and cost-effectiveness has only been possible for the past century. 

At Anderson Design Group, we are particularly drawn to the poster art of the early and mid 20th century, as this was a key moment in history when poster art went from individual creations by famous artists to stunning images that could be rendered over and over again, affordably, and in such a way that the art could be enjoyed by all. This was called the Golden Age of Poster Art, and it is from this era that we take much of our inspiration.

A Timeline of Poster Art

While the means of creating poster art and similar visual designs has been around since the 1790s (mainly via lithography), for decades after 1790 there did not exist a means of mass producing poster art. That all began to change in 1880 with Jules Cheret's Three Stone Lithographic Process. It took a while to catch on, but this was a breakthrough in lithographic technology. The revolutionary approach allowed artists to achieve virtually all of the colors of the rainbow in a simple, easy to replicate printing process.

Folies-Bergère: La Loïe Fuller, 1893.

The ability to produce posters in volume ushered in the modern age of advertising. Beginning in the late 1890s and especially in the first several decades of the 20th century, poster art was used as a form of advertisement across the world. From Art Nouveau to New Century and Early Modernism, the late 19th century and early 20th century saw different art styles and artists vying for public attention. And as luck would often have it, the artwork that received the most acclaim from that period was often the poster works that were featured in prominent advertisements.

Moet And Chandon Cremant Imperial created in 1899 by Alphonse Mucha

The key component that made early 20th century poster art special was that, for the first time, artwork could be mass produced. This had many benefits, as beautiful works of art were now available to the broad public (and to advertisers looking to mass produce visual materials to promote their products and services).

By the 1910s, poster art took on an entirely new role: war propaganda. During World War I, the United States produced about 20 million posters of 2,500 unique, striking designs, all with the hopes to raise money, encourage recruitment, boost volunteer efforts, and provoke outrage at the enemy. Poster art was used in Europe too, and it even played a pivotal role in the Bolshevik Revolution.

The call to duty Join the Army for home and country.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Modernism and Art Deco came forth as a prominent design style, often found in advertisements in the U.S. and Europe. This was also the first moments in which graphic design courses blossomed to life in college campuses across the world, the first time when poster art was taught as its own form of visual art.

Franz Lenhart (1898-1992) MODIANO lithograph in colours, 1935, printed by Grafiche Modiano

Also in the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program commissioned over 5,000 artists to create hundreds of thousands of works of public art. Much of this work appeared in the form of poster art, primarily artistic designs meant to inspire Americans to travel across the country and experience all of the beauty that the U.S. had to offer.

At that same time, FDR was putting together the Civilian Conservation Corp, another New Deal program, this one intended to employ about three million young American men in conservation and infrastructure work in America's public lands.

Yellowstone Poster by an unknown Works Progress Administration artist

Well-timed, the WPA poster art inspired Americans to travel the nation and enjoy the public works that the CCC was working on, namely in the form of National Parks, National Monuments, bridges, statues, reservoirs, dams, and more.

Moving into the middle of the 20th century and the post-WWII boom, vintage poster art again played a role. Here we saw the arrival of mid-century modernism and a furtherance of art deco, much of which was plied by artists to create stunning, colorful images that could be mass produced in poster print format. Much of these works were also used in advertising, from promoting travel by a particular airline to promoting the purchase of war bonds.

Poster art continued through the second half of the 20th century, heavily influenced by the revolutionary styles of the 1960s and 1970s.

Las Vegas via TWA created by David Klein in 1965

Post-modernism flourished in the 1980s, and by the turn of the century, artists were experimenting with the use of computer programs to create digital poster art. Today, poster art continues to revolutionize how we communicate, express ourselves, and promote ideas, belief systems, products, services, travel locations, and more.

Vintage National Park Art

Our award-winning poster artists at Anderson Design Group have always been drawn to the iconic WPA-commissioned artwork of the early 1900s, the poster art that focused on the American National Parks. Here in the 21st century, our ADG artists and designers have picked up where the WPA left off, carrying forward the traditions of hand-illustration and vintage design in our own, unique portrayal of the beautiful National Parks that make America exceptional.

Digital painting by Kenneth Crane, Poster design by Joel Anderson, 2020


Oil Painting by Kai Carpenter, Poster design by Joel Anderson, 2017

We launched the 62 American National Parks Collection in 2010. It currently has over 300 original designs in it, several hand-rendered posters for each park that carry forward the nostalgia and wild magic of the National Parks.

Poster design by Michael Korfhage and Joel Anderson, 2013

Travel Art

Travel art has always been a prominent feature in vintage poster art, and this too is a tradition that we've carried forward from the early and mid-1900s. Also in 2010, we launched the American Travel Collection (our largest poster collection to date.) 

Digital painting by David Owens, Poster design by Joel Anderson, 2020

Also in 2010, we began working on our World Travel Collection. Anderson Design Group's founder Joel Anderson set an ambitious goal for this series of travel posters—to produce at least one design for every single country on the planet. These continents have already been completed: South America, Central America, North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Africa and Antarctica are in the works now.  

Poster design by Aaron Johnson and Joel Anderson, 2019

Poster design by Steven Garcia and Joel Anderson, 2020

These collections feature over 500 original designs between the two, a colorful and vivid array of beautiful travel locations in the U.S. and across the world. Travel enthusiasts can put together wanderlust walls, bucket list compilations of all of the stunning locations they have yet to visit as well as poster art compilations of all the great places they have already seen.

Poster design by Derek Anderson and Joel Anderson, 2019

Poster Art Into the Future

At the time of this writing, our talented team of poster artists has hand-rendered over 2,000 original works of art, all of which can be found on our website under our Collections page. We plan to continue making art until the cows come home, and ever onwards after that!

As we move into 2021, here's to another year of honoring the timeless era of vintage poster art and classic design with many more illustrations of all that inspires us.

Until next time,

-Ren Brabenec

Anderson Design Group Writing Staff

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