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Who was the person credited with the concept of a world's fair?

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World's Fair
by E.L. Doctorow


This novel tells the story of Edgar Altshuler, a 9-year-old boy from the Bronx, and his adventures at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. On his first visit to the fair, Edgar is enthralled by industry's vision of the futuresafe, secure and prosperous cities, speedy and cheap transportation and modern invention to make life easier. On his second visit, he sees that the exhibits are constructed of gypsum whose paint is peeling and that the displays are really toys.
                                   
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The Art of the Streets
by Bob Brooke

 


Posters are everywhere. They grace the walls of buildings inside and out, advertising events and causes galore. Many of today’s posters wouldn’t be considered art. They’re utilitarian announcements, some commercially produced, others handmade. But they didn’t start out that way.



Originally, many European artists, such as Jules Cheret , Henry Toulouse-Lautrec, and Alphonse Mucha created posters. They used them to promote businesses and political parties, recruit soldiers, advertise products and generally spread ideas to the general public.

The poster was one of the earliest forms of advertisement and began to develop as a medium for visual communication in the early 19th century. They influenced the development of typography because they were meant to be read from a distance and required larger type to be produced, usually from wood rather than metal.

The Birth of the Poster
Though lithography first appeared in 1798, for decades it was too slow and expensive for poster production. Most posters continued to be simple wood or metal engravings with little color or design.

In 1866 Jules Cheret started to produce color lithographic posters from his own press in Paris. The form of the poster dates from this time.

This all changed around 1880 with Cheret's "three stone lithographic process," a breakthrough which allowed artists to achieve every color imaginable with as little as three stones—usually for one each of red, yellow and blue—printed in careful registration.

Cheret's process demanded superb artistry and remarkable craftsmanship. The result was a remarkable intensity of color and texture, with sublime transparencies and nuances impossible in other media. The ability to combine word and image in such an attractive and economical format finally allowed the lithographic poster to usher in the modern age of advertising. Over his 30-year career, Cheret created over 1,000 posters.

In each country, artists used posters to celebrate the society's unique cultural institutions. In France, it was the cafe and cabaret, in Italy the opera and fashion, in Spain the bullfight and festivals, in Germany trade fairs and magazines, in Britain and America literary journals, bicycles, and the circus.

Distinctive national styles also stood out. Dutch posters showed restraint and orderliness, Italian posters drama and grand scale, German posters directness and medieval influence.
Cheret studied at the Beaux-Arts in Paris while still working as a lithographer's apprentice. In an interview with the English critic Charles Hiatt, Cheret even maintained that for him posters were not necessarily a good form for advertising but that they made excellent murals.

This is the reason Cheret has become known as the first name in posters. It isn’t that his designs are masterpieces of the art of advertising, but that his posters, over a thousand of them, are magnificent works of art. Instead of re-interpreting the great murals of the past for the public of his day by creating large salon canvases, he found a new place for his work—the street.

Part of Paris had recently been re-designed by Baron Haussmann, the architect of Napoleon Ill's new capital. In the place of some of the old buildings in the city center, a new city of great style appeared. Cheret’s posters found a home on the walls of some of the new buildings, and because of this display of fine art in public places, posters became known as the art gallery of the street.

Cheret took the visual language of popular folk art used to decorate circus programs in the mid 1860s and enlarged it. The big American advertisements for circuses from the United States on tour in England during Cheret's stay there contributed to his ideas. The Americans printed their posters in small sections using wood blocks. All these elements contributed to the appearance of the poster, but it was without doubt the effort of this one man that gave the poster its special character.

Younger artists influenced by Cheret found that the poster developed a form of visual shorthand in which ideas could be expressed simply and directly—a way to convey the spirit of an era, a decorative comment on the social life of the streets where his posters appeared.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, on the other hand, used Cheret’s work to describe what went on inside the lives of the inhabitants of those streets. Lautrec went further by dramatizing his own personal experience and used the medium of the poster as a means of expression. Thus the poster Divan Japonais, created in 1893, is his portrait of a friend, Jane Avril. The element of caricature, humorous and satirical, the simple, flat shapes and the decorative line, were all devices that Lautrec could employ in a poster but which he could not express so simply and directly in painting. His posters have a quality of broad silhouette less apparent in his paintings and drawings of the same subjects. Lautrec owes much of his style to Cheret.



Cheret designed the poster advertising the opening of the cabaret Moulin Rouge in Montmarte in 1889. In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec's extraordinary first poster for the Moulin Rouge, featuring their new star La Gouloue, elevated the status of the poster to fine art and touched off a poster craze. During the 1890s, referred to as the La Belle Epoque in France, poster exhibitions, magazines and dealers proliferated. The pioneering Parisian dealer Sagot listed 2,200 different posters in his catalog.

Unfortunately, Lautrec’s posters weren’t very popular. His lithograph Madmoiselle Marcelle Lender caused the resignation of its publishers when they attempted to print the work. Lautrec's exhibition in London, at the Goupil Galleries in 1898, was a failure. Even Yvette Guilbert, the star of the show at the Divan Japonais, felt that the album Lautrec had designed for her was too hideous to publish. There’s a sharp contrast between the posters of Cheret, aimed to please and delight, and those of Lautrec which appeared to be ugly and uncomfortable to view.

However, the 31 posters Lautrec created during his short life of 37 years are a major contribution to the history of posters. Lautrec's contribution to the 20th century was indirectly reflected in all poster design, for he helped to establish the poster as an art form. One of his best-known posters, Aristide Bruant, owner of the Paris cabaret Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat) is a good example.

ART NOUVEAU POSTERS
The most characteristic modern art style of the turn of the 20th century, Art Nouveau, included poster design. As a style, Art Nouveau gave a decorative and ornamental value to linear patterns that were often derived from natural shapes.

It represented, in decorative terms, new social developments, new technology and new expressions of the spirit..

Pierre Bonnard
Among the most significant elements of Art Nouveau design, particularly in Paris, were the shapes derived from the Japanese print. Some of these designs had appeared on the wrapping paper of articles from the Far East. The famous prints of artists such as Hiroshige, Hokusai and Utamaro belonged to the Ukiyo-e School which included work that described the daily life of the street. The Japanese print had a direct influence on European poster design. Artists like Bonnard tried to create original art without any model but nature, without any rule but imagination and logic, using the French flora and fauna as details.



Alphonse Mucha
At the turn of the 20th century, many artists believed that one art form could and did affect the development of others, such as the poster. Thus one of the best examples of the Art Nouveau poster is the work of Alphonse Mucha.

Mucha was born in 1860 in the then Kingdom of Bohemia and eventually traveled to Paris in 1890. His work went through a phase of Art Nouveau expression, during which he designed posters in the fashionable “Byzantine” style of ornamentation. He later left Paris in order to live for a short time in New York and finally changed the style of his work to become a painter of Slavic themes on the grand scale.

Mucha's best-known posters are those associated with Sarah Bernhardt. She was responsible for commissioning him to make his first successful poster, Gismonda, in 1894, which made his name in Paris. As a painter of the Bernhardt myth, Mucha proved to be her perfect counterpart. He accompanied her to New York and his work was introduced to another world.

Just three years later, Mucha created his first masterpiece of Art Nouveau poster design. Bearing multiple influences including the Pre-Raphaelites, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and Byzantine art, this flowering, ornate style became the major international decorative art movement until the beginning of World War I.

Learn about current prices for art posters by reading "Early Art Posters Rock the Auction Block."

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