Often referred to as La Belle Époque, the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth made for a turbulent and exciting time when it comes to art production. If you’re looking for vintage posters, prints and multiples from this time, Galerie Stylo is the place to go to. Rob van Vulpen founded Galerie Stylo in 2001. Nowadays, the gallery has acquired a unique place on the Dutch market. Their collection ranges from prints and multiples to sheet music and calendars. Most of their available posters and prints are manufactured between 1890 and 1940. Impassioned, friendly and approachable are words that come to mind if you meet Rob. Having been a communication professional in the financial world, he decided to put his passion for posters into practice. If you are interested in prints and multiples, keep reading. Rob will take you through the fascinating history of the poster and will share his expertise with you.
What is the history of the poster? Where did it all start?
Does the name Jules Cheret ring a bell? He is considered the ´Father of the poster´. Jules Cheret improved the printing technique for producing posters in large numbers in his atelier ‘Chaix’. His first print dates from 1870, at the beginning of La Belle Époque. The French industrialisation was in full swing and their culture was flourishing. ‘More is more!’ was their credo, especially in Paris where Cheret lived at that time. Paris was one of the first metropolitan cities; it had a big and blooming high society, prosperity was growing in its middle class and it was home to some of the first luxury warehouses and grand boulevards. These warehouses and grand boulevards were the perfect place for posters to be seen by the promenading high society. Cheret chose a style for his posters that suited the spirit of that time: jolly and delightful. This entailed graceful French women with elegant hats. His first posters were printed in black and white, but later on Cheret managed to print in multiple colours, the ´colour revolution´ was born. This development turned Cherets posters into an art form of its own. Henri de Toulouse Lautrec also played a role in the history of the poster. Whereas Cheret’s posters breathed an air of joy and delight, de Toulouse Lautrec employed a more dark way of portraying, not trying to please his clients or the public. He spent a generous amount of his life living around prostitutes and made posters for the Moulin Rouge amongst other things. Although de Toulouse Lautrec did have many respectable clients some shied away from his style or refused to use the proposed design. In the last case, Lautrec would print the posters nevertheless since money was never an issue for him as he was born into an aristocratic family. Although Cheret and de Toulouse Lautrec differ significantly in their approach, their style is typical for the Parisian fin de siècle.
How does printing these posters work?
The technique Cheret employed is called stone lithography. Lithography originally used an image drawn with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth lithographic limestone plate. The surface that is not covered with the drawing is made wet, so that the printing ink that is being applied afterwards only sticks to the drawing. After the surplus ink is removed the stone is ready for printing. Most of the time you can fairly easily recognize a lithograph, because the porous quality of the limestone gives the print a granulated look.
How do you recognise an original poster?
There are three basic things you should look at when determining the authenticity of a poster. First of all is the quality of the paper. The paper used in this particular period is fibrous and has a cream colour to it. Unprinted areas on the front should have the same tone of colour as the unprinted backside. Secondly, the coloured surfaces should be homogenous. They used pure coloured inks, not building up colours as is the case with offset printing. Last of all are the measurements of the poster. Some countries had fixed measurements for their prints. You can look up these measurements in specialist literature. Size matters! If a poster were to be seen on the streets, it had to be bigger than 30 cm by 40 cm.
In photography and prints they work with editions. Are there editions for vintage posters too?
Most of the time the exact edition size of a poster is unknown. The only useful indication is the number of times a specific poster is being offered for sale. The main purpose of posters was spreading information fast, easily and in big quantities both local and national. With a national campaign more posters would be printed than with a local campaign. Most posters were thrown away or pasted over, so it is rather special that some of them survived at all. Apart from the number of surviving copies, the artist, date, condition, subject and design are also important factors in determining the price of a print. One important rule is that if it had quality at the time of publication, it is valuable today.
In your collection you have posters that are very rare. How did you acquire these?
There isn’t just one way to buy a vintage poster; they come from all over the world. I mostly buy them through auctions, fairs, colleague dealers or private individuals that reach out to me. When I buy a new poster I often already know to whom I will be selling it. I know the collectors and the market demand and like to adapt to that. My buyers are very diverse. They range from museums to collectors to people who are decorating their homes.
What is the most intriguing poster you ever bought? What was the story behind this object?
That´s a hard choice. When it comes to graphic quality, the 1928 poster by Willem Gispen for GISO lamps is one of the best I´ve ever had. The poster for Bosch spark plugs by Lucian Bernhard certainly ranks in my top ten. It had been hanging in a French garage for decades! From the point of art history the discoveries of previously unrecorded works by Kees van Dongen and Alphonse Mucha were highlights. But sometimes the client makes it memorable. I have recently sold a fairly common poster of Picasso´s La Guernica painting to the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, where the actual painting is located. It´s a nice thought to know the poster is now reunited with the original.
What is your favourite poster?
Henri de Toulouse Lautrec – P. Sescau
For more information about Galerie Stylo and their available works click here.