Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vintage Ads during the 1890's by Vasilia Kouskoulas

Toulouse-Lautrect’s Moulin Rouge poster.

The role of Vintage Advertisements as a form of media and how they change through time to reflect society and serve different means.

When Vintage Advertisements first emerged during the 1870’s in Paris, they immediately became the main means of communication and of spreading of information, not only in Paris but also throughout most of Europe and the US. Because of this exclusivity they held until the radio and television became prominent, they were a powerful media tool. In this essay will be discussed how Vintage Advertisements influenced and reflected society from the 1890’s to the turn of the century and the purposes they served in each time period as powerful media tools. Among other thing it will be seen that they were used for as an art form, to promote culture and industrialization, progress society and spread ideas.

When Vintage Ads first became prominent during the 180’s, they were at first used more often to advertise events, rather than products, such as the Moulin Rouge. Around that time, Toulouse-Lautrec designed his first poster, advertising the Moulin Rouge, which turned Vintage posters into something more than mere ads; it transformed them into art form reflecting the fine culture of French society and giving rise to Art Nouveau (Cheret, Lautrec, Picasso, Mucha and Steinlen, Couser, Kristie). For example, in France there were a lot of posters advertising absinth, other alcohols or cafes, which showed “the cult of the café” that dominated Paris. On the other hand, In Italy there would be a lot of vintage posters advertising opera and fashion, while in Holland it would be “literature and products for the home.” The kinds of topics vintage posters focused on in every country, reflected each country’s culture and interests of that period. Because it was seen as an art form, vintage posters had elaborate floral patterns and details with each country developing its own style (History of Vintage Posters). This time period came to be called the “Belle Epoque” because posters were seen more in terms of their aesthetic value rather than their commercial value.

Below, an Italian poster featuring a fashionable woman advertising alcohol

Having said that, the commercial value of vintage ads was still very significant since these ads were promoting a consumerist culture that the industrial revolution had already brought, by “creating new needs, consumers never thought they had” (History of Vintage Posters). Convenience, luxury and status were some of the new needs vintage ads were creating.

As seen, these ads promoted culture by advertising theatre and shows, art, etc. which in turn greatly increased French society’s need for culture with demand for books and magazines increasing, which also led to higher literacy and the number of people that went to theatres and art exhibitions. In general these ads created an atmosphere of intellect, especially since the ads themselves were an art form, which French people found very intriguing and sought to embrace (Couser, Kristie, CreativeOrange). Therefore, vintage ads during those times spread a “positive” propaganda portraying a culturally advanced society, which was not completely reality in order to make people strive to achieve what they saw in the ads also in turn fueling the economy.

Above is the Fin-de-Siecle advertisement of elegant women riding bicycles breaking a social taboo.

Above are two vintage ads featuring women serving/drinking alcohol as an attempt to appeal the product to men and resulting in breaking the taboo of women not drinking alcohol.

However, despite mostly promoting society’s pre-held notions to appeal and promote consumerism, there were vintage ads in France that attempted to propose revolutionary ideas, which is very logical if one considers that vintage ads were the main media tool at the turn of the century. For instance, during the 1890’s, a bicycle company selling Fin-de-Siecle (Safe Bicycles) featured ads of elegant women riding bicycles. This was a bold move since bicycles were mostly ridden by men and since the main audience most ads were directed towards were white males (Couser, Kristie ). These ads therefore, brought women to public visibility as consumers and actually resulted in more women riding bicycles, this way gaining more consumers, while elevating women’s place in society. Another example, are alcoholic ads, such as absinth, which featured beautiful women praising and sampling the products. Back then women drinking was a social taboo, which vintage ads broke. These ads were created because men liked looking at pretty women and since ads main audience was men, businesses decided to feature women in their ads. This however, also led to the breaking of a social taboo, with women starting to drink alcohol, which empowered women, despite the fact that they were being in many ways objectified in these ads. Michelin was another company that often reflected French culture and national identity in its ads that served various purposes. As Stephen Harper put it, Michelin wanted to “create and promote a certain idea of France.” Appealing to upper class men, it featured characteristics of their class, such as a cigar the Michelin mascot smokes while riding a tire, presenting its products as a luxury. It also mirrored the Bell-Epoque by reinforcing “key-early twentieth century notions” of the roles of men and women with women presented as passive subordinates of men (Harp, Stephen).

Above is a Michelin ad featuring the mascot smoking a cigar while riding a bicycle, trying to appeal to upper class men.

With the turn of the new century, vintage ads abandoned the intricate, detailed style of “Art Nouveau” introduced by Toulouse-Lautrec and began serving a more functional purpose and focused more on promoting the actual products/or events. The commercialization of vintage posters was characteristic of the times, which led to a simplification of the posters. The goal in this case was to capture the viewer’s attention on a crowded boulevard. This is why vintage ads became more minimalist, usually featuring simple images that were funny or bizarre and lacking intricate patterns (Vintage Poster History). Leonetto Capiello was the father of the movement, who being a caricaturist brought about the simplicity of this art style (History of Vintage Posters). This shift in style signaled the change to a more efficient and past-faced lifestyle that would characterize the 20th century with technological advancements and industrialization fully taking over. The 20th century would be an information and technological era where people would be constantly bombarded by images and information.

Below the first image is the poster by Lucien Bernhard, a great example of the functionality and simplicity that characterized vintage ads at the turn of the century. The second as is another example of the simplicity in style following Art Nouveau trying to promote products and consumerism.

To conclude, it is seen how during the 1890’s and the turn of the century, vintage ads were utilized as a powerful media tool for different purposes by promoting different ideas, such as art, consumerism, culture and literacy. Moreover, these posters reflected the culture and society of each country. For example, in Italy they conveyed the country’s interest in fashion, while in Holland they expressed the country’s interest in literature. What is more, they helped in transitioning countries to technology based information societies that would characterize the 20th century and also elevated the status of women. The artistic style of this time period reflected current art movements and also expressed the ideas the posters were trying to convey, such as elegance, luxury, culture and aristocracy. Therefore, like all powerful media tools, vintage ads, successfully served their purpose in spreading culture, progress, information, particular ideas of specific interested groups and in reflecting society in each time period.

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