Nowadays, we’re used to billboards and posters advertising the latest exhibitions on the sides of buses and busy street corners. Art is big business so it’s only natural it’s got a publicity budget to match. In fact, art posters can even become valuable collectables, fetching huge sums at auction houses around the world. All of this is a relatively modern phenomenon though. In the 1890s, advances in colour lithography made it easy to print large posters for advertisements and a new trend was born. At the forefront of this new craze was the art nouveau movement and, particularly, the Salon des Cent, an ongoing commercial art exhibition housed at 31 Rue Bonaparte in Paris.
The Salon des Cent was, as its name suggests, an ever-changing show of 100 artists. With no criteria given for what could go on display, and established figures featured alongside little known names, it was an exciting forum for experimentation and new aesthetic approaches. Some artists became regular fixtures; recurring names included Toulouse Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha and Eugene Grasset. Perhaps the Salon’s most famous legacy, however, is the vast collection of posters produced to publicise its exhibitions, each commissioned by a participating artist.
These posters are now considered important art nouveau works in their own right, and some of the first examples of using advertising and other mainstream mediums to create decorative art. By turning the street into an art gallery for the everyday passer-by, the artists fulfilled their aim of creating 'social art'. You can explore a whole range of beautiful examples from our collections, or look at some of our favourites below.
All images: Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Public Domain.