The illustrated poster was born in Europe in the late 19th century, reflecting an increasingly commercialised world and, later, conflicting political ideologies. Posters are ephemeral, produced for a specific moment, yet many elements are recycled and resonate throughout our cultural memory.
The selection of posters that follows is mainly from the House of European History in Brussels. The posters reveal complex layers of European division and unity – from the propaganda of the World Wars and Cold War, to an explosion of cultural exchange, tourism and multi-voiced social movements that followed the Second World War.
They reflect the development and transformation of the public sphere in European cities.
Until around the 1850s, posters were mainly official notices prominently presented on walls: they were texts about taxation, civic proclamations or legal decrees. They informed citizens who gathered around them about the latest news and laws, providing the sense of a public sphere, a space for public debate on common affairs.
Starting in the major cultural centres and gradually moving to other cities, posters have shaped the urban landscape since the end of the 19th century. Commentary surrounding the rapid spread of early pictorial posters spoke of affichomanie, the ‘poster boom’ or Plakatsucht.