Development of the Poster

Poster with caption "Come on Canada!"

Printed advertisements can be traced back to the 16th century, but the poster as we know it today did not emerge until 1860 with the invention of the colour lithographic printing process.

Brilliantly coloured posters could be produced cheaply, and the medium reached an artistic peak in Paris during the late 19th century. Advertising products as well as theatrical and musical performances, posters of this time period exhibit the decorative patterns that characterize Art Nouveau. Artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, who worked in the Art Nouveau style, helped to popularize the poster as an art form.


Poster with caption "Canada's New Army Needs Men Like You"

The 20th century boom in industry and mass production gave rise to the extensive use of posters for advertising. Posters from the early decades of the last century reflect the influences of art movements like Art Deco . Popular in the 1920s and 1930s, Art Deco symbolized the power and speed of the machine age with streamlined shapes and sleek angular design and typography. Cubism and Futurism with their emphasis on geometric forms also had an influence on graphic design.


Poster with caption "Let's Go Canada!"

WWI Posters

During World War I (1914 - 1918) posters were used to raise money, recruit soldiers and boost volunteer efforts. The Canadian Government helped finance the war by selling victory bonds to Canadian citizens, corporations, and organizations. Victory bonds, certificates paying fixed interest rates in five, ten or twenty year terms, were promoted by massive poster campaigns.

Poster with caption "I'm Making Bombs and Buying Bonds!"

WWII Posters

The poster also played a significant role in World War II, along with radio and print. WW II posters downplayed text in favour of catchy slogans and were produced in mass quantities using photo offset . They show an increase in the use of photography, bold colours and strong graphic designs. After the war, the use of posters declined in most countries as television became the prime source of advertising.


Exhibition Areas

Select a link below to learn about this online exhibition: