120 years of Swiss and International Poster Art

French pioneers

The event that paved the way for the development of the poster as an art form was the invention of lithography around 1800. By the end of the 19th century, French artists were integrating stylistic elements from Japanese woodcuts into their work. The first posters to appear from Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard and Felix Vallotton garnered widespread praise from art critics and connoisseurs alike.

Swiss posters

Emil Cardinaux was one of the first Swiss painters to turn his hand to poster art. His simple style and bold use of colour is exemplified in posters like “Matterhorn” (1908), which were designed to promote Swiss skiing resorts and are still much sought-after today. Other artists such as Augusto Giacometti, Otto Morach, Carl Moos, Burkard Mangold, Walther Koch and Otto Baumberger laid the foundations for an innovative and vibrant art form.

The “sachplakat” or object poster

During and after the Second World War, the leading style for Swiss product posters was the sachplakat or object poster, based on minimalism: subjects were depicted as starkly and objectively as possible and combined with clear-cut typography. It was taken up and perfected by artists like the Basel graphic designers Niklaus Stoecklin, Karl Birkhauser, Herbert Leupin and Donald Brun, whose works are typified by a rich, vivid palette of colours and a perfect printing technique. The latter was made possible by lithographic standards that were the envy of other designers all over the world.

The photographic poster and the International Typographic Style

The development of the photographic poster around 1940 and the playful whimsicality of the typographic poster in the 1960s are clear indications of the inroads made by graphic design. The typographic austerity typical of styles in the 60s and 70s bore the stamp of designers like Josef Müller-Brockmann, Armin Hofmann and Ernst Keller and soon established itself as the leading graphic design style of the postmodernist era.

Graphic design and the modern poster

The dogmatic formality of the International Style began to lose momentum in the 80s and was replaced by the excitingly original work of poster designers like Wolfgang Weingart and the Zurich design team of Rosmarie Tissi and Siegfried Odermatt. On the cultural scene, designers Paul Brühwiler, Niklaus Troxler, Werner Jeker, Bruno Monguzzi, K. Domenic Geissbühler and Ralph Schraivogel made Switzerland, with its traditional reputation for precision, a more playful, more colourful and livelier place to be.