Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Idioms, Wikipedia.


placard designed to be posted in some public place for purposes of commercial announcement or propaganda. Advertising makes wide use of posters, as do charitable and political organizations. In ancient civilizations a simple form of written public announcement was used. The invention of printing and particularly the development of the lithographic process were of paramount importance to poster art. The advertising poster originated in the 1870s. The art of poster design requires, above all, a very clear expression of the idea or product being advanced. It must be visible at a distance and comprehended in one glance, so that lines are generally simple and colors few and bold. Lettering is kept at a minimum. In the 19th and 20th cent. numerous artists designed posters as a sideline to their other work. These include Daumier, Manet, Picasso, Ben Shahn, and Norman Rockwell. Other artists' reputations were based on their poster work. Jules Chéret, Alexandre Steinlen, Alphonse Mucha, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made striking posters advertising entertainments and restaurants. In England outstanding poster designers included Fred Walker, Aubrey Beardsley, William Nicholson and James Pryde (the latter two collaborating under the name "the Beggarstaff Brothers"), Will Owen, and Dudley Hardy. These English artists created highly decorative posters in which the elements of picture and typography remained unified, revealing the influence of East Asian prints. Other leaders in the medium included Ludwig Hohlwein and Paul Scheurich in Germany; the Belgian Hendrik Cassiers; Lev Bakst in Russia; Toyokuni in Japan; and Ramón Casas in Spain. The American poster can be said to have originated with Matt Morgan's circus advertisements (c.1890) and was developed by Edward Penfield, Will H. Bradley, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Chandler Christie, James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Dana Gibson, and Harrison Fisher. The two World War periods produced enormous numbers of political posters; memorable among these were the works of Abram Games in England, Paul Colin in France, and Joseph Binder in the United States. Outstanding poster designers of the 20th cent. are Frank Pick, Gregory Brown, and Clive Gardiner in England; the Americans E. McKnight Kauffer, Paul Rand, Austin Cooper, Pat Keely, Robert Gage, and Peter Max; in France, A. M. Cassandre, Jean Carlu, and Charles Loupot. In Latin America and India posters are widely used in education. There has been an enormous resurgence of interest in posters used for interior decoration in the United States. Among the most popular are reprints of World War I posters; movie advertisements; works by Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha, and Picasso; and photographs of celebrities and animals.


See M. Rickards, The Rise and Fall of the Poster (1971); J. Barnicoat, A Concise History of Posters: 1870–1970 (1972); D. Ades, The Twentieth Century Poster (1984); J. Barnicoat, Posters: A Concise History (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A genre of graphic art.

(2) A work of graphic art consisting of a simple and clear (usually colored) picture accompanied by a brief text. Posters are usually executed on large sheets of paper for the purpose of propaganda, advertising, communication, or education.

The modern poster is usually a printed copy of an original work produced by an artist. Until the late 19th century, the term “poster” was sometimes used to designate large propagandistic engravings (such as the “flying leaflets” of the Peasant’s War and the Reformation in 16th-century Germany) and the political notices issued in 18th-century France.

A poster should be visible at a great distance and stand out among other sources of information. A poster combines a number of special artistic devices in order to attract the viewer’s attention and interest, spur him to thought, and guide his consciousness and will to action in the desired direction. Such devices include pictorial metaphors, commonly understood symbols, simplification of form, and contrasts between pictures of different sizes and between depictions of events occurring at different times and in different places. The calligraphic style, the placement of the text, and the use of stylized compositional and coloristic solutions play an important role in poster design. Photography is sometimes used separately or in combination with drawing or painting. Many posters devoted to international politics or everyday life are characterized by satirical, universally understood images.

The poster appeared initially as a means of advertising and was used later for political purposes. Its appearance coincided with an exacerbation of commercial and industrial competition in the capitalist economy and with an intensification of sociopolitical and cultural life. There were a growing number of spectator activities, industrial and artistic exhibitions, and mass meetings and demonstrations. Lithography made possible the rapid production of colorful posters in large numbers.

The advertising poster in late-19th-century Western Europe evolved from pictureless playbills and book advertisements. The text was increasingly subordinated to ornamentation and figurative depictions. A leading role in the development of the poster in the late 19th century was played by such French artists as J. Chéret, H. Toulouse-Lautrec, and T. Steinlen. The distinctive artistic features of the poster were first established in the works of Toulouse-Lautrec. These included simplification and stylization of form (instantly recognizable and, at times, grotesque), close-up character of the image, and emphasis on the silhouette and on bold local color.

Most of the posters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were ornamental art nouveau compositions. They were distinguished from book and newspaper illustrations mainly by size. Art nouveau posters were produced by E. Grasset and A. Mucha in France, A. Beardsley in England, and W. Bradley and E. Penfield in the USA. Some posters from this period were naturalistic.

After 1910 the poster gradually lost its direct ties with art nouveau book and newspaper graphics and, at times, approached the spirit of painting (for example, the posters of O. Fischer in Germany and F. Brangwyn in Great Britain). The posters of L. Cappiello effectively combined the “pictorial” and the “thematic” principles.

Commercial posters were increasingly marked by a more palpable depiction of the product being advertised. This was evident first in the works of L. Bernhard, J. Klinger, L. Höhlwein, and others in Germany and later, after 1920, in the works of artists of other countries. The distinctive artistic and stylistic features of poster design—dynamic composition, metaphorical imagery, stylization of color, and simplification of form—were particularly well expressed in the works of the French artist A. M. Cassandre (A. Mouron).

With the development of cinematography, posters announcing “coming attractions” became popular. At first, the posters depicted individual frames from the motion picture. Film posters later became more descriptive, striving to depict the principal characters and to give an idea of the film’s genre and subject matter.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, posters were widely used in campaigns to combat occupational accidents in the manufacturing and construction industries.

The political poster appeared in the first years of the 20th century. Its most significant achievements have been associated with the democratic movement and the struggle for peace. The first political posters were produced by Steinlen in France and J. Waltkorn and K. Kollwitz in Germany.

During World War I, agitational posters calling for army enlistment, subscription to war bonds, and aid to the wounded were widespread. Such posters influenced the subsequent development of poster design (the works of A. Lit in England and J. Febvre in France).

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the growth of the labor movement and the struggle of nations against imperialistic reactionism and fascism stimulated political poster art in Western Europe. Passionate revolutionary fervor imbued the posters issued in Hungary during the existence of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 (works by R. Bereny, M. Biró, B. Witz), as well as the election posters of the Communist Party and the antifascist posters in Germany (by M. H. Pechstein, John Heartfield) and the posters in defense of Republican Spain.

During World War II, antifascist posters were especially widespread. After the war, posters in defense of peace were executed by such artists as P. Picasso in France, L. Méndez in Mexico, and T. Trepkowski in Poland.

Stylistically, poster design of the 1920’s to the 1970’s has been closely related to painting, graphic art, and photography. (Shortly before 1920, Heartfield produced photomontage posters; the Soviet artist G. G. Klutsis later turned to this technique.) The development of other means of mass communication and advances in the printing industry also influenced the development of poster design.

In prerevolutionary Russia, where there was an absence of basic bourgeois-democratic freedoms, the political poster could not exist. Even the advertising poster was poorly developed. Highly artistic theatrical and exhibition posters, however, were produced by I. la. Bilibin, V. A. Serov, and K. A. Somov.

The Soviet political poster had its inception and attained an extremely high level of development during the Civil War of 1918-20. Developing the traditions of the Russian lubok (popular broadside) and the satirical graphic art of the revolutionary period of 1905-07, such artists as D. S. Moor, V. N. Deni, and V. V. Lebedev founded an essentially new, militant art, which greatly influenced world poster design. The ideological orientation, revolutionary fervor, and high artistic level of the Soviet poster made it a genuinely mass-directed means of agitation and political enlightenment and an effective weapon in the struggle for Soviet power. During the same years, V. V. Mayakovsky and M. M. Cheremnykh developed a new type of poster—the Okna ROSTA (see OKNA ROSTA).

A. A. Deineka, G. G. Klutsis, L. M. Lisitskii, lu. I. Pimenov, A. M. Rodchenko, the Sternberg brothers, and A. I. Strakhov all played an important role in the development of Soviet poster art in the 1920’s and early 1930’s.

During the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45, the poster was effective in mobilizing the people for struggle against the enemy. In this period, as in the postwar years, prominent Soviet poster artists included V. S. Ivanov, L. F. Golovanov, A. A. Kokore-kin, V. B. Koretskii, the Kukryniksy, I. M. Toidze, and D. A. Shmarinov. During the war, effective posters were produced by the collectives Okna TASS and Boevoi Karandash and by many individual painters, including A. A. Plastov, I. A. Serebrianyi, and V. A. Serov.

Poster art developed intensively in the Union republics after the mid-1940’s. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, film, theater, and exhibition posters became popular, as did posters dealing with health education and occupational safety (by such artists as Iu. Galkus, S. I. Datskevich, D. A. Dundua, V. S. Karakashev, O. M. Savostiuk and B. A. Uspenskii, E. Shakhtakhtinskaia, and E. S. Tsvik).

In the spring of 1974, by a decision of the Secretariat of the CC of the CPSU, a new publishing house of the CC of the CPSU —Plakat—was established in Moscow.


Polonskii, V. Russkii revoliutionnyi plakat. Moscow, 1922.
Tugendkhol’d, la. “Plakat na Zapade.” In his book Khudozhestvennaia kul’tura Zapada. Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
Butik-Siverskii, B. Sovetskii plakat epokhi grazhdanskoi voiny: 1918-1921. Moscow, 1960. (Bibliographical index.)
Demosfenova, G., A. Nurok, and N. Shantyko. Sovetskii reklamnyiplakat. Moscow, 1962.
[Liakhov, V.] Sovetskii reklamnyi plakat. Torgovaia reklama. Zreli-shchnaia reklama. 1917-1932. [Moscow, 1972.] (In Russian, English, and German.)
Hutchison, H. F. The Poster: An Illustrated History. New York [1968].
Hillier, B. Histoire de l’affiche. Paris [1970].
Sehindler, H. Monographie des Plakats. Munich [1972].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
After studying a variety of poster layouts, having discussed the reasons for each particular style, students get to work in their sketchbooks.
Does the poster include implications for nursing profession or practice1
Commenting on how pervasive posters are in our lives, from advertising to political messaging, all the walls in 'low society' are covered, Mr Hussain said.
POSTERS for classic British films including James Bond and The Dam Busters are going under the hammer.
As of Wednesday afternoon, bidding for the poster was at $20,000, with 15 bids placed.
But film poster design is just one of the many things that Karl does.
We have many supporters hence hindi namin memorized all locations of posters they have put up.
In the final two weeks, the pupils put up the posters around the streets of Heathhall and headed out armed with litter-pickers, gathering two full bags of litter after just an hour.
His law graduate pal, Peter Dukes, found them new premises in a basement beneath a hairdressers in Camden and it was here that the Poster Workshop was born, manned by a host of volunteers.
The ECP had quizzed Cheema over the controversial posters last week and asked him to submit a reply explaining as to why he should not be disallowed from contesting the polls.