5 prints of famous paintings

The stories behind history’s most famous posters

The internet’s power to turn eye-catching visual imagery into viral memes has forever altered the status of poster design. That’s why we written our article about: The stories behind history’s most famous posters. Consider Shepard Fairey’s famous poster “Hope,” which featured Barack Obama and became a major campaign asset despite never receiving Obama’s approval (or that of Getty Images, which owned the source photograph).

However, it was the “Keep Calm and Carry On” banner that prompted this blog article. The design, which consists of these phrases in a sans-serif column beneath a crown, usually on a monochrome background or in front of a Union Jack, has become a common sight in hipper environments.

However, not everyone is aware of its origin: a motivational billboard created by the British government in 1939 to boost public morale in the middle of devastating German air raids on London (it was never actually distributed, however, until being rediscovered in 2000).

It’s terrible that a relic of such historical significance, connected with such trauma, could be stripped of its meaning and distributed as a trendy wall decoration, but it got us thinking about the many other renowned posters we’ve all seen and what their own historical beginnings might be. Some of them might surprise you.

Ben Franklin’s proto-poster

Although this drawing by American founding father Benjamin Franklin was printed as a political cartoon long before the modern-day poster, it had a similar purpose.

Its message was that the American colonies needed to unify if they were to fight the British for freedom successfully – a little of propaganda and a memorable image to mobilise it.
Indeed, the image became so iconic that it is still used in media today in ways Franklin could not have predicted (unless he was into house parties and skateboarding).

Boozy Belle Époque

The late nineteenth century saw the rise of graphic design as we know it today, as well as the modern poster. Art Nouveau painters such as Alphonse Mucha used their stunning illustration skills for advertisements for luxury items, particularly liqueurs such as absinthe and vermouth. The posters portray an equal amount of inebriated pre-Raphaelite women and cunning gremlins.

Recruitment for World War I

Uncle Sam, our star-spangled military recruitment image, is most familiar to Americans. The iconic image of Uncle Sam with his authoritative forefinger, on the other hand, was inspired by a World War I recruitment poster from across the pond, which featured Great Britain’s legendary Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener.

See America

During the 1930s Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Works Projects Administration in the aim of reviving the economy by creating jobs for people, including artists.

One of the project’s most popular products is a series of prints made by graphic designers to promote travel to the United States’ national parks.

We recommend books by Natalie Walton as interior inspiration:

Amazing moments captured on film

The advent of high-quality, portable cameras brought in a completely new style of poster: the incredible snapshot. During the construction of the RCA skyscraper in New York’s Rockefeller Center in 1932, a line of construction workers breaks for lunch on a cross beam high atop the skeleton. That is not a Photoshopped image.

Albert Einstein purportedly arose from a symposium in which Einstein addressed. Tired of being asked to smile for the cameras by photographers, the father of modern physics put out his tongue instead.

The legendary hug occurred during a parade in Times Square commemorating Japan’s triumph and the conclusion of World War II.

Women of World War II

Rosie the Riveter is certainly one of the most well-known poster interpretations. This fearless lady encouraged American women to join the war effort by working in armaments factories.

Pin-up girls

Pin-up girl posters, which depict women in various states of undress for the titillation of male consumers, have undergone an intriguing metamorphosis. They appeared near the end of the nineteenth century, along with the rest of the mass-producible media. They took the shape of both photographs and illustrations until the 1950s, when photography became their principal medium, the most notable (and scandalous) of which we owe to the artist Alberto Vargas.

Marilyn Monroe, most famously in the top film image from The Seven Year Itch (1955), has acted as a pin-up girl, but so have artificial promotional models, such as the Coca-Cola girl below (1946).

Rebels and Rockstars in the Sixties

Jim Morrison’s portrait became iconic following the rock star’s death, which was purportedly caused by a heroin overdose. He was one of several counterculture figures from this decade who became icons.

Images of Argentine rebel Che Guevara, folk artist Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones are increasingly commonplace in college dorm rooms.

The Seventies: Holding on…

A kitten hanging to a clothesline became a motivational poster fad for some reason. Indeed, when American Vice President Spiro Agnew was under pressure to resign due to allegations of tax cheating and bribery, a group of his supporters reportedly presented him with the artwork.

College culture

The poster has found a major home as a cheap wall decoration in student dorm rooms. Not surprisingly, a large number of college-oriented posters, many of which celebrate excessive drinking, have appeared.

The above mock-vintage beer ad and film still from Animal House (1978), both of which feature Jon Belushi sipping a bottle of whiskey, are common sights in fraternity houses across the country.

Hope, or “The Dude Abides”

Few posters in modern history have had the same impact as Shepard Fairey’s red, white, and blue rendition of a portrait of Barack Obama that circulated widely before to the politician’s election in 2008. (and also landed the artist in some trouble with Getty Images, which owned the copyright to the source photograph).

As with many of the renowned posters mentioned above, it has produced a plethora of spoofs, such as the one below, which features the protagonist of the cult film The Big Lebowski (1998). We’ll leave it with The Dude.

Are there any other notable posters that we missed? Please share!

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