Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Post: Michelle Powell Smith on Vintage Bicycle Posters

Each Thursday we're opening our blog to hear from talented crafters in our community. This week's guest blogger is Michelle Powell Smith, who takes a look at one of DoverPictura's latest collections, Vintage Bicycle Posters.

Hello! As a longtime Dover customer, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose to share my fondness for everything from vintage images to coloring books with you. My first Dover purchases were coloring books, but have, over the years, been followed with needlework charts, art reproductions and more. I love the advertising of the late 19th century, but this collection also makes me think of date night--one of the ads is reproduced as a mural across the street from my favorite local steak house. 

The DoverPictura collection, Vintage Bicycle Posters, features bicycle advertisements from the late 19th century. Often these ads were the work of well-known and recognized artists, including Alphonse Mucha, who, while also known for their paintings and other works, were the first graphic artists, creating art as a marketing tool. Today, these bicycle posters are highly collectible and often reproduced, allowing you to print and enjoy them on your walls or in creative projects of all sorts.

Advertisements like these brought art to the masses, using lithography to create bright, colorful, clear and inexpensive prints. Lithographs are printed using a slab of limestone coated in wax. The slab is quite durable, allowing for a nearly unlimited print run. In the 1880s, technology improved to allow color lithography, revolutionizing the advertising industry. Prior to the introduction of color lithography, images could be printed in black and white, but had to be hand painted or colored, increasing the cost and time required to produce them. Color lithography allowed for print runs of the finished product, ready to hang and distribute.

While the posters included in Vintage Bicycle Posters vary, you’ll find that nearly all reveal traits of Art Nouveau. Known for its use of sinuous and sweeping lines, portrayal of women, and fluid forms, Art Nouveau is perhaps best remembered for its public role in the posters and advertising of the late 19th century. While line and movement distinguish the style, many pieces share similar elements, whether the advertisement is selling wine or a bicycle.

Like other Art Nouveau lithographs, bicycle advertising of the late 19th century often included images of women. While women were a favorite subject, they may be portrayed in a wide variety of different ways. Some of these depictions of women are the focus of the ad, as the woman sits or stands draped over a bicycle, as in the Cycles Perfect ad by Alphonse Mucha. In others, she appears an active participant, riding her bicycle in a riding outfit, with the sometimes-scandalous bloomers in place of a skirt, and looking quite fresh and modern. Advertisements already, in the late 19th century, provided an idealized image, enticing the buyer to shop for and invest in these items. In the bicycle ads, the viewer is invited to imagine rides in the countryside with a suitor or happy and peaceful family outings.

Today, advertising surrounds us, from television ads to the online advertising on social media. Billboards and city buses remind us to shop, but few of these ads offer the beauty, artistry or skill of these late 19th-century lithographs. Whether you’re creating a craft for a bicyclist or simply taking advantage of the work of an Art Nouveau artist, the Vintage Bicycle Posters collection offers a subject-specific look at the art of the late 19th century. Or maybe, like me, you’re just hoping for a bike ride into the countryside like the happy couple in Antwerp above.

To read more, see these articles:
Metropolitan Museum of Art- Art Nouveau
Metropolitan Museum of Art- Lithography in the Late 19th Century

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