Hundreds of high-resolution posters from the dawn of modern graphic art are now available to download for free thanks to the New York Public Library.
The posters are among 180,000 out-of-copyright, high-resolution images the library is making available to anyone who wants to use them.
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“No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!” a statement from the library said in January.
The library credits Edward Penfield’s design used on the March 1893 cover of Harper’s magazine as “the advent of the art poster in America.” For the first time, the image took precedence over text. Before that, advertisements and publications were filled with mostly descriptions using small type.
Penfield would go on to illustrate dozens of covers for Harper’s, like the one above from c. 1900.
Magazines, including Sunset (above), originally published by the Southern Pacific Railroad for it’s passengers, took these bold images into people’s homes, changing American perception of graphic art as the 20th century approached.
The style soon dominated book covers and slip jackets, cementing its association with literature.
The image of two lovers at the top of this page is from the cover of “When Hearts are Trumps,” a collection of poems by American Tom Hall. The artist was Will Bradley, another leader of the graphic art revolution.
Bradley (illustrator of the peacock above), Ethel Reed, and other artists ran with Penfield’s innovation, moving lowly commercial advertising design into what the library calls “an elevated, artistic position.”
The most famous example may be the works of French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Renowned as one of the great post-impressionist painters in history, reproductions of his posters, such as this one for Divan Japonais from 1898 remain popular today — even though the concert-cafe that it advertised closed more than 100 years ago.
In the first half of the twentieth century, advertising posters were becoming more popular with collectors than the products they promoted, like this New Jersey brewery that was bought out by Ballentine’s in 1943.
Most of the NYC Library’s graphic art posters come from one, single collector — Anna Palmer Draper, who left her extensive collection to the library in 1914.
View all the images at the Digital Collection of The New York Public Library
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