David Klein: Posters As Portals of Discovery

David Klein at work, 1957. The poster behind him, created for TWA travel to New York City, was printed the year before.

It is no coincidence that travel was one of the first subjects of poster design, when it began over 120 years ago. Accessible travel and mechanized printing were both byproducts of the Industrial Revolution, and in many ways led to the birth of tourism as an industry. Poster art continued to be the number one source of advertising for the travel industry through the end of WWII. When the War ended, air travel practically exploded due to an increase in transatlantic flights, and a linked sharp decrease in cost of tickets. Suddenly, traveling to exotic locales was no longer limited to the upper crust of society. Airlines such as Trans World (TWA), Pan-American, Air France, and Delta were pitted against one another, and the pressure was very real to capture these new middle-class fliers and make them loyal clients.

Posters in this post-war, Mad Men era reflected this sharp competition; every year they became more and more exciting, vibrant, and whimsical. One of the most in-demand artists, renowned for capturing both interest and selling tickets during this era, was a man named David Klein.

Born in El Paso, Texas in 1918, David Klein moved to California to attend art school in the 1930s. An active member of the California Watercolor Society, Klein learned from an early point in his career the importance of depicting everyday scenes to capture an audience. Like many of his contemporaries, David Klein’s skills as an artist were utilized during his service in the U.S. Army. He illustrated many service manuals as well as helped to form the Air Force Art Program.

When the war ended, Klein decided to put down roots in Brooklyn, New York. Working as a graphic designer in New York City during the Golden Age of American advertising, Klein was in high demand. His style incorporated the abstract elements of the contemporary fine art world, while never losing sight of the importance of clarity of the message he needed to relate. This combination led to a unique style that can only be attributed to Klein, but to many represents the entire Jet Set era of graphic design in America.

While Klein created wonderful designs across many industries, the most well known and iconic of his works were done in the 1950s and 1960s for Howard Hughes’ Trans World Airlines. These are the stars; the posters that leap off the page and make you book your ticket that very day. Bold, graphic, charming; Klein’s work for TWA is always approachable and eye-catching.

Throughout his career, David Klein was fortunate to have his talent’s actively appreciated. His work received innumerable accolades, including his TWA New York Times Square poster being acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1957.

Klein continued to work with much success well into his 80s. In fact, in 2000 travel company Orbitz commissioned him to create a campaign for them evoking the Jet Set style that he perfected so many years ago. He passed away in 2005, and has left behind some of the most exciting American designs of the twentieth century.

We are proud to have had many of his posters throughout our twenty years in business. Below please find the handful that we currently have in stock. Please also keep in mind that we are always sourcing specific items for our clients. Below is a photo of a collection we recently began for a couple who fell in love, as we all do, with the art of David Klein. We were able to find them four wonderful Klein designs of locales they have visited together across the world.


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