Posters: The Original Street Art

When we think of the term ‘street art’ many ideas begin to surface; rebellion, counterculture, social defiance. Artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and more recently Banksy and Shephard Fairey have become household names due to their street art. It is important to note that street art has been an emblem of city life well before the 1980s; in fact it began over a century before under the auspices of advertising.

Manet’s Au Cafe, 1878. Notice the poster in the window.

Street art began as a direct result of the massive influx of city populations in the middle of the nineteenth century. As train travel and industrial growth created new jobs and a fast way to reach them, cities like Paris, New York, and London became the most crowded they had been in modern times. With this exciting growth came real logistical struggles; disease became much more easily spread and overcrowding created a strain on the cities’ infrastructures. By 1850, the center of Paris was dark, dangerous, and unhealthy. Enter to our story Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, on Napoleon III. France’s very first leader to win via popular election, Napoleon III ran on the promise of revitalizing and modernizing Paris. In 1852 he asserted, “Paris is the heart of France. Let us apply our efforts to embellishing this great city. Let us open new streets, make the working class quarters, which lack air and light, more healthy, and let the beneficial sunlight reach everywhere within our walls”.

Although Napoleon III ended up not being the most altruistic of leaders (after losing his reelection, he promptly banished his opponents and declared himself Emperor), he was good on his word. By 1870, Paris boasted wide boulevards and grand monumental buildings. In terms of sanitation, traffic, and general breathing room, these changes were wonderful. In terms of aesthetics, many Parisians were in despair. Gone were the quaint alleyways of their youth; the charm of the city seemed to be disappearing.

As luck would have it, while Paris was being rebuilt great advances were also being made in the field of printmaking. Jules Cheret discovered a faster and more efficient way of printing multi-colored posters, and modern advertising changed forever.

Soon after Cheret’s discovery, posters began to fill the once barren newly built structures throughout Paris. People were elated; color had returned to their lives.

We are pleased to share the below photos of posters on the street throughout the years, and our proud to have many available.


A wonderful examples of early poster art by Jules Cheret.

Advertising posters being replaced with war effort posters, France. 


A French street corner is covered with posters by famed artist, Cassandre 

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