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Priester Poster

Page history last edited by johnny de courcy 12 years, 3 months ago





The Priester poster was designed by Lucian Bernhard in 1906 for a poster competition sponsored by Berlin's Priester Matches Company. The poster won first prize, and at the age of 18 Bernhard had created the first Sachplakat, or object poster, which spawned the movement Plakatstil (poster style). This new style would revolutionize the advertising world by utilizing bold colour, stark imagery and minimal lettering, a drastic change from that era's visually complex style of Art Nouveau.





Bernhard's first sketch was typically Art Nouveau, or Judgenstil in German, and it included two matches, a cigar and ashtray on a checkered table cloth with two dancing women forming out of the tobacco smoke. A friend made a comment that it was a nice cigar poster. This misconception prompted Bernhard to drastically modify the poster by removing everything except for the two matches, which he colored red with yellow tips, and the hand lettered block-style Priester logo. The entry was quickly dismissed at the competition for being "too sparse" and was discarded into a trash can by the judges. Ernst Growald, influential sales manager of the Hollerbaum undo Schmidt Lithography firm, arrived late for the judging. After looking around the room at the other entries he pulled Bernhard's poster from the trash and announced "This is my first prize, this is genius!". Not only did Bernhard receive two hundred marks and publicity for his poster, but he began relationship with Growald as his agent and broker.


Lucian Bernhard


Lucian Bernhard was born Emil Kahn in 1883 in Stuggart, Germany and changed his name in 1905. Bernhard was influenced strongly by an interior design exhibition in Munich when he was 15,  later saying that he recalled "walking drunk with color"(i)  through this exhibit. This inspired him so much that when his parents were on vacation he painted almost everything in the house with very bright colours. When they returned, his father punished him severely for his efforts which lead him to leave his family home. He ran away to the streets of Berlin where he was taken in by a local artist. Bernhard then spent almost all of his time refining his creative voice in his mentor's studio, designing at an astonishing pace. It was during this time that he found out about the poster competition and started working on what was to be the first Sachplakat, which would spark a huge shift in German graphic design. After the success of the Priester poster, Bernhard became part of a group of graphic designers that submitted posters regularly to the printers Hollerbaum & Schmidt. He created posters for companies such as Steinway Pianos, Stiller Shoes, Bosch and Manoli Cigarettes, But none of them matched the impact of the Priester Poster. Bernhard was employed by the German government during the First World War to produce propaganda and recruitment posters. For these he returned to earlier German gothic style.

This poster says This is the way to peace—the enemy wants it that way.


Lucian Bernhard never had a formal college education or even a high school diploma, but after the war was made the first professor of poster design at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In 1923 Bernhard moved to New York, focusing on creating scripts and typefaces for the American Type Foundry. He died in New York in 1972.


"Bernhard" One of 35 typefaces designed by Bernhard.





Peter Birkhauser, born in 1911, was a Swiss poster artist from Basel. Although much younger than Bernhard, he was still strongly influenced by Plakatstil. He wanted to become a painter when he was very young and left grammar school early to study at an art school under Niklaus Stoecklin. Birkhauser was best known for interpreting his dreams and painting the imagery from them in an analytical form, but he also designed posters for commercial products.


Birkhauser's PKZ button poster is one of the best representations of the object poster to date. The logo is the only text on the poster along with a very large illustration of a button. It won first prize in the 1934 PKZ competition, beating out his teacher Nikalaus Stoeklin's entry.


Ludwig Hohlwein was born in Germany in 1874. in 1906, after working as an architect, he started afresh in the field of poster design and quickly defined himself as one of the premier poster artists in Germany. Hohlwein's posters differed from Bernhard's and Birkhausers, in that the images were more detailed and his use of interlocking shapes made his style immediately recognizable. During the First World War he worked for the German government producing Nazi recruitment and propaganda posters. Ludwig Hohlwein died in 1939.




Posters started to rise in popularity in the form of advertisements in late 19th century Germany. Advertising posters became very detailed and complex by mimicking the art academy posters. However, it was soon found in the advertising world that this style was not an efficient carrier of the commercial message.


Plakatstil design can be identified by these characteristics: minimal imagery (product only); a large, bold type that was typically hand-lettered "block letters"; a bold colour palette. Plakatstil used colour combinations that weren't seen in other styles-it distanced itself from the ornamental, visually–demanding style of Art Nouveau. Simplicity was Lucian Bernhard's trademark, and it is probable that Plakatstil would not have existed without him.


Bernhard and Hohlwein were strongly influenced by the Beggarstaff Brothers (Willliam Nicholson and James Pryde). Nicholson and Pryde developed an experimental style of woodcutting which the used in poster design. One of their better known works is an 1895 collage poster advertising the play 'Don Quixote'.


In the early 20th century of multi–colour lithography had become hugely popular and was utilized widely by Plakastil artists including Bernhard, Hohlwein and Birkhauser. This process allowed them to print more colours than they were previously able to, and also to reproduce the posters in larger numbers.




Influence of the movement


The world was changing rapidly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Industrial revolution was in full swing, there were more automobiles on the road, cites were growing and the First World War was in its early stages. The Art Nouveau style could no longer compete with the new "faster" lifestyle. People didn't have time for busy, detailed ads cluttered with type and complex images. The object poster only provided the necessary information to the consumer, while still achieving a memorable campaign.


At the turn of the century the printed word was a very powerful tool of influence, and when combined with a large, bold graphic the result was hard to ignore. Plakatstil became the norm in advertising from 1906 through 1914. With the start of The Great War, the style was adopted for recruitment and propaganda posters that sold patriotism instead of products. Germany's poster style quickly became an international style influencing designers from the rest of Europe and North America.


James Montgomery - U.S.

Glenn Groche – France (anti-Nazi)

John Heartfield - Germany (anti-Nazi)

Alfred Leete - England

Around World War II Swiss poster style developed a passion for Lucian's Sachplakat. The Swiss adopted many characteristics of the style, and was shown in their work. The precision, minimalism very clear-cut lettering and how the subject of the poster was portrayed as simply and bold as possible. Designers such as Niklaus Stoeklin and Peter Birkhauser as well as Herbert Leupin and Donald Brun were at the forefront of the Sachplakat movement in Switzerland.


External Reading




(i) http://www.ws2.hq.aiga.org/content.cfm/medalist-lucianbernhard


Online resources:













Graphic Design: A New History, Stephen Eskilson, Yale University press, 2007

Design Literacy: understanding graphic design, Steven Heller, Allworth Press 2004

American Type Design and Designers, David Consuegra, Allworth Press 2004



Comments (7)

johnny de courcy said

at 2:15 am on Oct 11, 2009

havent edited yet, just thought id put some working material up for yous guys to chew on and link to.

p.s. im so tired

Carmen said

at 3:37 pm on Oct 11, 2009

Thanks J!

Blair said

at 8:54 am on Oct 13, 2009

Thanks, that link you provided is within my second reference.

Michelle Russell said

at 10:47 am on Oct 13, 2009

Here's the 6 degrees of separation at it's finest. Your guy influenced Swiss design and therefore Blair's guy. Paul Rand (a topic not chosen but listed) helped originate Swiss design. Rand was good friends with, and influenced, George Lois (my guy). There was also (I'm guessing here) some cross influence between Rand and Bernhard during the 30s and 40s as they were both in New York and this was an incredible creative time with The New York School (a bunch of crazy (m)ad men)

elainewong said

at 12:47 pm on Oct 13, 2009

Alex Steinweiss was influenced by Berhard's usage of simplicity. While watching a video on Alex on the School of Visual Arts, Steven mentioned a video on Lucian: http://design.sva.edu/site/episodes/show/137

Joseph Homsy said

at 2:03 pm on Oct 13, 2009

hmm I wonder if the matches were actually red and yellow in real life

johnny de courcy said

at 2:04 pm on Oct 13, 2009

naaahh guy, he coloured em himself

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