The Art of Vintage Wine Posters 

A.M Cassandre “Dubo-Dubonnet” circa 1932. A.M Cassandre “Dubo-Dubonnet” circa 1932. Sold for $32,000 via Poster Auctions International Inc. (February 2018).

From the fourth millennium BC in ancient Egyptian art, through to works by Caravaggio and Renoir, wine and art have long been perfect companions. Today, vintage wine posters that showcase that thirsty artistic flair are as coveted, by some, as the bottles themselves.

Wine has held a lofty place in society for centuries. Ernest Hemingway was certainly no stranger to the joys of the grape, saying that “wine is the most civilized thing in the world.” Artists of all forms have long been celebrants of wine. Neil Diamond expressed his love of Red, Red Wine, poets have pondered its joys and visual artists, too, have shown their fondness on canvas and through memorable posters for vineyards and producers, often in styles that reflect fashion and shifts in cultural style.

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. Wine might be central to many a dinner party today, and so it was at the turn of the last century when Adolfo Hohenstein, dubbed a pioneer of Italian poster art, brought the excitement of Art Nouveau to the wine world with a series of dramatic and vivid creations. 

Art Nouveau wine posters

It was no surprise really that Hohenstein brought such a level of theatre and drama to his work, having created posters for La Bohème and Tosca theatre productions. So, when he was commissioned to produce a poster for Cinzano vermouth he brought the dynamism and flowing movement that typified Art Nouveau, as well as rich colours in red and green against the brown background. Hohenstein repeated this burst of colour with yellow and red splashes bringing to life a street scene for Bitter Campari. While this wasn’t a poster for wine, it hinted towards the style that would follow.

This was a revelation during the Belle Époque period between 1890 and 1910 as these pops of color, plastered over city streets, signalled an advancement in lithographic printing. These advancements allowed for the mass production of colour posters; they  also meant that art was no longer confined to galleries, and could be brought to the masses on walls and in illustrated magazines: a forerunner to street art.

Alongside Hohenstein, another of the progenitors of Italian poster design was Marcello Dudovich, who won the Gold Medal at the Paris World Fair in 1900. Known for his gloriously rich use of colour, even by Art Nouveau standards, Dudovich’s Martini vermouth poster is impossible to ignore thanks to its striking maroon background and use of yellow and orange to attract attention.

Fun and frivolity in vintage wine posters

This joyous approach to poster design was shared by Jules Chéret, who was perhaps the leading light of Art Nouveau posters, after all he was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French Government in 1890 for his outstanding contributions to graphic art. His jubilant artwork was perfectly encapsulated in the frivolity of his design for Vin Mariani in 1895 (above), which has an almost dreamlike quality to it.

This frivolity typified his work can also be found in his advert for Contratto, where once again a care-free woman is depicted with an overflowing glass of champagne; an image that could have sprung directly from the pages of The Great Gatsby. Such a whimsical celebration of colors shared by Leonetto Cappiello’s legendary Epernay Champagne advertisement, which has all the exuberance and thrill of a party thanks to the energy of the dancing woman and the bright, bold colors.

Wine posters from the roaring twenties

By 1914, and with the beginning of World War I, Art Nouveau gave way to the pared-back flair of Art Deco as the dominant decorative art style. More precise and simpler designs gained popularity, typified by artists like Rene Vincent. His most recognizable work is the 1925 Porto Ramos Pinto poster, which showcases the change in women’s fashion and the striking simplicity of Art Deco design.

The German poster printing company, Hollerbaum & Schmidt’s advert for sparkling wine provided an early example of this leaning with their 1914 advert for Roeder Gelbstern Orangensekt, showcasing the trend for shorter women’s hair and making orange a central feature of the poster to match the name of the wine. While Adolphe Mouron Cassandre embodied the Art Deco style with his Dubonnet series, the French poster artist Charles Loupot continued the progression of poster design.

Making use of the solid background like so many of his contemporaries did in the Art Deco period, Loupot brought a sense of abstraction and Pop Art sensibilities that would shake up art and design in the years that were to come. The Dutch artist Armando continued this approach with his advert for California Red Wine.

The orderliness of the fifties gave way to Surrealism, Expressionism, and Post-Modernism, as designers sought to break the formality of design. The function and design of the poster has changed considerably in the 100 years and more since Hohenstein added Art Nouveau flair to new lithographic technology, and while adverts have been revolutionized by digital technology, the thirst for the vintage wine posters remains.

by Dan Mobbs