Swiss Posters

Giacometti, The Grisons
Giacometti, Augusto.
The Grisons, 1924

Baumberger, Jungfrau Railway
Baumberger, Otto.
Jungfrau Railway Switzerland,1924


Cardinaux, Zermatt
Cardinaux, Emil.
Zermatt, 1908

Matter, Winter - Luftverkehr
Matter, Herbert.
 Winter - Luftverkehr (German text), 1935

Herdeg, St. Moritz
Herdeg, Walter.
 St. Moritz (six skiers), 1930

Birkhauser, PKZ Button
Birkhauser, Peter.
Pkz (Button), 1934.

Stoecklin, Binaca (toothbrush)
Stoecklin, Niklaus.
Binaca (toothbrush), 1941

Brun, Zwicky Sysilke
Brun, Donald.
Zwicky Sysilke, 1950

Leupin, Pause Trink Coca-Cola
Leupin, Herbert.
Pause Trink Coca-Cola, 1953

Hofmann, Die Gute Form
Hofmann, Armin.
Die Gute Form, 1954

Hofmann, Tell
Hofmann, Armin.
Tell, 1963

Muller-Brockmann, Musica Viva
Muller-Brockmann, Josef. Musica Viva, 1958

Muller-Brockmann, Akari
Muller-Brockmann, Josef. Akari (Lamp Exhibit), 1975

Weingart, Schreibkunst
Weingart, Wolfgang. Schreibkunst, 1981

Bruhwiler, Thome - Filmpodium
Bruhwiler, Paul.
Thome - Filmpodium, 1980

Schraivogel, Die Welt im Kastem
Schraivogel, Ralph.
Die Welt Im Kastem 1994

 

INTERNATIONAL BY DESIGN: The Swiss Poster

Most people are surprised to learn that there are more 20th century poster masterpieces from Switzerland than any other country.

There are many reasons: an international tradition which absorbed and often mimicked the best of its neighbors; a vigorous national program to promote the poster and its printers; and a series of great teachers who advanced the art of the poster. Yet most collectors have missed out on this rich tradition. What appears to be an elegant French poster or an unabashedly direct German one could very well be Swiss.

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Early 20th Century: The International Roots of the Swiss Poster

Set in the middle of Europe and having three national languages, Switzerland absorbed much from its neighbors. This was true in the poster field, where Switzerland's two most celebrated Art Nouveau posterists, Steinlen and Grasset, built their reputations working in France. Most of the first generation of home-based Swiss poster artists - Cardinaux, Mangold, Baumberger, Morach and Stoecklin - studied in Paris and Munich.

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Travel and the Rise of the Swiss Poster

The Swiss poster had its roots in the travel poster. As Switzerland became a popular travel destination at the turn of the century, the need for promotion arose. Emil Cardinaux created the first "modern" Swiss travel poster, his 1908 Matterhorn, and it stunned the public with its rich coloring and grand simplicity. For two decades, the Swiss continued to create beautiful illustrated posters for their ski resorts, thermal spas, and outdoor wonders.

In the '30s, Herbert Matter - who studied and worked in Paris with Leger, Ozenfant and Cassandre - came home to Switzerland to create a breakthrough series of photomontage posters for the Swiss tourist office. Despite the brilliant work of Matter and Walter Herdeg, the Swiss travel poster generally declined with the growing predominance of photography in the '40s.

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The Design Poster

After World War I, the Swiss came to the fore in graphic design, a new discipline required to meet the needs of the machine age. The Swiss readily absorbed its principles from the Russian Constructivists, the Dutch De Stijl movement, and the experiments at the Bauhaus. The key figure in Switzerland was Ernst Keller, who began teaching at the Design School in Zurich in 1918, and mentored the generation of artists who would create the world-leading International Typographic Style after World War II. Other key figures were Jan Tschichold, formulator of The New Typography, who emigrated to Basel in 1933 and began teaching at the Design School there; and Theo Ballmer, a pupil of Keller's who studied briefly at the Bauhaus and taught at the Basel Design School beginning in 1931.

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Switzerland at Mid-Century: The Sachplakat and the Swiss Product Poster

The Swiss developed an early passion for the Sachplakat, or Object Poster, introduced in Germany by Lucien Bernhard in 1905. In 1923 Otto Baumberger completed a uniquely Swiss variant of the object poster for PKZ. The poster was a drawing of a life-size coat with wool fibers, silk lining and PKZ label so realistic that most viewers assumed it was a photograph. Aside from the label, the poster had no text. In 1934, Peter Birkhauser's PKZ poster of a hyper-realistic button took the sachplakat to its minimalist extreme.

Appealing to the Swiss sense of precision, and perhaps due to its use of a universal language of symbols, the sachplakat became the leading style for Swiss product posters during and immediately following World War II. Four artists in Basel - Birkhauser, Stoecklin, Leupin and Brun - became leaders of a style both playful and elegant, with lithographic standards the envy of the world.

Due to high cost and slow production cycles, lithographic printing was phased out in the Fifties in favor of offset printing. This shift prompted Leupin, Brun and the other Basel sachplakat artists to create a playful and humorous style less reliant upon the rich color and textures of stone lithography.

The new animated style became enormously successful as the natural choice for advertising consumer products. In this arena, Herbert Leupin was both prolific and ingenious. He could rightly be viewed as the successor to Cappiello in his ability to capture a product's essence through a visual metaphor.

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The International Typographic Style

Based on the design advances of the '30s, another new graphic design style emerged in the '50s that would have an impact far beyond Switzerland's borders. Because of its strong reliance on typographic elements, the new style came to be known as the International Typographic Style. It became the predominant graphic design style in the world in the 70s, and continues to exert its influence today. Its hallmarks were: the use of a mathematical grid to provide an overall orderly and unified structure; sans serif typefaces (especially Helvetica, introduced in 1961) in a flush left and ragged right format; and black and white photography in place of drawn illustration. The overall impression is simple and rational, tightly structured and serious, clear and objective, and harmonious. The style was refined at two design schools in Switzerland, one in Basel led by Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder, and the other in Zurich under the leadership of Joseph Muller-Brockmann. All had studied with Keller at the Zurich school of design before WWII.

The new style became widely synonymous with the "look" of many Swiss cultural institutions which used posters as advertising vehicles. Hofmann's series for the Basel State Theater and Muller-Brockmann's for Zurich's Tonhalle are two of the most famous. Hofmann's accentuation of contrasts between various design elements and Muller-Brockmann's exploration of rhythm and tempo in visual form are high notes in the evolution of the style.

In addition, the new style was perfectly suited to the increasingly global postwar marketplace. The Swiss language problem became a world-wide problem, and there was a strong need for clarity in word and symbol. Corporations needed international identification, and global events such as the Olympics called for universal solutions which the Typographic Style could provide. With such good teachers and proselytizers, the use of the International Typographic Style spread rapidly throughout the world. In the US, Hofmann's Basel design school established a link with the Yale School of Design, which became the leading American center for the new style.

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Eighties and Nineties: The Rise of Post-Modernism in Swiss Posters

The International Style began to lose its energy in the '70s and early '80s. Many criticized it for being cold, formal and dogmatic.Wolfgang Weingart, teaching alongside Armin Hofmann in Basel, led the palace revolt which ushered in today's predominant style known loosely as Post-Modern design.

A former pupil of Ruder's in Basel, Weingart began in the late '60s to question the rules of the International Typographic Style. His experiments with type coincided with the shift from metal to photo typesetting, and he used this new freedom to reinvent the rules. By the mid-70s Weingart began to explore the process of offset printing. His work led him to a new technique of stacking film positives to create rich and complex textures and patterns of type and images, somewhat akin to collage. Weingart reveled in his design's apparent complexity and chaos, playfulness and spontaneity - all in stark contrast to his elders' teachings. His work has had a profound impact on the direction of design throughout the world.

Another Post-Modern direction was taken by the Zurich design team of Siegfried Odermatt and Rosmarie Tissi. Less revolutionary in spirit than Weingart, they chose to bend rules rather than break them. More intuitive and playful than their predecessors, they developed unique typographic and spatial solutions which enriched the vocabulary of the International Typographic Style.

A final direction of Post-Modern design in Switzerland followed a path paved by American and German illustrators. The work of Paul Bruhwiler for the Filmpodium film festival in Zurich is more closely aligned to the conceptual imagery and aggressiveness of Germany's Gunter Rambow than other Swiss designers. Niklaus Troxler, creator of the Willisau Jazz Festival and its promotional posters, delights in visual puns reminiscent of Milton Glaser.

Other leading designers working in the Post-Modern idiom are Werner Jeker of Lausanne, who combines German-style illustration with tight Swiss graphics, and Ralph Schraivogel of Zurich, whose work reveals a richness of texture and image evocative of Weingart.

View all Swiss Posters from the 80's to the Present

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