Gemuse Obst - Lebensmittel-Verein Zurich, 1914
Der Buchdruck - Gewerbemuseum Basel, 1922
PKZ (coat), 1923
Radio Paillard, 1945
The Swiss Object Poster 1919-1959
September 12 through October 22, 1998
Objects larger than life - so large they become icons - are the subject matter of Switzerland's leading poster style after World War I and continuing beyond mid-century. Featuring hyper-realistic drawings of everyday objects with little text, the style focused everything on the beauty and precision of even the most mundane products.
As a group, these posters reveal breathtaking graphic skill and unprecedented printing quality, and are in many ways the culmination of the classic age of the lithographic poster. We have assembled a spectacular assortment of these images - more than 50 from the best Swiss artists, such as Baumburger, Stoecklin, Birkhauser, Leupin and Brun.
The term "Sachplakat," or Object Poster, was coined in Germany to describe a new type of poster that featured a realistic depiction of the product and little else, consisting of only the product and its brand name in a flat and simple style. Lucian Bernhard's revolutionary 1905 poster for Preister matches is considered the first of this type, and its flat colors and simplified shapes became the hallmark for a new graphic style called the "Poster Style."
It wasn't until around 1908 that Switzerland awoke to the commercial opportunities of modern graphic design. The Swiss looked first to its more advanced neighbors to create a modern style. This accelerated as many young Swiss artists returned home from studies abroad before World War I, bringing the new ideas home with them.
When the first Swiss Object Posters appeared around 1910 they showed a strong resemblance to the German model. In 1919, however, a new type appeared in Zurich - a marvelous top hat by Baumberger for Baumann - that was so realistic viewers thought it must be a photograph. His 1923 PKZ coat, with no text save the coat's label, was so illusionistic that it stopped viewers in their tracks. Baumberger and other Zurich artists continued to make Object Posters in the Twenties and beyond, and were joined by several superb artists in Basel. They were led by Niklaus Stoecklin, a young surrealist painter who returned Munich in 1914, where he had absorbed the lessons of the modern poster style from Hohlwein.
Stoecklin's early masterpiece for a bookmaking exhibition at the Basel Design Museum in 1922 reveals his Purist approach. Stoecklin's Object Posters became more super realistic after 1923, perhaps in response to Baumberger's PKZ coat. In 1934, Stoecklin's pupil Peter Birkhauser began to create impeccable posters in the super-realist style. His poster of a button for PKZ in 1934 took the Object Poster perhaps to its ultimate distillation -- now the image is a symbol of an idea, rather than a full visualization of the product.
Another newcomer named Herbert Leupin appeared in Basel in 1937 who would have a major impact on the style. Leupin, created about 500 posters over a 30 year span, with an unprecedented 89 of them winning Swiss Poster of the Year awards. His most famous poster for Eptinger mineral water (a series which spanned more than three decades) simply showed a damaged traffic sign with the words "Drink Eptinger instead!"
To this day the Swiss Object Poster remains unsurpassed in its sheer sensuous beauty and technical precision. The style would remain popular in Switzerland into the Forties and Fifties, especially in Basel, and continued to evolve through dynamic composition variations and the addition of humor. This final flowering was in many ways an appropriate finale to the lithographic poster technique, which was so important to the development of modern advertising and graphic design.
View all Object posters here