Before TV and radio, the main way of reaching the public was with large, eye-catching posters with theatres, silent film and opera advertising with bright colourful images fixed to walls or fences.
Unfortunately over the years many of these images have been lost, destroyed or only ever found in very small single digit numbers, but Los Angeles based Century Guild a private museum and art gallery that specialising in the styles of Art Nouveau and Symbolism, has a selection of prints from the world of the peculiar and macabre. Some of these prints date back as far as the 1880s and come from countries such as Germany, Austria, France and Italy.
The gallery owner, Thomas Negovan said “What I find most striking is the modernity of the visual message,” adding “We tend to view the turn of the century through a sepia-toned lens of quaintness when the truth is that the world then was just as dynamic and thrilling as our lives are today.”
This was a five-act Parisian musical that we believe was performed in 1923, we’re desperately trying to find historical information on this one – it looks like it was quite the show!”
The Dance of Death aka Totentanz
This was a silent film Fritz Lang wrote in 1919: in the story, a femme fatale lures men to their deaths until she falls in love with one of her potential victims. There’s only one known copy of the original English-language poster.”
L’Hecatombe – La Syphilis
An image meant to warn Belgian soldiers returning from the front of the dangers of ‘The French Pox’. It depicts a dangerous woman standing both seductively and menacingly in front of a field of graves.”
This 1919 silent film was released during a lull in censorship restrictions after the first world war. Crowds lined up around the block for weeks to see its celebration of decadence and sexual liberty. The rare original poster is six feet tall.”
This 1918 film, based on the novel by Hanns Heinz Ewers, takes the superstition that witches would use mandrake root and the semen of a hanged man to impregnate themselves, and gives it a scientific update. The resulting child grows up to leave a trail of men in her wake – including the man who created her. A landmark of early horror.”
The Victims of Alcohol aka Les Victimes de L’Alcool
The poster illustrates the course of a 1911 silent film where a man goes from devout husband and father to finding himself alone in an insane asylum because of his dalliances with absinthe.”
Teatro alla Scala: Verdi
In 1913, conductor Arturo Toscanini gathered the greatest performers of the day to honour the centenary of the birth of opera legend Giuseppe Verdi. One of the rarest posters we’ve ever had the good fortune to come across, the original is a majestic 10 feet tall and on permanent display in our gallery. Giuseppe Palanti, who created the poster, was also Verdi’s set designer.”
The Eleven Executioners aka Die Elf Scharfrichter
The Eleven Executioners was the first popular cabaret in Germany, and its subject matter was political humour. Marya Delvard used to sing underneath a single spotlight, creating a performance that was both chilling and enticing. This poster is from a 1902 performance.”
After Rasputin’s demise, a number of films chronicled the larger-than-life tale of his fascinating character; this is for a Danish release circa 1920.”
Anti-Alcohol aka Az Alkohol
A 1912 poster ‘against alcohol’.”
Elimin Roach Poison
A terrifying late-19th century advertisement for roach poison.”
Shadows and Light
A poster by Walter Schnackenberg, advertising a Munich dance performance in 1919, loosely based on Beauty and the Beast. The image is suggestive of contemporary Japanese anime.”
If that’s left you wanting a bit more. Thomas Negovan has written two books covering Rare Occult Artworks from 1880-1970 and Rare and Peculiar Posters 1862-1973.
Infernal Creatures: A Collection of Rare Occult Artworks 1880-1970
by Thomas Negovan
Sultry witches, handsome devils, and all manner of sinister, mystical creatures! Over seventy extremely rare occult posters from the Century Guild museum archive are collected in Infernal Creatures. Rare visions conjured by the hands of Gustav Klimt, Carlos Schwabe, Josef Fenneker, and more are shown in full-color images, alongside commentary from historian and museum director Thomas Negovan. Each image was captured directly from the original artwork; professionally photographed, meticulously color corrected, and printed for you to enjoy at the highest resolution possible.
Beautiful Macabre: Rare and Peculiar Posters 1862-1973
by Thomas Negovan
Over seventy extremely rare and peculiar posters from the Century Guild archive are collected in Beautiful Macabre. Sinister and sensual artworks spanning from 1862 to 1973 are shown in full color images, alongside historical commentary from historian and museum director Thomas Negovan. Posters topics include war, social hygiene, venereal diseases / STIs / STDs (notably syphilis), and advertisements for everything from automobiles to film! While the internet is a magnificent repository of data, at Century Guild we still love curling up with books! And many–if not most–of the images presented here are not available on the internet at all. Each image was captured from the original artwork, professionally photographed and meticulously color corrected, and printed for you to enjoy at the highest resolution possible.
Images have been sourced from Century Guild and quotes based on an article by Kathryn Bromwich.
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