pictorial modernism

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A brief introduction to the art era of Pictorial Modernism, whilst experimenting with the principles of that era within the design of the publication.


  • Pictorial ModernismThrough the Lens of Simplicity Joseph Rousseau

  • Pictorial ModernismThrough the Lens of Simplicity Joseph Rousseau

    Cover derived from German Captured Aircraft Exhibition. Julius Gipkens. 1917.

  • 1The Beggarstaffs

    As I thumbed through the var-ious volumes in my search of a better understanding of the movement of poster design in the early 1900s, few entries could I find related. The innovators of the Picto-rial Modernism movement, James Pryde and William Nicholson, pro-vide only a short blurb of the art en-cyclopedia entries. In 1894, these two gentlemen dubbed themselves the Beggarstaffs in an effort to pre-serve their reputation as traditional artists and continue the painting they loved. Perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, they gave birth to a new era and perspective in design.

    Whether it was an effort to dis-

    tinguish themselves, or something they simply stumbled upon, the Beg-garstaffs found the effect of cut pa-per shapes on their pasteboard to be appealing. The results were striking, as the ambiguity of the large plain shapes left for the imagination of the viewer to fill in the rest of the visual information themselves. This tech-nique, later to be known as collage, lead to the emergent ideologies of the Pictorial Modernism movement and provided a stark contrast to the wan-ing wavy lines of Art Nouveau. De-spite the profound artistic ideals the Beggarstaffs brought to surface, this technique was wildly unsupported and a financial catastrophe ensued

  • 2which lead to the Beggarstaffs to dis-assemble their company and go back to painting. The impact of their work with collage however remained with them as evident in their ensuing work.

    It was nearly a decade from the brief epoch of the Beggarstaffs when the impact of their work came to sur-face once again. With the work of Lu-cian Bernhard, the influential poster designer, the ideals of the Beg-garstaffs were refined and single-handedly defined the Pictorial Mod-ernism movement.

    The Beggarstaffs (James Pryde & William Nicholson). 1894.

    Kassama, Corn Flour.

  • 3Lucian Bernhard

    It is difficult to imagine the im-pact that Bernhard was going to have on the institutions of de-sign. From an early age, however, it was evident Bernhard intended to shake things up. At the tender age of fifteen, Bernhard was exposed to the art of the Munich Flaspalast Exhibi-tion of Interior Decoration in 1898. This avant-garde art struck a tone within Bernhard as he returned home compelled to repaint the inte-rior to his familys dull, conventional home. Much to his fathers dismay, the house had taken a new bright color from the walls to the very fur-niture, and he was berated to the point of nearly being labeled a crimi-

    nal. Needless to say, a falling out be-tween him and his father occurred and he left home that very day.

    His early career in design was fostered through the workshop move-ments of the time and it is to be ex-pected that he learned the necessary skills to succeed in his field during this time. He became a member of the German Werkbund and the ar-tistic advisor of the Verein der Plakat-freunde in 1905, bringing him to the forefront of German poster design (Aynsley). Bernhard substantiated the truths of Beggarstaff design with his utilization of flat shapes of color accompanied by a products name and image. Emphasizing the simple

  • 4and disregarding that which was un-necessary, Bernhard sought to re-move any extraneous elements.

    The intention of simple design spread across Germany and influ-enced other rising designers of the time. Julius Klinger, known for his efforts in the secessionist movement, took to the simplicity of Bernhard after relocating to Berlin. Direct al-lusions can be made between the work of Hans Rudi Erdt and Bern-hard as Erdts work was coming to fruition at this time.

    Lucian Bernhard. 1920.

    Osram Lightbulbs.

  • 5Hohlwein & WarRivaling Bernhard during this peri-od of time was another Beggarstaff influenced designer by the name of Ludwig Hohlwein. In contrast with both the Beggarstaffs and Bernhard, Hohlwein implemented a wide vari-ety of patterns and textures to his defined shapes. During the second world war, Hitler, recognizing proper propaganda, used Hohlweins talent to further his message of Aryan su-premacy. This, despite tarnishing Hohlweins career, illustrated the themes prominent during that time and the ever-changing social tides.

    The German propaganda post-ers depicted in both of the world wars utilized pictorial modernism as

    a means of conveying their message. Whether the recognizable iconic ide-als lead for a more accessible poster, or simply relayed the information in its simplest and most quickly recog-nized form, it proved a distinctly dif-ferent approach than that of the Al-lied powers. The easily identified, I Want You American Army poster provides this case in point. The allies opted for a more illustrative style so the undying message of patriotism could not be mistaken. The Und du? poster of Hohlwein most cer-tainly evokes a different response in the viewer.

  • 6 James Montgomery Flagg. 1917.

    I want you for U.S. Army nearest recruiting station.

    Ludwig Hohlwein. 1932.

    Und du?

  • The IdealThrough the trials and tribulations of the Beggarstaffs and the use of the Pictorial Modernism through prosperity and wars, there remains no better defining example of the era than the anecdote of Bernhards coming to his design of the Priester matches poster. Entering a poster contest for Priesters matches, he be-gan by depicting a table with a check-ered tablecloth, ashtray with a cigar lit, and a box of matches. Initially believing the image too plain, Bern-hard painted into the background women wearing little clothing.

  • Believing it to be too complex, he then painted out the lovely ladies.

  • Bernhard painted out the cigar.

  • the cigar

  • ashtray, tablecloth