When advertising becomes an artwork

“The art of advertising is colorful and concise. It has to be exhilarating and optimistic”. (Fortunato Depero)

Both in the past and in the present, entire generations of artists have contributed to the world of advertising, putting their creativity at the service of an advertising that has become increasingly sophisticated, until it turns into what we conventionally define art. Here are some of the most eye-opening examples, which highlight the particular relationship between art and advertising and viceversa.

The dawn of modern advertising:  the posters of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec 

The first artist to put his own creativity at the service of advertising was the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, considered the founder of the advertising poster. During his career, the artist created about 30 posters, almost always made to promote the shows and events of some of the most famous cafes in Paris, such as the Moulin Rouge.

The first poster created by Lautrec is Moulin Rouge: la Goulue, dated 1891. At the center of this artwork, created with the purpose of publicizing the restaurant – opened a few years earlier by Charles Zidler – and the dancers who worked there, there is Louise Weber, the acclaimed star of the café whose stage name was “La Goulue”, meaning “The Glutton”, because of her insatiable appetite.

But, Toulouse-Lautrec’s best-known advertising posters is undoubtedly Divan Japonais, dated 1893, created for a famous exotic-style literary café on Rue des Martyrs. The poster portrays the singer Yvette Guilbert, recognizable by the characteristic black gloves, but the real protagonist of the artwork is the elegant figure of Jane Avril, entirely wrapped in a black dress.

With his advertising posters, the French painter shows the female beauty as a symbol of desire that from then on will play an important role in advertising.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Divan Japonais” poster, 1893.

Campari and Depero, an art and design story

Most of the creatives of the past were famous artists who lent their inner world and their creativity to advertising. This is exactly the case of the Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero, who, between 1925 and 1928, created a huge number of advertising sketches for Campari, the company of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages directed in those years by the Milanese entrepreneur Davide Campari.

This visionary entrepreneur was able to understand the importance of an incisive and captivating visual message to attract the public and thus began the successful partnership between his company and the world of artists.

The innovative collaboration between Campari and Depero reached its peak in 1932, when the Milanese businessman asked the painter to design the bottle for the first single-serve aperitif. Its unique bottle that the whole world knows, in fact, is not just the container of a drink but a true icon of Italian aperitifs and Italian style.

Fortunato Depero,  on the left “Correre… Correre… Correre… Bitter Campari”, 1926-27; on the right “Presi il Bitter Campari fra le nuvole”, 1928, Depero Archive.

Armando Testa: an advertiser with the soul of an artist

In addition to artists “lent” to advertising and those who who took inspiration from the advertising world – such as Andy Warhol and Roy Fox Lichtenstein -, there are also publicists whose advertising products have reached peaks so high as to be considered real artworks. This is the case of Armando Testa, a brilliant and a versatile man who, thanks to his great creativity, has been able to interpret the years of the Italian economic boom with his linear and essential graphic inventions.

After attending the Vigliardi Paravia typographical school, in 1937, at the age of twenty, he won his first competition with a geometric drawing for a poster to be used as advertisement for a factory producing printing colors (ICI). In 1956, he founded Studio Testa, an agency specialized in advertisement, both graphic, and on TV.

Who lived in the Sixties will certainly remember the conical puppets of Caballero and Carmencita for the Lavazza coffee or the perfect geometries of the sphere suspended on the half sphere for the vermouth brand Punt and Mes, a masterpiece of abstract essence.

“In my posters, in my advertising messages I have always sought the synthesis, the expressive impact, sometimes envying the pure art and its possibility to play with what is ambiguous, or undefined”.

Armando Testa was a publicist with the soul of an artist who, thanks to his ability to intercept the spirit of the time and his hunger for novelty, succeeded in communicating with the general public creating modern but also original imaginaries that looked at the great art tirelessly.

Armando Testa, bozzetto per manifesto Punt e Mes, 1960.



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