Otto Baumberger, “PKZ (Coat)”, 1923, Lithograph, 90 x 128 cm, Private Collection
Situated in the middle of Europe with a culture having three national languages, Switzerland’s graphic arts, particularly in the illustrative poster field, was highly influenced by its neighbors. Two of its most celebrated Art Nouveau poster illustrators started their careers in the 1890s during the Belle Époque in France: Eugène Samuel Grasset, teacher at the École d’Art Graphique and designer of the Grasset typeface, and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen who became known for his bohemian cabaret posters and advertisements, with their black cat image, for the notorious Le Chat Noir Club.
The new century brought forward a first generation of sophisticated Swiss-born and based poster artists who, without exception, had studied abroad in Paris, Munich, and other European cities. Important figures of this generation whose later works would form a major portion of Swiss illustrative posters include: Emil Cardinaux, a painter, who devoted to the poster medium, produced luxury hotel and travel images with the qualities of Japanese woodcuts; Robert Mangold whose work was inspired by Greek mythology and classical allegorical figures; Otto Baumberger whose realistically rendered work formed a synthesis between typeface and image: and Niklaus Stoecklin who brought a clean, precisely detailed, and realistic style to commercial advertising. All of these artist later became leading members of the Early Modernist movement in Switzerland.
The Swiss Werkbund, an association of artists, architects, designers and industrialists, was established in 1913 and provided a major momentum to the development of the Swiss graphic and printing industry, including its design quality and product marketing. In the 1920s, the association promoted functional industrial design and, coordinated with the Zurich School of Arts and Crafts, made contributions to the development of modern Swiss graphic design.
Ernst Keller, one of the co-founders of the Swiss Werkbund, was a professor at the Zurich University of the Arts from 1918 to 1956. He initiated a graphic design and typography course which used simple geometric forms, vibrant colors, and evocative imagery to explain the meaning behind each typographic design. Many of his students gained international acclaim in the design field, including typeface designer Hans Eduard Meier, who designed the Syntax typeface, and the graphic designers Hermann Eidenbenz, who designed the Graphique and Clarendon typefaces, Lora Lamm, a major innovator of graphic fashion advertising. and Richard Paul Lohse, a pioneer in book design and one of the leading members of the Constructive Art movement.
Both Zurich and the city of Basel were the home bases for design schools, printers, and publishers in the 1930s. Switzerland became an important focus for graphic designers from many countries, due to imposed artistic restrictions and political pressures of the rising National Socialist Party. In the 1930s, a major breakthrough in posters occurred with the work of Swiss photographer Herbert Matter, who had studied and worked with French painters Fernand Léger and Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in Paris. He pioneered the use of photomontage combined with typeface in commercial art. Photomontage was an effect where multiple photo images would be edited into a seamless image for poster use. In 1932 Matter’s series of posters for Swiss resorts and the Swiss National Tourist Office achieved international acclaim.
The “PKZ (Coat)” , one of the most famous Swiss illustrative object posters, is a testament to the graphic skill of Otto Baumberger as well as to the lithographic and publishing skills of J. E. Wolfsenberger, Zurich’s renowned art graphics company. This advertising poster for the clothing line, Paul Kehl of Zurich, was the first object poster by Otto Baumberger in which he omitted all unnecessary text from its design. The advertiser is identified solely through the label on the coat. This poster was also an advertising first in the dramatic use of hyper-realism, as seen in the highly detailed rendering of the coat’s wool fibers.
Insert Top Image: Artist Unknown, “Lotschberg Tunnel, Loetschberg Railway”, 1912, Lithograph, Hubacher and Company Publisher, Bern, Private Collection
Insert Bottom Image: Burkhard Mangold, “Fabbrica di Automobili”, 1907, Lithograph, 84 x114 cm, J. E. Wolfsenberger Publishers, Zurich, Private Collection