How Car Posters Drove Graphic Design

In the dawn of the motor car, most automobile purveyors relied on a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality, touting ever-evolving technology and styles to drive car sales. A selection of car advertisements in our May 3 Graphic Design auction provides a case study in advertisers keeping pace with advancements in the auto industry through cutting-edge design.




Lot 18: Ludwig Hohlwein, Mercedes / Daimler – Motoren – Gesellschaft, 1914. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.


In a 1914 advertisement for the Mercedes 12/32 hp, Ludwig Hohlwein portrays the state-of-the-art vehicle as the key to a charmed lifestyle. Two fashionable couples with their driver in a magnificent Mercedes attend an airshow with a Wright Brothers-style plane flying above. The implication is that the car is the only way to enter the future in style. Interestingly, the car has no headlights.




Lot 143: Charles Loupot, Voisin Automobiles, 1923.
Estimate $15,000 to $20,000.


In 1923, luxury car manufacturer Gabriel Voisin commissioned Charles Loupot–who had just returned to Paris after years in Switzerland–to design a pair of posters promoting his automobiles. The resulting set is an exercise in contrasts. The present poster is minimalistic, with a small red car against a nearly blank background. The complement is the opposite in every way: a bright white car in a verdant forest. The effect of these works in tandem was such that R.L. Dupuy, the head of a prominent Parisian advertising agency at the time, remarked that the posters “dropped like two stones in the frog-pond of the advertising imagination.”



Lot 86: Leonetto Cappiello, Sizaire, 1927.
Estimate $7,000 to $10,000.


Leonetto Cappiello shows the Sizaire Frères 11CV with wings to convey its perceived distance from the road. The model went into production in 1923 and had independent suspension on all four of its wheels, providing a smoother ride. Despite this, the company went out of business in 1929, having produced a total of only 1,150 cars.


Lot 85: Gerold Hunziker, Bugatti, 1932. Estimate $3,000 to $4,000.


In Gerold Hunziker’s most famous poster, he uses a dramatic angle and unexpected colors to depict the front of a Bugatti type 55 Roadster. Without outlines, the shape of the car blends with the background to imply its speed. The poster emphasizes newness: new designs, new technologies and new experiences in your new Bugatti.




Lot 89: Roger Pérot, Delahaye, 1932. Estimate $8,000 to $12,000.


Architect Roger Pérot designed two versions of this famous advertisement for Delahaye, nearly identical but in different colors suggesting different times of day, perhaps inspired by Charles Loupot’s innovative campaign for Voisin ten years earlier. Pérot’s original design shows a car cresting a hill in the halo of the setting sun, barreling towards the viewer. The later 1935 version uses the same angle and conventions but an up-to-date grill on a bright sunny day. The typography mirrors the angle of the roadster’s front wheels, adding further dynamic perspective to the image.




Lot 88: Robert Falcucci, Huile Energol, 1935. Estimate $1,500 to $2,000.


Robert Falcucci’s advertisement for Huile Energol embodies the change undergone by design for posters and cars alike since Ludwig Hohlwein’s pastel vignette for Mercedes in 1914. Not only does the car have headlights–the headlights are a primary feature. The car is not a gateway to a life of luxury but a reliable tool allowing its operator to speed into the night and get things done. Though graphic and technological design continue their symbiotic development to the present day, these examples from the early growth of both media provide a clear look at the process.

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