Simplicity is perfection: Swedish posters of the early twentieth century

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This year we celebrate the centenary of some masterpieces in Swedish poster design – wonderful artwork made for the movie goers of 1917. Swedish posters are quite set apart from other countries of the world, particularly during this period, and to honour this 100 year milestone gallery owner Bruce Marchant explains what’s so special about the Swedes and their take on film poster art.

When did you first come across Swedish design?
The gallery has been buying and selling Swedish posters from the early twentieth century for the last 20 years.  They are quite a niche and so prices have remained affordable which is good for collectors. Saying that, they are getting increasingly hard to find.
Why does this country’s design stand out?
At this particular moment in time there were a handful of gifted designers at work in Sweden, all producing highly stylised designs with a simplicity of colour and boldness of contour – quite starkly different to studios of other nationalities. For many collectors, they don’t need to have seen the film in order to fall in love with these posters – that’s the magic this group of designers possessed. Their designs tread the boards between film and art beautifully.
Who is your favourite artist from the time?
I would pick out Eric Rohman, probably the most famous of the collective and responsible for driving this distinctive style of the era. The simplicity of his graphics and his use of bold colours in two or three tones, were ahead of their time. After studying at the Valand Painting School, Rohman began working in film poster design in 1916, he opened his own studio in 1920 and over the course of his career his personal output, and that of the studio, was prolific. See Pinch Hitte, Baby Mine and Tom Sawyer. 
Any tips for new collectors?
The astonishing thing about these early Swedish posters is their excellent condition which is a great plus for buyers. This can be attributed largely to Sweden’s neutrality during World War I and II which meant artworks were not placed under threat of damage, unlike elsewhere in Europe. The vast majority of these posters also come in a standard size of 35 x 24 inches which is a very good size for wall mounting; I have not come across any larger billboard styles in the time I have been dealing. With a price range between £1500 to £12000, for their age and artistic quality, Swedish posters are good value in terms of artistic merit, age and rarity.
If you had to choose a favourite?
I would go for Cleopatra (1917), the rarest of the collection here at the gallery –  less than 5 are known to have survived worldwide. It is no surprise this poster is so rare when you consider all that remains of the film itself is one brittle fragment of film reel. This is a great irony, as at the time Cleopatra was the most expensive production ever undertaken by Hollywood, employing over 2000 people behind the scenes. This poster for me is a remarkable memento of this epic time in film history.
Turning 100