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Circus advertisements, much-loved by avid poster collectors, span decades of the history of entertainment. One set of 1920s posters trumpets the skills of the great Ukrainian magician, "Professor" Lew'Chuk. The clever sophistication of a much later 1974 work, by famed Polish designer Waldemar Swierzy, offers an interesting comparison of styles.
Figure 7: Advertisement for the Lew'chuk Vaudeville Co. and its lineup of entertainment, 1920s
Figure 8: Advertisement for a Polish circus, 1974
Another treasure trove of graphic design is LAC's film and serial advertisements. The poster for the 1919 film Back to God's Country, filmed partly at Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta, is one of the earliest works in the dramatic genre. Examples from the 1930s to the 1950s often featured dashing red-coated heroes of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police rescuing damsel after damsel in distress. Among the hundreds of contemporary examples of both national and foreign movie posters are those for David Cronenburg's critically acclaimed thrillers Videodrome and Dead Ringers and Denys Arcand's Jesus de Montréal.
Film festivals also serve as fertile ground for poster artists. Anita Kunz, illustrator for such prominent clients as Rolling Stone and New Yorker magazines, found her visual "hook" by playing with the classic pose of Napoleon Bonaparte in an ad for a French film festival. A fascinating international collection of film posters comes from the Canadian Film Institute and even includes original ads for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and Disney's Cinderella.
Figure 9: Advertisement for a film by James Oliver Curwood, entitled Back to God's Country, 1919 - 1920
Figure 10: Advertisement for the film Northern Patrol, featuring Kirby Grant, 1953
Figure 11: Advertisement for a film by Denys Arcand, entitled Jesus of Montréal, 1989
Figure 12: Advertisement for a film by David Cronenberg, entitled Dead Ringers, 1988
Figure 13: Advertisement for the film I've Heard the Mermaids Singing by Vos Productions, 1987
Figure 14: Poster advertising a French film festival entitled "La France: French Cinéma Today," 1989
LAC also has a wonderful cross-section of posters advertising theatrical performances. One might find an original serigraph for playwright Gratien Gélinas' lovable character "Fridolin" next to an advertisement for a revue of the life of Marlene Dietrich by the award-winning Theo Dimson. Other examples include several versions of designs illustrating Michel Tremblay's play Les Belles Soeurs, an original serigraph by noted artist Jack Shadbolt advertising George Ryga's seminal work The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, and Robert Lepage's Cinq No Modernes. LAC's collection includes material from many theatre companies: the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Shaw Festival, Théâtre Passe Muraille, Théâtre du Trident, the Neptune Theatre, the Young People's Theatre Centre and the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre, to name but a few.
Figure 15: Poster featuring a theatrical revue of actor Marlene Dietrich's life
Figure 16: Advertisement featuring Gratien Gélinas's play "Ti-COQ", Glebe Theatre
Figure 17: Advertisement for the play Les belles-soeurs by Michel Tremblay, July 2nd to 10th, 1971
Figure 18: Advertisement for the play Cinq No Modernes, February 7 to 16, 1991
Figure 19: Advertisement for the play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, produced by the Playhouse Theatre Company, 1967 - -1968
The collection is also rife with posters advertising singing performances. A lithograph from 1909 presents the black ensemble called the "Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers" which toured Canada, the United States and Europe for a quarter century. One folder contains an image of a curly-haired 21-year-old brunette named Céline Dion, already glittering with star power. A real gem is an ad for singing sensation Robert Charlebois by the graphic master Vittorio Fiorucci, while another celebrates the eternal appeal of Canada's own Anne of Green Gables.
Figure 20: Promotional poster for African-American singing performers the "Famous Canadian Jubilee Singers", 1902
Figure 21: Advertisement for singer Robert Charlebois, designed by Vittorio Fiorucci, 1969
Figure 22: Advertisement for the musical Anne of Green Gables, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, November 11 to 16, 1974
An impressive roster of national and international talent has entertained Canadians across the country. Designers like Heather Cooper created opera-inspired poster artwork. And string quartets, one-person recitals, rock groups and symphony orchestras all used posters to attract the attention of Canadians to fill their houses. Spanning all musical genres, the collection encompasses a diverse group of advertisements for such legends as Oscar Peterson; Sharon, Lois and Bram; R. Murray Schafer; and countless other musical innovators who appeared in Canada.
Figure 23: Advertisement for the operas Don Carlos, The Magic Flute, Daughter of the Regiment, and Wozzeck, 1977
Figure 24: Advertisement for the play Saint Joan, featuring Seann McKenna, October 11 to 27
Figure 25: Advertisement for a musical manuscipt and sound sculpture exhibtion, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, July 9th to 30th, 1983
Dance troupes, both classical and modern, performed for our pleasure. The National Ballet of Canada, Le Groupe de la Place Royale, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and many smaller companies advertised their soloists and acclaimed guests.
Figure 26: Advertisement for the ballet In the Land of the Spirits, produced by Canadian Native Arts Foundation and the National Arts Centre, ca. 1992
Figure 27: Poster advertising The Alexandrov Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble, National Arts Centre, October 3, 1989
Figure 28: Advertisement for the 25th anniversary season of performances by The National Ballet of Canada, November 12 to 20
Visual artists are also well represented in the collection, in notices for gallery openings and events, one-person shows, and posters for arts publications such as artscanada. A few examples include the work of Harry Mayerovitch, Harold Town, Ernest Lindner, Grant W. Leier and Theo Dimson.
Figure 29: Advertisement for H. Mayerovitch's The Painter's Ear, produced by the National Arts Centre, Ottawa, 1981
Figure 30: Advertisement for an exhibition of paintings by Harold Town, produced by the Studio Art Gallery International, Vancouver, 1965
Figure 31: Advertisement for a special edition of the magazine artscanada, "To Celebrate Drawing", 1976
Figure 32: Advertisement for the Grant W. Leier Exhibition, Keenlyside Gallery, Vancouver, 1980 - 1981
Figure 33: Advertisement for a Theo Dimson exhibition, Marci Lipman Graphics, Toronto, November 9 to 30
The poster holdings at LAC contain not only illustrations for well-heeled entertainers but also examples for more ephemeral performances. LAC acquired more than 2,000 street advertisements that date until 2008 from a Toronto art curator fascinated with contemporary posters. Often bawdy and brash, this collection documents a decade's worth of both high- and low-brow art.
Figure 34: Advertisement for the 7th Annual Film and Media Arts Festival, ImagineNATIVE, 2006
Figure 35: Advertisement for the appearance of Gypsy Phunk, State Theatre, 2006
The majority of us have, at some point in our lives, taken home commemorative posters from performances or events that moved us. The poster collection at LAC could cover a lot of walls with pictorial memories! Like barkers at a fairground, great poster designers use potent imagery and visual magic to draw us in. The advertisements they create are often inseparable from the performances themselves. They can transport us back in time to a dark cinema from our youth, a night at a concert hall filled with soaring musical notes, or a drama that remarkably mirrors our own story.
Library and Archives Canada
Art and Photography
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