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Art and Culture

Come One, Come All!

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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.

Poster with black text on beige paper. There is a black-and-white photograph of a costumed man in the centre and drawings of a clown on either side of the man

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Figure 7
Poster with illustration of a bear wearing a black tuxedo standing next to a small bicycle, on brown background, title at top

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Figure 8

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.

Colour poster of woman backed against a wall by a man. Inset picture of a man fighting another man outside a cabin. Text at bottom

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Figure 9
Colour poster of a Mountie holding an unconscious woman in both arms, a dog is at his side and an aboriginal woman is behind. Inset picture of a mountie fighting another man at bottom right

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Figure 10
Poster on a white background with a red heart and text in black

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Figure 11
Poster with three faces melded together in grey and black with the film's title in red

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Figure 12
Colour poster of a floating red-haired woman's head with bleak grey-blue horizon in background. Title at top

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Figure 13
Colour poster depicting Napoleon Bonaparte pulling a film cannister from under his jacket

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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.

Colour poster depicting a dark pink head shot of Marlene Dietrich on a black background with a yellow border

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Figure 15
Poster on light beige paper with a depiction of a man's head on a brown background. Text in black and light beige

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Figure 16
Colour poster with a black line-drawing of a girl's head on a background of yellow, green, pink and orange squares. Title is at the bottom in black

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Figure 17
Colour poster with line drawings of five heads: one above the next in red, purple, blue, yellow and pink; on a black background. The blue head has a bullet hole in the forehead. Text at left in black on white background

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Figure 18
Colour poster depicting a woman with long black hair and an orange face, wearing a pink dress on a green background. Title at top in pink

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Figure 19

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.

Monochrome brown poster depicting eight small portraits surrounding one main portrait; five men, four women. Title at bottom

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Figure 20
Colour poster depicting a green head with black Afro rising up behind rows of blue theatre seats. Title at top in red, text at bottom in green

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Figure 21
Colour poster depicting Anne of Green Gables dancing in a green dress on a gold background. Title in red towards the bottom

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Figure 22

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.

Colour poster depicting a costumed person with a white face and red lips. Title in red at top

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Figure 23
Poster with a black-and-white photograph of a woman wearing chainmail and holding a sword. Title and text in white on a red banner on the left

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Figure 24
Poster with interpretive drawings for sound and music in black on a yellow-green background. Title in black at top

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Figure 25

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.

Colour poster depicting a woman dancing with four apparitions floating behind her. Title in orange on black background at bottom

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Figure 26
Poster with illustration in black and gold of a man in military uniform with a raised arm, singing. Hammer and sickle, and star motifs create a border around illustration. Title and text in white and black at bottom, on red backround.

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Figure 27
Colour poster depicting a woman in a multicoloured costume with raised arms and a wreath in one hand. Title in white on a black background at bottom

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Figure 28

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.

Colour poster depicitng a man in a beret holding a brush and paint pallette. Title and text at bottom

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Figure 29
Colour poster with a photograph of a man's head in blue and white, superimposed with concentric pale yellow circles. Title and text at bottom

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Figure 30
Colour poster with a drawing of a hand holding a pencil emerging from low-growing plants. Text at top and bottom in black on white background

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Figure 31
Colour poster with a painting of two women standing back-to-back. Each holds a duck above her head. Three ducks are at their feet. Text in black on a white background at top and bottom

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Figure 32
Colour poster with an illustration of a man's head wearing a hat. A woman's hand is holding the head aloft. Title and text in black on orange background at bottom

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Figure 33

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.

Colour poster depicting a giant aboriginal woman standing above an overpass holding a car in one hand and a movie camera in the other. Title at top

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Figure 34
Colour poster of a woman wearing a hat surrounded by images from India including buses and a temple.  Title and text in various colours

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Figure 35

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.

Jennifer Devine
Art Archivist
Library and Archives Canada
Art and Photography

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