A poster is any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface. Typically posters include both textual and graphic elements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be used for many purposes. They are a frequent tool of advertisers (particularly of events, musicians, and films), propagandists, protestors, and other groups trying to communicate a message. Posters are also used for reproductions of artwork, particularly famous works, and are generally low-cost compared to the original artwork. The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the 1840s and 1850s when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production possible.
According to the French historian Max Gallo, "for over two hundred years, posters have been displayed in public places all over the world. Visually striking, they have been designed to attract the attention of passers-by, making us aware of a political viewpoint, enticing us to attend specific events, or encouraging us to purchase a particular product or service." The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when several separate but related changes took place. First, the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production of large and inexpensive images possible. Second, government censorship of public spaces in countries like France was lifted. And finally, advertisers began to market mass-produced consumer goods to a growing populace in urban areas.
Posters, in the form of placards and posted bills, have been used since earliest times, primarily for advertising and announcements. Purely textual posters have a long history: they advertised the plays of Shakespeare and made citizens aware of government proclamations for centuries. However, the great revolution in posters was the development of printing techniques that allowed for cheap mass production and printing, including notably the technique lithography which was invented in 1796 by the German Alois Senefelder. The invention of lithography was soon followed by chromolithography, which allowed for mass editions of posters illustrated in vibrant colours to be printed.
Chéret developed a new lithographic technique that suited better the needs of advertisers: he added a lot more colour which, in conjunction with innovative typography, rendered the poster much more expressive. Not surprisingly, Chéret is said to have introduced sex in advertising or, at least, to have exploited the feminine image as an advertising ploy. In contrast with those previously painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, Chéret's laughing and provocative feminine figures, often called "chérettes," meant a new conception of art as being of service to advertising.