The Taste of an Era

Food Advertising Posters at the Museo del Traje.

Oxo (ca.1932)Museo del Traje, Madrid

The Museo del Traje (Costume Museum) in Madrid has a large and varied collection of posters that includes works by well-known poster artists, and some of Spain's most important lithographic prints. Posters advertising food products form a significant part of this collection, with the vast majority dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The prominence of food products in advertising during those years is indicative of the low standard of living among the European population, who spent most of their income on food. This situation was exacerbated in wartime.

Cinzano (1910)Museo del Traje, Madrid

These posters advertised all kinds of products, from alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, and bottled water presented as healing remedies, to stock cubes, and condensed or powdered milk. These new products, including sweet, energy-rich chocolate, claimed to make up for the nutritional deficiencies faced by large parts of the population at the time, and became widespread after the turn of the century.

The selection shown here, which includes posters by well-known artists such as Leonetto Capiello, Jules Chéret, and Carlos Vázquez, is hugely diverse in terms of forms, techniques, origins, and aesthetics. However, something they all have in common is that they are faithful representations of the society of their time, and of different aspects of the everyday lives of the people they aimed to attract with their message.

Au Quartier Latin (1894) by Jules ChéretNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Advertising Posters

The advertising poster as we know it today emerged in the late 19th century as a new form of expression that gave a voice to the needs and concerns of modern industrial society. Although today it has lost its leading role to other forms of media, its goal of grabbing our attention from city walls and shopwindows remains unchanged.

Postcard of the Orient-Express. (1888) by Jules Chéretİstanbul Research Institute

During the last quarter of the 19th century, and as a consequence of the new direction signaled with the Industrial Revolution, significant socioeconomic and cultural changes began to take place that were particularly apparent in larger European cities.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Paris, a city brimming with vitality as trams and the occasional car drove along its newly built avenues. People who had traveled from all over France, thanks to the railways, strolled along its new boulevards, stopping off for refreshment in its bustling cafes and enjoying the shows in its many entertainment venues.

Élysée Montmatre: Bal Masque (published January 18, 1891) by Jules ChéretThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In the distance, smoke rising from the factory chimneys revealed the feverish activity taking place inside them. The city was illuminated by electric lighting by night, and by day, it was brightened by the many colorful advertising posters produced by artists such as Jules Chéret and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Plastered on the walls, these posters caught the eye of passers-by, promoting new brands of commercial products and a wide range of leisure activities and establishments.

Affiche voor de expositie van de serie Elles van Toulouse-Lautrec bij la Plume (1896) by Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri deRijksmuseum

Technical advances in the paper industry and in printing methods such as lithography boosted the growth of this format enormously, as did the poster competitions held by certain brands (including Codorniú and Anís del Mono in Spain). Artists saw these posters as a new medium for their artistic expression and for publicizing their work, and entered these competitions, attracted by the tantalizing prizes offered to the winner.

Posters also became sought-after collectors' items, and the exhibitions dedicated to them in European cities also contributed to the format's extraordinary development. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a golden age for the poster, which became one of the main vehicles used for advertising.

Llet condensada El pagés (ca.1923)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food

As this quote from Hippocrates shows, a belief in the direct correlation between health and food has existed since the time of the Ancient Greeks. With the dawn of the 20th century in Europe, the relationship between medicine and food grew closer thanks to a growing interest in sanitation in the previous century, which connected health to all aspects of human life, including—of course—food.

Yoghourt Danone (ca.1940)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Press and posters from this period show how the advertising of many food products emphasized their restorative, stimulating, and even healing properties. It's important to bear in mind that large parts of the population were suffering the consequences of a food shortage and were malnourished, especially children.

Glaxo (ca.1910-1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

So the appearance on the market of new products claiming to alleviate the effects of a poor diet was a huge step forward. Condensed milk and meat concentrates in the form of stock cubes and gravies appeared alongside powdered milk, malted milk, and phosphated flour. Consumption of these products by infants was largely responsible for the drop in the mortality rate.

Magin Quer pasta (ca.1900)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Advances in packaging and preservation methods allowed for more of these products to be marketed and sold, increasing their availability in places and contexts where they were not previously available. Canning also ensured that products were packaged hygienically while preserving their properties. This was particularly important when it came to selling powdered and condensed milk.

Oxo (ca.1932)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Advertisements for these items blurred the boundaries between pharmaceutical and food products, to the extent that many were sold in pharmacies.

Beyond their energizing effects, adverts for stock cubes and dried soups also emphasized how convenient they were, and how they helped make women's work in the home easier. This came at a time when women were becoming involved in factory work, taking over the positions left vacant by men sent to the battle front.

Maizena (ca.1932)Museo del Traje, Madrid

However, these new processed products required an effort on the part of advertisers to overcome any reservations that consumers might have, and to familiarize them with their use.

To do this, they employed various strategies such as using technical terms or the opinions of doctors to give the product credibility, incorporating recipes into adverts or product labels, and offering free samples and gifts.

Poster for chocolate (ca. 1910)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Who Cares If It's Bad For You When It Tastes So Good?

Besides tasting delicious, chocolate has numerous benefits for both physical and mental well-being thanks to its main ingredient—cocoa.

Chocolates y dulces Matías López (ca.1875)Museo del Traje, Madrid

When cocoa arrived in Spain back in the 16th century, it was used as a stimulant in the form of a drink. An exclusive product at first, its consumption grew and by the late 19th century it was an extremely popular product in Spain. Its popularity increased further once it began to be sold as bars and cocoa powder in the early 20th century.

The energy that chocolate provided and its accessible price both contributed to the growth in its consumption, as did the variety of local brands that produced it.

Poster for chocolate (ca. 1910)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Scenes featuring families and children were an important part of the imagery used in posters for chocolate and candies, even though these products were most children's favorite food anyway.

Bread with chocolate has been the go-to afternoon snack for Spanish children for many years, and the collectible trading cards that some brands gave away as free gifts to encourage consumption became a main form of entertainment.

Chocolates y dulces La España (ca. 1910)Museo del Traje, Madrid

References to folklore have a long tradition in Spain, particularly from the mid-19th century onward: posters feature a wide range of popular scenes and characters illustrating Spain's cultural wealth and diversity. As is to be expected, women also make an appearance, often in traditional Spanish dress and wearing a smile, with the aim of attracting the attention of potential consumers.

Nescao (ca.1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

This advertisement for Nescao tells of 2 social classes, with a maid serving 2 steaming mugs of this cocoa-based drink.

Anís Kanguro (1899)Museo del Traje, Madrid

"Con Pan y Vino Se Anda el Camino"

This Spanish saying, meaning something equivalent to "bread and wine each day will help you on your way," shows the importance that conventional wisdom placed on wine as a basic form of sustenance, along with bread. The abundance of advertisements for both alcoholic drinks and water in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, shows their prevalence in people's diets.

Aguas de Mondáriz (ca. 1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Drinking mineral and spring water, much like bathing in spas, became fashionable in the mid-19th century. They were considered a source of well-being for the body and attributed with healing, medicinal properties.

People also drank carbonated waters or seltzers, which aided digestion, as well as other fizzy, sugared, or sweetened waters, such as the Spanish soda "gaseosa."

Naranjina (ca. 1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Naranjina, an orange drink sold as a supplement to people's vitamin intake, was popular in Spain during the 1930s and was essential during those years of undernourishment.

Quinquina Dubonnet (1895)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Advertisements at that time also suggested that alcoholic drinks had restorative and digestive properties, as well as analgesic and even euphoric effects that might provide a little "joy" when life was hard.

Posters showcased a wide variety of drinks such as sherry, wine, cognac, anisette, and herbal liqueurs from a wide range of brands, many of which were produced in small towns.

Codorníu (1897)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Some drinks, such as champagne, were clearly aimed at the upper echelons of society, and advertising in the press encouraged its consumption at special occasions. An example of this is the Codorniú poster that won first prize in the competition that the brand held 1897. In contrast, the name Licor Obrero, meaning "Workers' Liquor," could not have been clearer about who it was aimed at.

Anís Kanguro (1899)Museo del Traje, Madrid

A wide range of imagery was used to draw people's attention to these products. Surprisingly, children featured heavily in adverts for alcohol as, again, did women. This is less surprising, and perhaps justified in this case, since women were the main consumers of drinks such as wine and restorative liqueurs.

They ranged from the woman with a curvy modernist outline on the poster for Anís Kanguro, the innocent blonde-haired girl who was the face of La Asturiana seltzer, and the young Valencian girl in full festive dress advertising Naranjina, to the Anís San Fernando lady with her glamorous air, imitating a movie star. The wide variety of images used tells us a lot about the norms and fashions of the past.

Sur canned-food factory (ca.1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

Good Health from Diet, Not Prescriptions

Other food products advertised on posters were spices and condiments such as paprika, which was widely used in Spain to make various stews, sausages, and preserves.

Preserving techniques and canning, which were developed between the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, meant that many different types of food products could be sold, and made available at any time and place.

Gra-mil (1920-1930)Museo del Traje, Madrid

A poster advertising vegetarian food features—who else—a woman as an enticement. It offers a glimpse into new habits and the beauty standard that became fashionable from the 1920s onward: a bronzed, athletic, slender body achieved through sport, sunbathing, and the right diet.

Just as restorative products for building strength and putting on weight were widely advertised in the early years of the 19th century, the 1920s and 30s saw the promotion of pharmaceutical preparations for losing weight.

Credits: Story

Curator: María Navajas
Conservator: Francisco Callejo
Images: Francisco Javier Maza

Based on the exhibition of the same name, held between January 8 and June 30, 2016 at the Museo del Traje.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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