The French word is more capacious than the English one: graphics. It suggests a movement, a new way of combining words and images, or the bold, sleek style of the images themselves.
In the ideal(ized) history of art, advertising would not be a major catalyst for expanding the reach of art. But the same industrial production that put money in people's hands to buy more things increased the means of reproduction of artworks. The birth of mass media made possible many careers in art.
Postcards could be used to advertise a new product (a bicycle or an electric fan), or publicize one of the new department stores where you could buy things (Mele), or a place to visit (the Basel Zoological Gardens). Their advantages were obvious: they were cheap and portable. Do hamsters actually play with crocodiles? No matter, the charming postcard from the Basel Zoological Garden is too amusing to ignore.
Cartoons were an obviously good match for the postcard. You could send a message to someone and, at the same time, a souvenir, if you have been traveling. The road racers shown here are the second example I've come across by Fernand Fernel (see also Model Children, posted here March 10, 2009). The road race, although dangerous - and not just to the participants - struck the French funny bone as drivers careened around the French countryside in their dusters and goggles.
Borrowing images that the public would recognize from artists shown in museums added a touch of elegance to selling stuff. Aleardo Villa's elegantly dressed red-haired woman in the advertisement for the Mele Department Store of Naples is possessed of the aplomb to stare down even Gustav Klimt, if need be.
Postcards have several new equivalents in the age of the computer. We have email, Flickr, Pinterst, and Twitter. Which could be one reason why there have been major museum exhibitions in the United States devoted to postcards in recent years: The Art of the Japanese Postcard at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 2004 and Postcards of the Wiener Werkstatte at Neue Galerie in New York City in 2010. This month the MFA in Boston hosts The Postcard Age. All three exhibitions are drawn from the collection of Leonard A Lauder, and the Neue Galerie, which opened to the public in November 2001, is the joint project of his younger brother Ronald S. Lauder and his friend Serge Sabarsky.
Images: Postcards from the collection of Leonard A. Lauder, promised gift to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
1. Franz Laskoff, from a series The Months of the Year, 1900.
2. anonymous -for Continental Pnuematic.
3.Ludwig Hohlwein - Fashionable People, 1906.
4. Laurence Sterne Stevens, c. 1930.
5. Fernand Fernel, car racing cartoon.
6. .Aleardo Villa - Mele Department Store, c.1900.
7. Giovanni Mengoli - La Fotografia.
8. anonymous - crocodiles & hamsters, Basel Zoological Garden.