Circus Posters That Dazzle the Eye and Mind

By Martin Rosenberg, PhD

During July La Biblioteca salon gallery is hosting a special circus theme public exhibition of vintage cultural posters from The Rosenberg Collection.

The company of performers known as a circus (the word comes from Latin) may include clowns, acrobats, trapeze acts, musicians, cyclists, jugglers, equestrians, and high-wire walkers. Trained animals were once also part of the program. Credit for the modern circus goes to England’s Philip Astley starting in 1768. Just as the event has evolved so has the colorful advertising used to promote it. The most famous circus posters were designed in Poland.

Now highly collectible, these posters did not present concrete people and objects but were artistic and exciting images to stimulate excitement for the circus coming. The US Library of Congress Poster Collection held the first exhibition of Polish circus posters in the 1970s when the then Communist regime proudly exported a small number of them. The Museum of Modern Art in New York included the Polish circus poster in an early exhibit of world famous poster art. Their fame had broken through the restrictions of the “cold war” period.

The artists created their original work using brushes, pastels and paints. Various lithographic techniques were used to produce aesthetically high quality images. Almost no photography was employed to illustrate jugglers, acrobats and animals. Polish poster designers were considered professionals and competition was keen to garner international awards at Europe’s poster biennales. No catchy phrases were used; metaphors and allusions grabbed the viewer’s attention with each poster focused on a single theme.

These wonderful images were painterly, used unique lettering, clever symbols, humor and imaginative colors. Some of the rare, very early examples of these works will be displayed. The posters in the exhibit may be acquired with a percentage going to support the Biblioteca’s important community educational programs.

If you would like more background on what has become internationally known as the Polish School of Poster Design please visit

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