Posters are an art form in their own right. They can be used as a powerful form of advertising. Air France is an airline which appreciated both sides to the medium and created highly artistic and highly effective travel posters. Some of the Air France posters are amongst the most iconic travel posters.
Vintage posters have the ability to reflect and capture the culture of the time in which they were created. Vintage travel posters provide a glimpse into the glamorous and exciting world of commercial air travel during its boom in the 1950s and 60s.
Airlines used travel posters to not only highlight various travel destinations but also to graphically represent themselves to the public. The emerging air travel industry became a highly competitive one during its golden years and so travel posters became an essential and valuable component in an airline’s success.
Many of the travel posters created during this Jet Age period are considered true works of art and some of the greatest examples of successful design. Air France produced many such posters and used design to maintain an excellent brand image and attract customers to its services. This is what ensured the airlines continuous success over the decades.
Edmund Maurus, Air France – Rayonne Sur Le Monde (Rays on the World), 1954
Air France, or originally Compagnie Nationale Air France, was officially formed on 7 October in 1933. The airlines headquarters were established in Paris and have remained so ever since. The airline came to be after the merger of five smaller French airlines: Air Union, Air Orient, Société Générale de Transport Aérien (SGTA), CIDNA, and Aéropostale.
On 25 June 1946, Air France completed its first transatlantic flight from Paris to New York City and by 1948 the airline had flourished into one of the biggest in the world with a fleet of over 130 aircrafts. During the cold war (1950 – 1990), Air France was one of the three main allied airlines to operate in Germany.
By the early 21st century the airline was servicing over 200 cities in 80 different countries. Comfort and safety were the two highest priorities to Air France from the very beginning of the airline and this ensured the continued support from the public. The airline hired its first air hostesses in 1946 and provided luggage racks, fans, and heating for each of its customers.
Albert Solon, Air France – Marseille-Alger, 1934
When Air France was first established in the 1930s, it immediately aligned itself with modernity. Its business strategy and branding were centered around the golden rules of modernity – and more specifically a forward-looking and human-focused modernity.
This outlook was applied to all aspects of the airline. To achieve this modernity in its visual identity, the airline hired the most bold and experimental French designers of the time.
Air France was a truly cultural brand that embodied French ideals and aesthetics. The airline harnessed the strong French link to art and elegance in all its marketing. This proved to be a highly successful combination and one which designers were eager to be associated with.
Air France designers were always given carte blanche to express themselves as long as four key elements were included in the design: an aircraft, the nine letters that make up ‘Air France’, the sky, and the Air France logo which was a winged seahorse with a dragon’s tail (the logo was inherited from Air Orient).
R. de Valério, Air France – Paris/Londres, 1936
The French have been using the power of posters since the early days of the French Revolution. They were also among the first to use posters for commercial advertising. Air France recognised and prioritised the value of posters and as such it is accredited with one of the greatest collection of travel posters in the world.
The airline has over 1500 posters to its name, many of which were created by the most esteemed designers and illustrators throughout the decades. The collection varies from detailed and illustrative to bold and abstract but the Air France posters all consistently have few words, easily identifiable imagery, and simple Air France branding.
A major contributor to the greatness of Air France’s travel poster collection is Bernard Villemot (1911–1989). Villemot is considered one of the most prestigious poster artists of the Art Deco time period and he produced several posters for Air France throughout his career.
Villemot was born in Trouville-sur-Me in France and trained as a graphic artist under Paul Colin in Paris. He became known for his sharp vision (that was influenced by photography) and went on to have an incredibly successful career as a graphic artist. His simplicity, elegant forms, and sophisticated colours created a style that greatly leant itself to both French publication and street advertising.
Villemont’s attention to detail and eye for composition can be seen in every artwork he created and is particularly evident in his Air France travel poster advertising the airline’s flights to North Africa / Air France Afrique du Nord. The poster depicts a view over a North African town in vibrant colours and combined with simple, bold typography. This poster highlights Villemot’s exceptional ability to condense an advertising message into one, simple and memorable image.
Bernard Villemot, Air France – Afrique du Nord, 1946
Another way that Air France made their branding and travel posters stand out was by hiring contemporary fine artists. In the 1960s, Air France realised the untapped potential and talent of the contemporary art world.
The airline, already strongly linked to French creativity and modernism, launched several campaigns focused on a single artist. The artists the airline worked with were Georget (1963), Mathieu (1968), Pagès (1971) and Bezombes (1981).
Guy Georget (1911 -1992) first entered the commercial art scene in the late 1940s. Georget worked with very classical imagery but his work remained fun and light-hearted by his use of bright colours and bold lines.
Georget was always on the cutting edge of art and perception. As such, his style evolved greatly over his career which spanned from the 1950s to the 1960s. He adapted with the times and so he kept his work modern and attractive to the public. His series of Air France posters is attention grabbing and very of-the-time and garnered huge success for the airline and for Georget himself as an artist.
Guy Georget, Air France – Grece, 1959
Another graphic artist who achieved great success for Air France for many years was Lucien Boucher (1889 – 1971). Boucher produced a great number of posters for Air France between 1934 – 1962 and became known as Mr Planisphere (planispheres are flattened representation of planet earth). His designs would always feature a charming illustrated world map of the various travel destinations Air France serviced.
Boucher was born in Charte, France and studied at École de Céramique de Sèvre. He began his career as a caricaturist but soon evolved into a commercial graphic artist. Boucher was highly influenced by surrealism and developed a highly detailed, absorbing graphic style which was applied to his Air France posters which are considered amongst the best of the genre.
Lucien Boucher, Air France – Extréme Orient, 1946
From its two hubs in Paris (Paris-Orly and Paris-Charles de Gaulle), Air France continues to fly to 195 destinations and 91 countries. Much of the airlines longstanding success can be attributed to its early years of innovative and artistic branding.
The airline’s obvious French character and the notion of the expected pleasure of travelling with Air France are embodied in an enthusiastic and joyful message that is one with the French joie de vivre and way of life.
Irrespective of time periods or technological advancements, posters maintain an ability to entrance viewers and travel posters continue to bring glory to air travel’s role in globalisation and the advancement of society. Air France’s collection of travel posters greatly achieves just this and as such the airline and it’s posters are highly revered by many.
The other airline posters covered in our Vintage Airline Poster Series are about
If you want to find out more about airline vintage posters or if you are looking to buy a stunning original airline poster, check out these poster galleries and collectors listed on aproposter.com.
-by Jessica Davies-