First printed around 1895, vintage bicycle posters originated in countries including France, England and America, coinciding with the rising popularity of poster advertising and cycling as a pastime. 

The posters were first distributed by bicycle manufacturers, creating beautiful artworks that evoke the joy of jumping on a bike and hitting the road, whether for sport or more genteel pleasure.

Over a century later, with cycling more popular than ever, many of the original posters printed on cheap, thin paper are worth thousands today.

The Simpson Chain, 1896 (colour litho), Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de (1864-1901) / Musee Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, France

The Simpson Chain, 1896 (colour litho), Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri de (1864-1901) / Musee Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, France

The Belle Epoque

During the 1890s, called the “Belle Epoque” in France, the popularity of poster art was such that in 1884 a major exhibition was held in Paris and posters transformed the avenues of Paris into the “art galleries of the street.” A number of noted French artists created poster art in this period, foremost amongst them Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Chéret.

Jules Chéret is credited with developing a new lithographic technique that suited better the needs of advertisers, adding more colour which, in conjunction with innovative typography, made the poster much more expressive. Cheret also exploited the feminine image as an advertising ploy. Many cycling adverts from that time depict women in goddess-like poses with long, flowing red hair, gliding through the sky.

Artists of the 1890s noted for designing bicycle posters also included Henri Boulanger (pseudonym Henri Gray) and Jean de Palealogue (known as Pal).

Left: 'The French Standard', poster advertising the 'Atelier de Constructions Mecaniques, Bicycles and Tricycles, Paris, 1891 by Jules Cheret (1836-1932) Right: Poster advertising La Peoria bicycles by Pal (Jean de Paleologue) (1855-1942)

Left: ‘The French Standard’, poster advertising the ‘Atelier de Constructions Mecaniques, Bicycles and Tricycles, Paris, 1891 by Jules Cheret (1836-1932)
Right: Poster advertising La Peoria bicycles by Pal (Jean de Paleologue) (1855-1942)

Art Nouveau

In 1894, Alphonse Mucha, a Czech working in Paris, created the first masterpiece of Art Nouveau poster design. The flowery, ornate style showed multiple influences including the Pre-Raphaelites (note red hair), the Arts and Crafts Movement and Byzantine art. His distinctive graphic style, coined ‘Le Style Mucha’ was to dominate the Parisian scene for the next ten years and to become the major international decorative art movement up until World War I.

2014 marks the 75th anniversary of Mucha’s death when he died of pneumonia on 14 July 1939.

Distinctive national styles became more apparent as the Belle Epoque progressed. English cycling posters were slightly more sensible and upmarket, while American posters more wholesome and fresh.

Left: Poster advertising 'Cycles Perfecta', 1902 by Alphonse  Mucha (1860-1939) / Mucha Trust  Right: Poster advertising Crescent Cycles, 1899 by Ramsdell

Left: Poster advertising ‘Cycles Perfecta’, 1902 by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) / Mucha Trust
Right: Poster advertising Crescent Cycles, 1899 by Ramsdell

Left: Rover J. K. Starley, English advertising poster for bicycles / De Agostini  / G. Dagli Orti Right: Belgium poster advertising Phenix beer, c.1899 by Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928)

Left: Rover J. K. Starley, English advertising poster for bicycles / De Agostini / G. Dagli Orti
Right: Belgium poster advertising Phenix beer, c.1899 by Adolfo Hohenstein (1854-1928)

Poster advertising Gendron bicycles, published by Chambrelent

Poster advertising Gendron bicycles, published by Chambrelent

The Machine Age

The twentieth century brought in a new international decorative movement called Art Deco. In this machine age, style, power and speed became the primary themes and later cycling posters became more graphic, enhancing the simple geometric shapes of the bike itself.

Left: Advertisement for the 9th 'Criterium du Dauphine Libere' cycling race of 1955, French School  Right: Advertisement for Peugeot, printed by Affiches Gaillard, Paris, c.1934 by G. Faire

Left: Advertisement for the 9th ‘Criterium du Dauphine Libere’ cycling race of 1955, French School
Right: Advertisement for Peugeot, printed by Affiches Gaillard, Paris, c.1934 by G. Faire

The Tour de France began as a newspaper circulation-booster in 1903 and bicycle manufacturers drew upon the popularity of this annual race to boost sales in their poster art designs.

More recently artists such as Eliza Southwood have captured the energy, excitement and patriotism of bicycle racing events via densely layered screen prints.

Poster advertising Alcyon bicycles (colour litho), French School, (20th century)

Poster advertising Alcyon bicycles (colour litho), French School, (20th century)

Find out more

See more vintage cycling posters in the Bridgeman archive

Contact our sales team on uksales@bridgemanimages.com to enquire about licensing these images for reproduction and publication.