NEW YORK – Travel posters with winter themes have to work the hardest at selling their product. In order to be effective, travel posters must persuade you to cram an edited version of your stuff into boxes and bags, undertake a long journey; frolic elsewhere for a spell, then reverse the process to return to the comforts of home with much less money in your pocket than you had when you first set off. Successful travel posters promoting wintry destinations also have to convince someone from a moderate climate to visit a place that’s cold, snowy and remote. And the earlier the poster, the harder the challenge the artist would have faced at the time of its creation.
Winter resorts tend to be up in the mountains and relatively challenging to access, but at the turn of the previous century, it was a much more difficult task. In addition, there was the matter of comfort and convenience to consider. Things we now take for granted were not always available. Gore-tex, the lightweight waterproof fabric that makes braving tough weather conditions easier, wasn’t invented until 1976. The first hotel to offer en-suite bathrooms, the Hotel Ritz Paris, opened in 1898, and while that amenity has been standard for decades, it didn’t instantly spread to resorts perched thousands of feet above sea level. And until about 1912 or so, skiers navigated the slopes with a single pole, not two.
The sport of skiing is key to the appeal of many great winter posters, and also key to the contemporary market for these posters. The overwhelming majority of such images show beautiful people standing on a snow-covered slope, about to push off, or the act of fearlessly flying down it. And almost all winter-themed posters spell out the name of a resort town or region in unmissably huge letters: Gstaad, St. Moritz, Chamonix-Mt. Blanc, New Hampshire, Sun Valley.
“Skiers are very passionate, and people who are quite wealthy often ski,” says Nicolette Tomkinson, a poster consultant at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1998, she created a series of Ski Sale auctions at Christie’s Kensington in London that continued until the location closed in 2017. “I used to say the amount of five-star hotels in town reflect how much the poster will go for. There are lots of nice hotels in St. Moritz.”
The success of a winter-themed travel poster cannot be uncoupled from the resort it advertises. People want the ones that name the places where they made happy memories vacationing and learning to ski. But a major driver of sales, and perhaps the biggest one, are bidders seeking the ideal finishing touch for a winter hideaway.
“People who have chalets in ski resorts are often looking for trendy, attractive, interesting decor for their walls,” said Nicholas Lowry, president of Swann Auction Galleries in New York. “As ski chalets may only be used a few months during the year, they are not the best place for very expensive paintings, but ski posters work perfectly. The wealthier they are, the more they can spend on decor for winter homes, thus the higher the prices for posters promoting A-list towns. Frequently, too, decorators are asked to come in, and I imagine that they help drive the prices higher for their clients,” he said, adding, “This was borne out at Christie’s South Kensington in January 2016, when a poster for Gstaad by the acclaimed Swiss poster designer Alex Diggelman sold for $87,823. That is not a typo. And one can easily imagine two decorators representing Eastern European oligarchs battling out to assure their client got the prize for their winter home.”
Patrick Bogue, owner of Onslows Auctioneers in Dorset, England, has noticed that posters for certain resorts just aren’t as cool as they once were. “Some of the resorts from the post-WW1 era and the mid-1930s are less collectible due to lack of snow. These resorts now attract more summer tourism,” he said. “The most glamorous resorts attract the rich and famous, and therefore it follows that the posters for those destinations are most in-demand, fueling high prices.”
Posters touting the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz are relatively abundant compared to other locales because it embraced tourism early and aggressively. It opened its first tourist office in 1864, and its travel posters seem to be a source of civic pride. A 1948 Franco Barberis design that placed the St. Moritz sun emblem on the streamlined body of a skier sold for £1,900 (roughly $2,500) plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of £600-£800 ($800-$1,000) at Lyon & Turnbull in January 2021. It’s a worthy example of how the “less is more” principle plays out in poster design. “Posters had a very short time to catch viewers’ attention,” said Tomkinson. “The simpler, the better.”
Martin Peikert relied on the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” mantra when creating an undated poster for the Swiss resort town of Gstaad, which realized $1,700 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $600-$900 in February 2005 at Swann. Lowry is not a fan of this particular Peikert work, stating “It is arguably more of typographic interest than design or travel … That said, advertising, as it does, for Gstaad, it always carries a premium when it comes up for sale.” He noted that it would likely sell in the $7,000-$10,000 range today, a significant advance on the 2005 sum.
Also notable is a circa-1936 Augustus Moser poster that trumpets the United States resort of Sun Valley, Idaho. Offered at Swann in February 2021, it sold for $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium. It illustrates a challenge inherent in winter and skiing posters – the traditional palette is narrow and leans heavily on white, gray and blue. Other colors typically find their way in on people’s outfits; on borders, lettering and logos; or when the artist chooses to break with nature. Lowry noted that Moser is little-known, with two posters to his credit, and said of the Sun Valley image, “Clearly he was more of a painter than he was a graphic designer as the image is essentially a pastel-hued painting of a skier on a hill … The great appeal of this poster is its rarity. Less than half a dozen have ever appeared at auction, which is why it tends to command such a premium price.”
A 1936 Dwight Clark Shepler poster emblazoned with the phrase “NEW HAMPSHIRE, Land of glorious winter” sold for $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Potter & Potter Auctions in January 2020. “That this poster so boldly advertises ski tourism in New Hampshire, and was painted especially for the New Hampshire State Planning and Development Commission, undoubtedly adds a layer of regional interest,” said Joe Slabaugh, director of cataloging at Potter & Potter. Remarking on the artist’s choice to show a couple on skis pausing against a realistic winter landscape, he said, “Shepler might have been trying to illustrate the poster’s subtitle – ‘land of glorious winter’ – on the look of these two skiers’ faces who are caught in a moment of reverie.”
Skiing is the sport most often pictured on winter travel posters; Tomkinson offered a rough estimate of 80% skiing images, with the remaining 20% showing sports such as hockey, skating, sledding, snow-shoeing and simply romping in the snow. The same January 2021 Lyon & Turnbull sale that contained the Barberis St. Moritz poster featured a 1930 Roger Broders image for Chamonix-Mt. Blanc depicting a hockey game. It realized £3,600 (about $4,800) on the strength of the Broders name, which always draws collectors, as well as the subject of the poster. “A lot of people look for it because they play hockey,” Tomkinson said. “It’s a good image of the sport.”
Another head-turning 1952 St. Moritz poster in the Lyon & Turnbull lineup, credited to an artist who signed his work “LIBIS,” showcases a horse race on a snow-covered track with Alpine peaks in the background. It sold for £1,800 (about $2,400) plus the buyer’s premium. The effort involved in hauling racehorses up a mountain and acclimating them to life at almost 6,000 feet above sea level is not trivial, but Tomkinson said winter horse races at St. Moritz appear to have been a routine attraction at the time. “It’s a great, fun image, kind of a conversation piece that gets you thinking and talking,” she said. “The use of color is very effective, especially the blue snow where the horses pound it. It conveys movement very successfully.”
Yet another powerful poster that lauds the delights of St. Moritz is a 1932 image by Alois Carigiet showing a woman up to her knees in powder, readying to throw a snowball. An example offered at Onslows Auctioneers in November 2020 realized £3,000 (about $4,000) plus the buyer’s premium. “This is one of the most sought after of the St. Moritz [winter] posters,” Bogue said. “The colors make the poster catch your attention so well. Imagine this poster being displayed in its original setting, a railway station platform. You would want to rush and buy your ticket to go to St. Moritz.”
Brunk Auctions, located in Asheville, N.C., handled the collection of Olympic medal-winning ice skater and commentator Dick Button. The sale, which took place in January 2019, was not dominated by posters of ice skaters but contained the best and most visually appealing examples of their kind. Laura Crockett, a fine arts specialist at Brunk, recalls seeing about 13 posters in the lineup. “Provenance and condition is everything,” she said. “The value we got for these things is because they were from Dick Button.”
Posters that performed markedly well included a Roger Soulie design created for the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix-Mont Blanc, which pictured a young woman twirling on ice against a backdrop of mountain peaks and a deep butter-yellow sky. Estimated at $1,500-$2,500, it achieved $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium and went to a bidder who was present in the sale room. “It’s very graphic, very clean, with great color and an attractive person. It definitely had all the bells and whistles,” she said and added, “For some reason, pulling in that yellow makes it unusual. I appreciate Soulie’s artistic choice. It helps the whole composition by complementing blue with yellow.”
An equally striking variation on the same theme was a circa-1905 design by Carlo Pellegrini, who later won an Olympic medal in painting at the 1912 summer games in Stockholm, Sweden. It advertises the charms of Adelboden, an Alpine town in western Switzerland, and it might be the only surviving example of the poster. Estimated at $1,500-$2,500, it achieved $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium. “The red is fabulous,” Crockett said and added, “It’s interesting how the artist used the background and the ice and the gray ground. It’s definitely more abstract and simplified.”
But what might be the most astonishing winter-themed poster was an Emil Cardinaux image from 1920, touting the Palace Hotel (now Badrutt’s Palace) in St. Moritz. Button must have been drawn to the skater in the composition, but she was not its focus. Up front are a trio of exquisitely languorous figures. Two lean against the rails of the rink, and the central figure, clad in a draping yellow garment and seated in a red chair, glances over her shoulder at the viewer as if she’s daring them to challenge her indolence. It sold for $6,500 plus the buyer’s premium – a good sum, but short of its $10,000-$15,000 estimate. “I love this poster. I love the graphic nature and the design of it,” Crockett said. “I think any time you deal with luxury and resorts, people are drawn to that. It’s less about the background than the lifestyle he’s portraying.”
As long as that lifestyle carries on – as long as people travel to snow-covered slopes to ski, frolic, or sit and watch it all unfold, the market for winter-themed posters will thrive. “It’s getting harder and harder to find the rarer pieces and the high value lots,” Tomkinson said. “They don’t come back on market as often as I would like. It’s a strong market. Prices for early rarer images are going to increase and increase.”