NEW YORK — The advent of ships, trains, and planes in the early 20th century jump-started the travel industry, making its pleasures available to the middle class. Long before the Internet, however, tourist destinations and tour operators needed a way to stand out from their competitors and attract vacationers. The answer came in the form of bright, colorful, and visually compelling posters that promised fun and delights far from home. Boasting minimal text and alluring images of people frolicking on ski slopes or beaches, vintage travel posters are, and continue to be, highly collectible. Original examples in good condition are scarce as these advertisements were meant to be ephemeral, displayed for weeks or a few months at most.
One of the most accomplished travel poster illustrators from the beginning of the Golden Age of Travel, which spanned the 1920s to the 1960s, was French artist Roger Broders (1883-1953). Interestingly, he was not very prolific between 1922 and 1932, the decade that he devoted to poster art, and he is believed to have designed fewer than 100 posters. As small as his body of work may be, his designs were so dynamic that his posters are still beloved and valued, decades after their creation.
At Lyon & Turnbull’s Ski Sale in January 2024 in Edinburgh, U.K., six travel posters by Broders that had skiing and winter themes were featured, and all but two reached or exceeded their estimates. A standout was his 1929 poster Winter Sports in the French Alps, which earned £6,000 ($7,620) plus the buyer’s premium, the same price achieved in the sale by his 1930 poster, Chamonix Mt Blanc, which depicts an ice hockey game watched by a large crowd of spectators.
The auction house’s consultant specialist, Nicolette Tomkinson of Tomkinson Churcher, said that Broders was commissioned to design works for many French tourist destinations, mostly by the Paris Lyon Mediteranée [railway] Company (PLM). “His style is defined by strong lines, natural color palettes, and simple lettering. The posters that include figures depict them in an elongated, fashionable manner. His posters convey his expertise of perspective, encouraging the viewer to stare off into the idyllic horizon line,” she said.
Broders did several posters centering on Mont Blanc, the popular destination for winter sports of all kinds, yet he always found a new take on the subject, as evidenced in a 1927 poster, Le Tour du Mont Blanc, which earned £8,500 ($10,800) plus the buyer’s premium at Lyon & Turnbull in January 2021. Tomkinson cited it as one of Broders’ more creative compositions, saying, “He cleverly shows a railway bus spiraling around the mountain to advertise tours of Mt Blanc; the circular [design element] and change of typography size was very innovative for the time.”
Broders was especially skilled at depicting mountains in bold and flat planes of color, giving them a distinctive perspective. He also paid equal attention to his portrayal of people, ensuring his figures were well delineated and attired. “The works by Broders that capture the human form continue to be the most popular,” Tomkinson said, adding, “The dynamic scene of lively ice hockey players [seen in Chamonix Mt Blanc] is a great example of this. Many ski posters focus on the landscape, so an action-packed design stands [out] among other designs from this period.”
She also stated, “His work remains highly desirable in the poster market because of his quintessential Art Deco style. Broders was a talisman of this period of art.”
A crowd watching a bobsleigh run commands attention in Les Sports D’Hiver / St Pierre De Chartreuse, a 1930 Broders poster that sold for $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2023 at Swann Auction Galleries. The appeal of the poster is not in the sport portrayed, but in the spectators shown watching it. “While his whole body of work garners much interest, the posters that depict figures attract collectors the most,” Tomkinson said. “His ability to present the people — tourists — in idealized form, dressed in contemporary garb, appeals broadly. These glamorous characters preserve the culture and period in which Broders worked.”
Many of Broders’ posters have consistently done well even as markets have fluctuated, not only meeting or exceeding their estimates but often outperforming prices set years earlier. “There will always be a strong market for rare posters in good condition,” Tomkinson stated. “Broders’ posters attract an international market for both buyers and sellers, and demand is particularly strong among U.S. and U.K. buyers.”
Beginning collectors looking to acquire Broders posters would do best to start with those that do not feature people, as they are usually at the high end of the price spectrum. “Likely a good access point for the Broders poster market would be purely landscape work, and estimates start from £500-£700,” Tomkinson said.
Besides winter travel posters, Broders is celebrated for his images touting summer destinations, including Sur La Cote D’Azur, a circa-1931 poster that realized $5,800 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2022 at Swann Auction Galleries. Centering on a woman clad in a bathing suit and seemingly attempting to embrace the sun, the poster is also titled Le Soleil Toute L’Annee (The Sun All Year Round). “More than just the joyful expression of an enthusiastic young woman greeting the day and embracing the climate on the Cote d’Azur, this poster has been cited as a classic example of shifting social mores, as well as a shift in the design of travel posters themselves,”according to Swann’s catalog description of this poster. Instead of an affluent woman modestly dressed in a long crinoline dress shielding herself from the bright rays with a parasol, the modern woman Broders showcases welcomes them with open arms. This image graced the cover of a 1933 brochure by PLM, which, as noted above, commissioned many posters from Broders.
One of the most striking and noteworthy beach-themed posters he did for PLM was one in which he clearly pays homage to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Le Plage de Calvi, Corse, which took £6,000 ($7,620) plus the buyer’s premium at Lyon & Turnbull in October 2021, features a ‘Venus’ of Calvi on a Corsican beach being admired by other sunbathers. Compare this image with Botticelli’s original painting here and note that Broders posed the feet of his joyous sunbather to match those of the goddess.
Among the other fair-weather posters he did for PLM was one featuring a man and woman dressed in tennis clothes and gazing out onto the Mediterranean Sea while others play in doubles matches on the tennis courts below. This circa-1930 poster, dubbed Monte Carlo, which has the PLM logo in the upper right corner, brought $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Hess Fine Auctions.
Whatever your budget or your favorite season to travel, there is certainly a Roger Broders poster that is sure to get your heart racing. Broders posters will prompt you to book a vacation or gaze upon glamorous European destinations as imagined through his unique lens.