The Art of the Literary Poster: Works from the Leonard A Lauder Collection by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, until 11 June 2024; The Art of the Literary Poster: The Leonard A Lauder Collection by Allison Rudnick - review by Zoe Dubno

Zoe Dubno

From Advertisement to Masterpiece

The Art of the Literary Poster: Works from the Leonard A Lauder Collection


The Art of the Literary Poster: The Leonard A Lauder Collection


The Metropolitan Museum of Art 248pp £40

It seems as if celebrities today are obsessed with showing the world that they read. Not only is there a bevy of book clubs helmed by A-list actresses, models and musicians but literature seems to have replaced the It bag as the accessory of the moment. A highbrow literary magazine rests on a perfectly toned leg on Instagram; a Zoom interview with a movie star will take place in front of his wall-to-wall bookshelves; a famous face will hide from the paparazzi behind a work of philosophy. This, for some reason, makes many literary types angry. ‘Books aren’t lifestyle props,’ detractors write on internet forums. ‘Literature isn’t about your personal brand!’

But ‘The Art of the Literary Poster’, a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, shows that the Sally Rooney bucket hats – sold to mark the publication of Beautiful World, Where Are You – were just one more contribution to a long tradition. It documents how the concept of a reading ‘type’ has been an important tool for marketing literary works from at least the late 19th century. One of the earliest images in the exhibition is an advertisement designed by Joseph J Gould Jr for the July 1896 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. It features a fashionably dressed young woman with a ‘Gibson Girl’ hairstyle riding a bicycle – the hot new craze – with the July issue pressed closely to the handle bars. The magazine’s reader, the image demonstrates, is both beautiful and stylish, and has leisure time to read. She is also, as the show’s curator, Allison Rudnick, writes in the book published to accompany the exhibition, a ‘New Woman of the Progressive Era’, part of a wave of women recently made independent by technology. An ad for the January 1895 issue of Harper’s shows a gentleman with a copy of the magazine peeking out from the pocket of his tweeds and introducing himself to a smiling young woman, herself carrying the January issue. Read Harper’s, get a date.

The show, centred around a collection amassed by the American philanthropist and art collector Leonard A Lauder, explores the boom in literary posters in the United States in the last decade of the 19th century. Advertising posters in America until that point had been industrial objects produced by external printing

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

RLF - March

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter