Ghoulish 19th-Century European Posters About the Dark Side of Life

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The Century Guild Gallery in Culver City, California specializes in international Art Nouveau and Symbolist works, namely lithographs, created during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Alphonse Mucha, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are just a few of the famous names you’ve probably heard before. The gallery also has an appreciation for the silent film era/German cabaret, including directors like Fritz Lang — who created the most expensive movie of his time, 1927’s Metropolis. Dangerous Minds recently shared a selection of ghoulish posters from the gallery’s collection that are being sold as Patronage Prints.

The limited-edition series includes a poster for a 1923 French musical named Cocaine, which Dangerous Minds advises “takes place in Montmartre beneath the specter of madness.” During the early part of the century, cocaine was being touted as the “elixir of life,” an ingredient in various products, like Coca wine (what it sounds like: wine and cocaine). The addictive effects of cocaine were evident by the 1920s, lending a macabre tone to the poster. The Grand Guignol is also given the poster treatment, a horror spectacle for theatergoing audiences that showcased graphic entertainment and early gory special effects, often with a social commentary slant.

See a preview of the posters, and purchase your own on the Century Guild website.

Image credit: Century GuildCocaine, a Parisian musical from circa 1920. (Some sources date it as 1923.)

Image credit: Century GuildFrom Dangerous Minds: “‘Opium,’ one of the landmark Weimar-era exploitation films. Poster art by Theo Matejko, 1919.”

Image credit: Century GuildLes Victimes de L’Alcool (The Victims of Alcohol)

Image credit: Century GuildFrom Dangerous Minds: “‘Syphilis: L’Hecatombe’ (“The Mass Slaughter of Syphilis”) by Louis Raemaekers, 1922. Dutch soldiers returning home from the front with “The French Pox” caused a massive spike in STD-related deaths in the years following the war.”

Image credit: Century GuildBeauty and the Beast (Light and Shadow)Walter Schnackenberg

Image credit: Century GuildFrom Dangerous Minds: “The mad monk Rasputin was the subject of a number of silent films following his most peculiar demise; this poster is for a Danish release.”

Image credit: Century GuildTheatre du Grand Guignol de Paris

Image credit: Century GuildTotentanz, released in America as “The Dance of Death”. Circa 1920.In this very early Fritz Lang script, Sascha Guru uses her feminine wiles to lure men to their deaths in a labyrinth beneath the house of her crippled, evil lover.

Image credit: Century GuildAlraune: the original “Bad Seed”! Nature versus nurture.Alraune (German for Mandrake) is a novel by German occult novelist Hanns Heinz Ewers published in 1911; it is also the name of the female lead character. This poster is for the Austrian release of the 1918 German silent film. A contemporary take on the alchemy of the mystical mandrake root. A scientist, Professor Jakob ten Brinken, interested in the laws of heredity, impregnates a prostitute in a laboratory with the semen of a hanged murderer. The prostitute conceives a female child who has no concept of love, whom the professor adopts. The girl, Alraune, suffers from obsessive sexuality and perverse relationships throughout her life. She learns of her unnatural origins and she avenges herself against the professor.