Five graphics that changed the history of illustrated newspapers

The author of Taschen’s most recent release, History of Press Graphics. 1819–1921, breaks down the often overlooked medium via five key moments.

18 May 2023

Vincent Van Gogh often collected graphics and illustrations pulled from newspapers, going as far as to consider it a “Bible for artists”, a new book from Taschen says. He was not the only artist who looked to the press for inspiration. In fact, in History of Press Graphics. 1819–1921, author Alexander Roob argues that satirical cartoons and newspaper design and illustrations had an incredible influence on modern art, a “laboratory for developing avant-garde aesthetics”. What’s more, before the era of the 24-hour news cycle, delivered largely via video and photographic content, these images often served as the spark for social change too.

Many of the artists behind this medium have since drifted into obscurity. So, Alexander Roob is revisiting its unique design history, covering 100 years of graphic-based journalism from artists such as Juan Gris and Jean Cocteau. Below, the author talks us through five of the most influential moments, covering their cultural and stylistic impact.


Charles Philipon: Louis-Philippe, King of the French, 1834, from Le Charivari (Copyright © Melton Prior Institute in Düsseldorf)

Charles Philipon: Louis-Philippe, King of the French, 1834

“In French slang, the pear signified a moron,” says Alexander. “Charles Philipon was not only responsible as a publisher but also as an author and during his campaign against the July monarchy, he managed to impose this fruit as a symbol for King Louis Philippe and his morose government through a series of cartoons and a sensational court case. For a while, it was ubiquitous as graffiti, not only on Paris buildings, but also in the provinces. The typographic realisation represents an early example of how the censor bans on images provoked the creation of adventurous, abstract imagery.”


Juan Gris: New Year’s Gifts, from L’Assiette au Beurre, 1910 (Copyright © Melton Prior Institute in Düsseldorf)

Juan Gris: New Year’s Gifts, 1910

“An ominous-looking pastry chef is shown here bringing a minister his bloated parliamentary allowance from the rapidly dwindling state budget. In this themed issue about New Year’s gifts, Juan Gris produced his last work as a satirical illustrator for the press before later turning more seriously to painting under the influence of Picasso and Georges Braque.”


Gustave-Henri Jossot: The Keepers of the Peace, from L’Assiette au Beurre, 1904 (Copyright © Melton Prior Institute in Düsseldorf)

Gustave-Henri Jossot: The Keepers of the Peace, 1904

“In response to the two-dimensional and somewhat garish art of the Pont-Aven School and also the style of Félix Vallotton’s illustrations, Gustave-Henri Jossot developed an individual form of cloissonist caricature. His uncompromising approach was a model for artists in the modern caricature movement in France such as Cabu and Charb, both of whom were killed in January 2015 in the attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.”


Paul Iribe: “I’m here, Captain, You Won’t Fall. – Thanks, Mate”, from La Baïonnette, 1917 (Copyright © Melton Prior Institute in Düsseldorf)

Paul Iribe: “I’m here, Captain, You Won’t Fall. – Thanks, Mate”, 1917

“Paul Iribe’s stylistic fusion of Art Nouveau with a futuristic adaptation of the Cubist dissection of space was groundbreaking for the later aesthetics of Art Deco.”


František Kupka: Mouths, from L’Assiette au Beurre, 1902 (Copyright © Melton Prior Institute in Düsseldorf)

František Kupka: Mouths, 1902

“With his weekly satirical magazine L’Assiette au Beurre, the publisher Samuel-Sigismond Schwarz offered Parisian illustrators, among them many artists from the avant-garde Montmartre scene, a unique field of experimentation and a huge platform for their anarchist views. Many issues were authors editions, which had no text other than the captions. It is difficult to imagine that such radical works – here an example from the illustrator and later founding figure of abstract painting, František Kupka – were printed in huge editions of 40,000 to 250,000 copies.”

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Alexander Roob: History of Press Graphics. 1819–1921 (Copyright © Taschen, 2023)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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