Advertisements in French and Belgian ‘Little Reviews’, 1890–1930: Visual Techniques and Design

  • Hélène Védrine University of Paris-Sorbonne


Between the 1880s and the 1920s, advertising proved fundamental to art and literature reviews since it fostered a new link between visual and consumerist culture. This article is based on fin de siècle and avant-garde magazines read in dialogue. It samples French and Belgian magazines illustrating innovations to 1880s periodicals and 1920s modernist magazines. The paper highlights the use of visual techniques in advertisements (page design, typography, etc.) that strengthen aesthetic and political stances. Advertising rhetoric masks aesthetic manifestos but also social and political agenda, revealed by visual displays of text. Publicity is also an important medium for poetic experimentation, embedded in ordinary advertising design already in the 1890s. Its subversive use informs new means of artistic expression, considered avant-garde innovations (collage, cadavre exquis, or typographic combinations). Advertising later represents new modernist stances within avant-garde magazines. Surrealism and Dada exploited publicity to promote their revolutionary aesthetic. In the 1920s, advertising being increasingly professionalized, specific designers used new visual means, strengthened artistic exchanges, and gradually erased the division between art and commercial culture in magazines. Thus modernism became part of a visual culture resonant with consumer commodities. Advertising ultimately exemplifies an interesting change in periodicals’ patterns, across literature and art reviews to the mainstream press, through posters, and decorative or architectural designs.

Author Biography

Hélène Védrine, University of Paris-Sorbonne

Hélène Védrine is lecturer in French Literature at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Her current work bears on the history of the book and publishing; particularly the function played by images in books and magazines, straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has co-edited with Evanghelia Stead two volumes on periodicals:  L’Europe des revues (1880-1920): estampes, photographies, illustrations (2008) and L’Europe des revues II (1860-1930): réseaux et circulation des modèles (2017).