We’re all familiar with the ‘art’ of advertising, though these days it is expressed mostly in the form of videos, TV ads, billboards and on magazine pages. Photos, computer-generated graphics and moving pictures dominate a scene populated with boastful slogans and loud messages designed to capture our attention – whether we like it or not.

Alas, today advertising is all too often experienced in the form of a menace that invades our privacy with what are the sound bites of the modern world. But there was a time when publicity drew on art to get its message across. Indeed, in its earliest days advertising was truly an art in its own right.

Back then people’s attention was drawn not by those who shouted loudest but by designs that engaged the senses and offered a subliminal message wrapped up in often beautiful imagery. We’re talking about the posters, placards and magazine artwork of the turn of the 20th century, during the golden era of Art Nouveau.

The Origin of Advertising Art

Fortunately many such works still adorn the interiors of cafés, restaurants and homes, but some of the finest original pieces of early publicity artwork can also be admired up close at the Fundación Bancaja’s Centro Cultural in Valencia. Situated on the pretty Plaza de Tetuán, just off the eastside of the city centre, the museum is a haven of cultural activity.

An easy walk from most famous sights in the centre of Valencia, the cultural centre is surrounded by parks, gorgeous historical buildings and is set in a pretty square complete with a stylish café. In other words, a perfect spot to escape the heated buzz of city life for a little while and immerse yourself in the cool exhibition rooms of the museum.

The exposition, 1900 El Origen del Arte Publicitario, focuses on the evolution of publicity art from tentative early years to its growth into a successful medium of commercial communication, social commentary and art. The beautifully illustrated drawings, etchings and paintings that take shape on these original 19th and early 20th century posters evoke visions of elegant Europe and exotic tropical parts of the world just as they form the earliest attempts at product branding.

Though much associated with France, the leading light in the Art Nouveau movement of the time, the exhibition shows that artists from Belgium, Slovakia, Germany, Italy, Britain, America and Spain contributed greatly to this new art form. Besides Toulouse-Lautrec, therefore, you will also encounter the creative genius of Alphonse Mucha, Steinlen, Parrish, Ramon Casas, Rusiñol and Riquer on the walls of the foundation.

Whether you’re interested in the early beginnings of advertising branding or of a romantic disposition, let these masters take you back to into another time. Chances are you’ll enjoy it! The exhibition runs until the 26th of August, so there’s lots of time to see it, but make sure you don’t miss out because this is one of the prettiest art collections you’ll ever see.