Eyecatchers: the heyday of graphic design in Philips advertising

Whether it appears on packaging or brochures, bookmarks or posters, advertising plays an essential role in the marketing of new products. Between 1910 and 1965 Philips recruited many leading graphic designers and artists to design its advertising material. In this ‘Eyecatchers’ exhibition the Philips Museum pays tribute to the role graphic design has played in Philips advertising. There is original artwork on display as well as a number of very accomplished preliminary studies. The posters and brochures are a really good reflection of the times. What’s more, it is also clear to see how the designs were influenced by art movements like Jugendstil, Art Deco, Plakatstil, Mid Century Modernism, and even Pop Art.

Eyecatchers gives a clear impression of developments over time. Consider the early years, between 1910 and 1924, for example. Prior to this, advertising was really not very important for Philips. Product sales took place primarily in the business market at factories, offices and hotels. A lighting catalog was all that was required for customers to make their choice. The launch of the metal filament light bulb and the construction of electricity generation plants opened up the consumer market for incandescent lamps. An increasing number of households had access to electric lighting and this led to a real boost in advertising material. Philips’ first advertising cards were designed by an accountant at the company who just happened to be good at drawing. They were followed by picture postcards and the company’s first advertising posters, which featured farmers and farmers’ wives in traditional costume. These posters were a success in the Netherlands but also a great success internationally.

Een kat en uil, die zelf goed in het donker kunnen zien, kijken vol verbazing naar de stralende Philips-lamp. Administrateur Eef Stoot tekent de eerste reclame-uitingen van het bedrijf.

A cat and owl, who can see well themselves in the dark, look in amazement at the radiant Philips lamp. Administrator Eef Stoot signs the company's first advertisements.

Boeren en boerinnen in klederdracht bepalen tot in de jaren ’20 het beeld van Philips-reclames. Prentbriefkaarten van Raoul Hynckes, 1916.

Farmers and farmers' wives in traditional costumes determined the image of Philips advertisements until the 1920s. Picture postcards by Raoul Hynckes, 1916.

Sergio Derks, curator of the Philips Museum, explains: ‘In 1916 Philips started working together with leading artists, including Leo Gestel, Theo Nieuwenhuis and Chris Lebeau. One year later an iconic poster was designed for Philips by Albert Hahn, a political cartoonist from a socialist background who was also a staunch antimilitarist. His illustration depicted a heroic figure using an incandescent light bulb to frighten away dark demons. This could be seen as a protest against the First World War, which was still in full swing. Here at the museum we have got not just the original poster from 1917, but also a preliminary study, a poster-paint illustration, which has kindly been loaned to us by the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam. It is incredible how well preserved these two works are, especially when you consider that back then posters were intended to be used just once and were then usually thrown away. It is thanks to collectors and archives that we are able to put on this wonderful exhibition in our museum.’

Het licht verjaagt duistere demonen. Ontwerp van politiek tekenaar Albert Hahn, 1917.

The light chases away dark demons. Design by political cartoonist Albert Hahn, 1917.

Affiche van Art Nouveau kunstenaar Theo Nieuwenhuis, 1918. Het toont de stadia van lampenproductie en werd tevens gebruikt als schoolplaat.

Poster by Art Nouveau artist Theo Nieuwenhuis, 1918. It shows the stages of lamp production and was also used as a school poster.

Stars and wavelines

During the roaring twenties Philips enjoyed phenomenal growth, primarily thanks to the success of the radio. The company became the largest manufacturer of radios in Europe and employed more than twenty thousand personnel. During these dynamic times the architect and graphic designer Louis Kalff was recruited to head up and develop the Artistic Propaganda department. Under his inspirational leadership, from 1925 onwards all Philips advertising material had a clearer and more recognizable image. The influence of Japanese woodblock print art and Art Deco is clearly apparent in his designs and in those of the other employees in his department. He standardized the Philips wordmark and laid the foundations for the Philips logo with the iconic stars and radio wavelines. ‘Before Kalff came to Philips, the company name was written in as many as twenty-five different ways,’ explains Sergio. ‘Each artist wrote it in their own way. This can be seen very clearly in the first part of the exhibition. What Kalff did was to create a clear and recognizable style and a standard lettering, and these were then used for many years on both posters and products.’
Kalff’s appointment turned out to be a really good move for the company. He recruited many talented artists and illustrators to come and work in Eindhoven. He brought together talented designers not just from within the Netherlands, but from all over Europe, including Carl Probst from Berlin and the Russian Wladimir Bielkine, who fled during the Russian Revolution. They designed stylish, artistic advertising material that was in keeping with the spirit of the times.
Part of this exhibition is devoted to Mathieu Clement, an up-and-coming talent who Kalff took under his wing. And this paid off, because Clement very quickly started to flourish. His designs created a modern and prosperous mood, which gave the products a high-quality and luxurious image. Sergio: ‘In addition to some amazing preliminary studies for a number of designs that were never completed, a charcoal portrait of Clement drawn by Kalff has also been given to us on loan by the Clement family. This is an emotional piece, particularly because Clement passed away shortly afterwards. He was only 23 years old and died of an infection of the adrenal gland.’

Een Philips-radio evenaart de klank en zuiverheid van een nachtegaal. Louis Kalff, 1927.

A Philips radio equals the sound and purity of a nightingale. Louis Kalff, 1927.

De radio, sieraad van ieder welgesteld interieur, haalt de buitenwereld naar binnen. Mathieu Clement, 1928.

The radio, the jewel of every well-to-do interior, brings the outside world inside. Mathieu Clement, 1928.

Illustratie van Mary Aubele uit 1931. Zij was toen de enige vrouwelijke ontwerper bij Philips.

Illustration by Mary Aubele from 1931. In this period she was the only female designer at Philips.

Let’s go to the movies

The year 1929 marked the start of difficult times. The crazy roaring twenties were brought to an abrupt end by the Wall Street crash. Philips was also affected by this and by 1934 the company had only a small department of advertising designers. When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, advertising was put on the back burner. At the same time, during the 1930s new forms of advertising were starting to emerge, like cinema advertising films.
Sergio: ‘The advertising films made by George Pal and later by Marten Toonder and Joop Geesink are legendary. Pal, a Hungarian, was also a pioneer in the field of special effects. He produced twelve animated films for Philips, but due to the threat of imminent war he fled to the United States in 1939. In Hollywood he received seven Oscar-nominations for his work. We have created a mini cinema in the museum with the old cinema seats and original posters. Here you can watch a clip from Prins Electron, a puppet animation film made by Joop Geesink in the 1950s. The quality is still incredibly good.’

Affiche voor een bioscoopreclamefilm van George Pal, 1938

Poster for a movie commercial by George Pal, 1938

Brochure van Paul Schuitema, vertegenwoordiger van de Nieuwe Zakelijkheid, 1937

Brochure by Paul Schuitema, representative of the New Objectivity, 1937

“The Return of the Light”, bevrijdingsaffiche, anoniem 1945.

“The Return of the Light”, liberation poster, anonymous 1945.

Hero riding a chariot

After the liberation things started to improve again. Society began to recover and the sale of Philips products also began to pick up again. The optimism of these times was reflected in the graphic design work produced during this post-war period. One impressive example is the poster ‘Return of the light’, which was produced immediately after the liberation. Just as in the poster from 1917, here too we see a hero bringing light into a dark world. On the chariot the circular Philips emblem with the stars and the wavelines is just visible. Sergio: ‘This is a really special artwork. The poster hangs immediately opposite the poster by Hahn. The subject is the same but one poster was produced during the First World War and the other immediately after the Second World War. If you turn round, you can see both posters and pick out the differences.’

Farmer’s wife, pin-up or housewife

In the 1950s and ’60s there was a sharp rise in prosperity. People started to earn more and were able to afford electrical appliances that made life more enjoyable and made housekeeping easier. It wasn’t long before radios, TVs, gramophones, as well as refrigerators, washing machines and vacuum cleaners were flying off the shelves like hot cakes. ‘Domestic appliances had a particularly big impact on women’s daily lives,’ Sergio explains. ‘You could even say that these products contributed to the emancipation of women, because they just meant that women had more time for other things, like work, study and relaxation.’ This change in the role of women was also reflected in the advertising at that time. From the 1960s onwards there was a greater focus on the modern, self-assured woman who was not afraid to look straight down the camera lens.

Faith in technology

Many of these illustrations were by Willy Pot, who was also responsible for the series of posters that promoted the importance of technology. In the exhibition there are four shop window displays in which a young boy is seen playing with an Electronic Engineer kit. ‘In the 1960s people had endless faith in technology,’ Sergio explains. ‘Technology could be used to solve any given problem. At this time Philips needed to recruit a lot of engineers. The company produced electronics kits which, with the help of the corresponding advertising, were intended to encourage the younger generation to choose a career in science and technology. We regularly have visitors to the museum who tell us that it is thanks to these technology-based kits that they chose their current career path.’

De fascinatie voor televisie, verbeeldt door A.M.Cassandre in 1951.

The fascination with television, visualised by A.M.Cassandre in 1951.

De zelfbewuste vrouw van de sixties kiest voor gemak in het huishouden. Poster van Willy Pot, 1960.

The self-confident woman of the sixties opts for convenience in the household. Poster of Willy Pot, 1960.

Philips for music. Popart als uiting van veranderende tijden. Ontwerper onbekend, 1965.

Philips for music. Popart als uiting van veranderende tijden. Ontwerper onbekend, 1965.

Die jeugd uit de sixties ontwikkelt ook belangstelling voor andere zaken. Het is het tijdperk van de popmuziek en de opkomst van de jongerencultuur. Reclame-uitingen van Philips spelen daarop in en richten zich met hippe popart-afbeeldingen op deze veelbelovende doelgroep. Daarbij wordt steeds minder gebruikgemaakt van grafische illustraties. Sergio: ‘Vanaf de jaren zestig verdwijnen getekende en geschilderde illustraties langzaam naar de achtergrond en maken plaats voor fotografie. Toch hebben deze kunstwerken ook nu nog steeds een grote kracht en schoonheid. Met deze ‘oogstrelende’ expositie laten we dat zien en kunnen bezoekers dat zelf ervaren.’

Voor de tentoonstelling Eyecatchers is dankbaar gebruikgemaakt van de collecties van Frans Wilbrink, de erfgenamen van Mathieu Clement, ir. P.L. Vrijdag, IISG en het Philips-bedrijfsarchief.

Het boek ‘Mathieu Clement, Kunstenaar van nature’, van Ans van Berkum, Cathrien Clement en Peter Thoben is te koop in de museumwinkel van het Philips Museum.


The Philips Museum is accessible for wheelchair and mobility scooter

Guide dogs allowed


Philips Museum
Emmasingel 31
5611 AZ Eindhoven

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