The library possesses one of the country's largest collections of Russian posters and its stocks are continually growing. With very rare exceptions one can find here works by all well-known poster artists and so gain a full impression of the way this art form evolved in Russia.
Springing from the printed placard, the pictorial shop sign and the popular lubok print, the poster emerged as a new genre at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth when the streets of Russian towns became covered in a colourful mass of advertising pillars, signs and announcements. Among them there were already significant works of the poster type, created by the artists Leon Bakst, Victor Vasnetsov, Konstantin Somov, Mikhail Vrubel and Valentin Serov. During the first Russian revolution of 1905-07, graphic art was extensively used for agitation purposes, giving the most direct reflection of the political ideas of the time. The most topical and effective proved to be the caricatures by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Ivan Bilibin and Boris Kustodiev in the periodicals Zhupel (Bugbear) and Adskaya Pochta (Mail from Hell), and also postcards on political subjects. The poster took on an important social aspect with the outbreak of the First World War when charity placards and advertisements for war bonds were very common.
The bourgeois-democratic revolution of February 1917 brought radical changes in artistic life. Professional artists took an active part in the organization of mass processions on the streets and theatrical spectacles.
The techniques which had already been developed by this time, successful prototypes of agitation art and the artists' own involvement in the mass events which had emerged as a significant feature of the period, laid the foundations for new aesthetic ideals and forms in poster art.
The poster had a potential which was unique at this time. One might say that it became a focal point for the most important political, social and artistic issues of the day. It is not without cause that the years 1918-20 are sometimes called "the poster period".
In autumn 1919 shop fronts in Moscow began displaying the first of the posters known as ROSTA Windows. These were produced in the poster department of the main news organization in the country, the Russian Telegraphic Agency (ROSTA).
The ROSTA Windows provided information about the latest events, propagandized and explained the decrees of the Soviet government and ridiculed its enemies.
The Prints Department possesses the largest existing collection of Petrograd Windows, a total of 115.
The poster retained its strong ideological relevance after the end of the Civil War when issues of reviving industry, improving agriculture and a cultural revolution were on the agenda. The leading style of the second half of the 1920s was Constructivism. Its exponents came up with new ideas in the realm of industrial art, book publishing, photography and the poster, striving to give practical expression to their sense of a social commission. Photomontage posters on topical political themes became very common in this period.
In the 1930s the poster was allocated a narrow utilitarian role as communicator of the ideas of the totalitarian regime.
During the Second World War the poster was in the forefront of the fight against the Nazis. In Moscow, Leningrad and other cities groups of poster artists formed to continue and revive the traditions of the ROSTA Windows. Wartime conditions made strict demands on the artists, prompting them to produce concrete, clear images with strong emotional intensity.
In the post-war years the poster was a trusty ideological tool of the Communist Party, consistently reflecting the aims and ideas of the party leadership, changes within the Soviet regime, and economic and cultural undertakings.
With the coming of perestroika the style and direction of posters changed. Artistic experimentation was coupled with a switch of attention to matters of genuine concern to people. Works appeared on previously forbidden subjects. Posters touched on a number of vitally pressing issues such as civil rights and youth problems.