Racing posters.

A chronicle of success.

Fast superlatives.

Motor racing history with stature.

They are impressive documents of contemporary history in a world of sporty superlatives. These masterpieces by Friedrich Karl Leibach, Theo Matejko, Walter Goschke and Hans Liska are an impressive display of the motor racing history of Mercedes-Benz in the period from 1908 to 1955.

Names like Lautenschlager, Caracciola, Fangio and Moss. Legendary races such as the Targa Florio, and the 24-Hours of Le Mans. Race tracks such as Avus or the Nuerburgring Nordschleife. These racing posters are the masterpieces of Friedrich Karl Leibach, Theo Matejko, Walter Goschke and Hans Liska.

Victory for the silver arrows – just another day at the races.

If Hans Liska or Walter Gotschke had been in Shanghai on 15 April 2012, it’s almost certain they would have immediately picked up their pencils to chronicle Nico Rosberg’s triumph at the Chinese Grand Prix – the first victory for a factory Silver Arrow since 1955. Back in their day, before the departure of Mercedes-Benz from Formula racing, victory was a common occurrence for the Silver Arrows. Illustrators such as Liska and Gotschke committed these moments of success to paper and documented them for future generations in their racing posters.

Drawings were used primarily due to the fact that the posters had to be published as quickly as possible after the race. The graphical art for the poster was already completed before the start of the race; the winner’s name was then simply added.

Triple victory in Switzerland on 21 August 1938, drawing by Walter Gotschke (detail).

Mercedes-Benz was often able to proclaim multiple winning finishes. But only once was a second-place finish announced with a poster. In 1952, after his racing comeback, an exception was made for Karl Kling.

Early racing poster from 1908 (detail).

Under the influence of Toulouse-Lautrec.

Although Mercedes-Benz motorcars had been extremely successful contenders since the first high-speed races at the end of the 19th century and had gained enormous publicity, it was not until 1914 that the first racing poster told of these wins. The poster was drawn by the French artist Henri Rudaux, who had already produced lithographies for the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. In terms of layout, Rudaux’s works ‒ inspired by the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s ‒ were already representative of the classic motorcar poster, which would remain essentially unchanged until 1954.

From then until the end of the 1920’s, purely typographic posters (“From one victory to the next! Mercedes successes in 1924”) marked the beginning of an aesthetically less brilliant period for the genre.

The “Picasso of the race track”.

Things did not change until 1934, when Mercedes-Benz re-entered Formula racing. It was then that a legend was born: from the very first start, the new Silver Arrows raced to victory on numerous occasions. But initially, the legendary race cars were nowhere to be seen on the racing victory posters. Beginning in 1935, tales of motorsport triumphs were once again being told with driver portraits, racing scenes and a self-confident tone. The posters increasingly had a graphic-design quality.

And from 1938 onwards, the designers of these mini-masterpieces were no longer anonymous. Walter Gotschke, frequently dubbed the “Picasso of the race track”, became one of the most famous automotive illustrators.

Pau Grand Prix, drawing by Walter Gotschke (detail).

His drawings follow a consistent pattern, with hushed tones and minimal use of colour. And the overall concept was becoming more and more uniform in layout and design.

Tourist Trophy Ireland 1955, design by Anton Stankowski (detail).

Anton Stankowski ushers in the modern age.

When the war was over, Hans Liska, a newspaper illustrator by training, became an in-house graphic designer at Mercedes-Benz and began creating advertising pamphlets and posters. When the car maker made its comeback in motorcar racing, there were once again racing triumphs to be documented, such as the victories of the 300 SL in Le Mans, on the Nürburgring and at the Panamericana. Liska, who had a keen sense of observation, was bound to specific guidelines – as Henri Rudaux had been half a century earlier. Nevertheless, he was able to impart an emotional quality and a formal cohesion to his posters. But days of this type of naturalistic and objective portrayal were numbered at Mercedes-Benz, too. In 1955 the car manufacturer ventured a bold step toward modernity, a controversial move which was hotly debated even within the company itself. The face of this new direction was Anton Stankowski, known today as the “father of concrete art”.

The end of the racing posters.

In 1955, Stankowski was commissioned to design posters for the entire racing series. Breaking from previous custom, his works were based on a single design, which according to the artist was originally far more radical and abstract. Each new poster was a variation on the original design. This reflected the fact that quite some time earlier, advertising art had begun to centre on recognition value, in a shift towards “corporate identity”.

Stankowski was the last artist to design posters for Mercedes-Benz independently. In fact, it was rather by chance that the graphic designer had even come to work for the car manufacturer. As Anton Stankowski explained in an interview he gave in the 1990’s, the then-head of advertisement at Mercedes-Benz lived just two houses down.

A latecomer in racing-poster style, from the 1960’s (detail).

The final victory of a factory Silver Arrow in Monza on 11 September 1955 and the company’s withdrawal from Formula racing marked the end of a motorsporting era – and was the death knell of the racing posters.

Related.