Selling War Like Margarine

Writer Jan Myrdal and artist Gun Kessle have donated a collection of valuable posters that were the base of an exhibition that explored wartime propaganda.

The National Library exhibited the posters again in 2005-2006. The exhibition title was deliberately chosen. Selling War Like Margarine shows that propaganda can be considered very cynical. We must not forget that propaganda is all about marketing techniques and ethical values have nothing to do with it.

Poster by Adolph Wilette 1917  ©Adolph Willette 1917

Is it really possible to market an idea about going to war? You can look for the answer in the posters in the exhibition catalog, which has the same title as the exhibition. It is a matter of advertising or marketing. The mechanisms triggered by advertising are the same, whether the “product” is war and misery or an everyday commodity like margarine.

Poster by Maurice Neumont 1918  ©Maurice Neumont 1918

Art and Propaganda

The exhibition is about wartime propaganda in France, but also looks at the poster artists. In France, artists were not considered inferior because they created illustrations in advertising contexts. Even Henri Toulouse-Lautrec did advertising. The National Library shows a cavalcade of pictures that have an impact through their strong messages, but also because they are often esthetically and artistically sophisticated. Thus the poster exhibition becomes an artistic journey through history that provides insight into world events of the 20th century.

Anonymous 1943   Anonym 1943

Historical Documents

The National Library published an exhibition catalog in partnership with Leopard förlag. Jan Myrdal wrote the texts about the posters, making for exciting reading in which the history comes alive. Jan Myrdal and Gun Kessle’s extensive knowledge clarifies wartime developments. Should there be any doubts, the posters (the original documents) still exist as physical proof. It was the posters that once hung on walls and pillars and influenced the people to think and believe as the powers-that-be wanted them to. It is then one can understand the meaning of the expression the “wing beats of history.”

Last updated: 2008-04-28
Contact person: Catarina Nordling, e-mail:
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