December 28, 1895, marks the rudimentary inception of the commercial film industry as we know it. On this day, a series of shorts by the Lumière brothers, inventors and technological pioneers in the photographic and film industries, was shown, to a skeptical public, in the world’s first public screening of a film.
A poster illustrating the day, “Cinématographe Lumière,” was immortalized in a drawing by Henri Brispot, going up for auction by Sotheby’s on August 28. The work of art is considered the world’s first film poster.
The corporation is putting on an auction of 164 rare film posters, celebrating the artistry of advertisement and design in the film industry as museum-worthy pieces of art. And by acquiring Brispot’s “Cinématographe Lumière” for the sale, they nabbed the first film poster in history.
The auction house says the linen-backed poster is rare, only seen a few times prior to its display in their London gallery. Previously in the collection of a French connoisseur for over 40 years, they estimate the piece of cinematic history will fetch between £40,000–60,000 (~$51,000–64,000).
Brispot drew, in muted hues, the bustle of Parisians about to experience an unprecedented moment in technology and art. In reality, the moviegoers were skeptical of the concept of moving pictures. Held in the Salon Indien of the Grand Cafe, the 20-minute-long event was modest, only bringing in around 30 patrons, though the Lumière’s had planned to seat 100.
The brother’s cinématographe, stationed on a step ladder, projected a series of shorts across a white sheet for the small group. The set of 10 features were met with suspicion, shock, fear, and excitement.
Sotheby’s says, “It marked the public beginning of one of the most important cultural, artistic, and social phenomena of the 20th century.”
Victor Perrot, a French writer present at the screening, called it a “great historical first.” He said when the lights were dimmed, one woman shrieked in terror. Other patrons whispered of wizardry and deception, wary of the technological advancement, and finding the projection conceivably impossible.
Some of the 1895 films, like Le Saut à la couverture (Jumping the Blanket) and La Pêche aux poissons rouges (Fishing for Goldfish), are still available online. L’Arroseur Arossé (Tables Turned on the Gardner) is considered the first comedy film.
Though invited, Parisian journalists were absent from the screening. Regardless, news of the motion pictures spread quickly, and within days the Lumière’s breakthrough and the event had been covered widely. There was an instant upturn in the film’s reception, and on January 1st and 2nd, 1896, nearly 2,500 people paid 1 franc each to see the Lumière’s cinematic breakthrough. Posters were printed and plastered throughout the city of Paris, with Lumière cinemas opening internationally.
The poster is an insight into late 19th-century Parisian culture, and an example of the vast revolution the movie industry and cinematic technology have undergone. The thought of moving stills being met with the skeptics decrying witchcraft seems far removed from multi-million dollar epic blockbusters, complete with nearly flawless computer-generated imagery (CGI).