Poster draft, undated. Ginder-Ale. Client: Brauerei Ginder-Ale, Martinas, Merchtem. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Celebrating Donald Brun’s 108th birthday

Donald Brun was born in Basel on 30/10/1909, exactly 108 years ago today. Since Brun completed his apprenticeship as an advertising illustrator in 1930, the techniques and tools have changed. Yet his posters are still understood today and some humour is timeless.

If you open one of the numerous acid-free boxes of poster drafts by Donald Brun in the Swiss National Museum’s prints depot, you delve into a colourful world. One that is both colourful and richly populated! That’s because this graphic designer liked to bring the products in his advertising posters to life. For example, an advertisement for hoses does not simply show a lifeless tool; it demonstrates the useful, beneficial and obviously pleasing effect of the product for sale in a very tangible manner. The hose becomes the trunk of an elephant, which observes the pleasing effect out of the corner of its eye with an apparent smile.

A bar of Toblerone is also brought to life. The proud posture of the chocolate motivated the graphic designer to turn it into a star – a kind of singing sensation with a chocolate microphone, which was bound to please the client. Though there are two ways of reading this image – it might also be that the Toblerone with silver wavy hair is not singing but about to snack on another Toblerone bar. You are what you eat, you might think, but that will send us down the path of discussing chocolate cannibalism, and we are not going to go there.

Poster draft, undated. Hose advertisement with elephant. Company unknown, logo not identifiable (Behrmann/Bosshard hoses/Gummi Maag?). Photo: Swiss National Museum

Poster draft, undated. Toblerone. Client: Tobler & Co. AG, Berne. Photo: Swiss National Museum

This Basel designer did not just promote products of everyday use or consumption – the chemical industry was also a major client. He designed numerous exhibition stands for companies in the chemical industry at the Basel Sample Fair, and he also created the Pavilion for Chemistry at Expo 58 in Brussels. This is also evident in Brun’s poster work.

Although a huge variety of products are advertised here, the drafts and posters clearly show that this freelance graphic designer enjoyed placing the advertised product in the limelight, generally with very few words and plenty of wit and colour instead.

Painkiller poster “... wieder vögeliwohl. Contra-Schmerz. Gegen Kopfweh, Migränen, Rheuma, Erkältungserscheinungen.”, 1944. Client: Dr. Wild & Co., Basel. Photo: Swiss National Museum

With brush and ink

From 1927 to 1930, Donald Brun completed a three-year apprenticeship as an advertising Illustrator under Ernst Keiser, who was a calligraphy teacher back then on the professional graphic design course at the General Vocational School in Basel. This job title of advertising illustrator also describes Brun’s technical approach very well. Rarely did he work with the medium of photography; he almost always designed his posters graphically. This was a philosophy that he also passed on during his many years as a specialist teacher (1946-74) at the Vocational School in Basel. He demanded from his students that the drafts were designed using pencil, ink and brush on paper.

This use of a photograph is extremely rare for Brun and can be interpreted as a concession to the client. Poster draft, 1969. “Bata”. Client: Bata. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Scissors and glue are also among the tools often used by Brun. He often designed his poster drafts as collages. For example, he used a box of cigars to represent the body of the famous Gauloises rooster. He also used this technique with other birds, such as the beautifully stylish Merrent bird advertising clothing for men and women. Even though clothing fashions change and the techniques used by graphic designers today are different, Donald Brun’s posters still make so many people smile with their rich colours and humour.

Poster draft, 1958. Client: Gauloises. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Poster draft, undated. Client: Gauloises. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Poster draft, 1970. “Merrent. Herren- und Damenkleider”. Client: Merrent [?]. Photo: Swiss National Museum

Donald Brun, around 1940. Photo: private collection R. Kupper

Daniela Schwab
Daniela Schwab is a historian and curator for prints, old prints and rare books as well as Swiss graphic design at the Swiss National Museum.

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