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Museum of Fine Arts Boston presents The Postcard Age. Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) presents The Postcard Age. Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, an exhibition on view through April 14, 2013, in the Lois B. and Michael K. Torf Gallery.

Saint-Sauveur, Bruxelles S. Bailie, Saint-Sauveur, Bruxelles, about 1910. Color lithograph (divided back). Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive—Promised gift of Leonard A. Lauder. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the decades around 1900, a craze swept the world as postcards—a fast and innovative way to communicate—became the email, Twitter, and Flickr of the age. Billions upon billions of cards were bought, mailed, or collected in albums. Many famous artists turned to the postcard as a new artistic medium, but one of the great pleasures of postcards is how some of the most beautiful and interesting cards were made by artists whose names are barely known today. In celebration of the 2010 promised gift from Leonard A. Lauder of nearly 100,000 cards given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), the Museum will present The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection. The exhibition will feature nearly 700 stellar examples of works drawn from the riches of the Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive, probably the finest and most comprehensive collection of its type. The Postcard Age will showcase European and American postcards as both graphic art and historical phenomenon, illustrating how big themes of the modern age— enthralling, exciting, and sometimes disturbing—played out on the postcard’s tiny canvas.

New York collector Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of the Estée Lauder Cosmetics Company and an Honorary Overseer and Eminent Benefactor of the MFA, began collecting postcards when he was seven years old, and since then has assembled one of the finest holdings of the medium. It ranges in date from 1872 to the present day and includes postcards from around the world. In 2002, he generously gave the MFA more than 20,000 Japanese postcards highlighting several important periods in that country’s history, and in 2009 gave a group of World War I-era posters to the MFA. Along with his 2010 promised gift of 100,000 postcards, Mr. Lauder, through the American Art Foundation, endowed the position of Leonard A. Lauder Curator of Visual Culture. The gifts of the two postcard collections are among the largest the MFA has ever received, and have transformed the Museum’s holdings of works on paper.

Printed on plain stock and measuring 51⁄2 by 31⁄2 inches, the humble postcard was introduced in 1869 by the Austro-Hungarian postal service as a fast and inexpensive mode of communication. It soon became a worldwide sensation, exploding into a mass medium, especially in the decades between 1890 and 1910. In 1903 alone, more than a billion cards passed through the German postal system. Postcards revolutionized the way people connected to one another. They were a truly democratic art form, accessible to a wide audience for just pennies, and provided a new arena for artistic experimentation. In addition, they chronicled social change and served as a vehicle for commerce and propaganda.

The Postcard Age takes visitors back in time to a tumultuous era in Europe and the Americas, when industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and shifting viewpoints about culture, class, women’s rights, and new money shook society. The dynamism of the era was embodied in the postcard mania, which reflected the obsession with novelty and the “need for speed,” while making inexpensive communication available to all.

The exhibition showcases a wealth of beautiful and dramatic designs by well-known artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky and Alphonse Mucha, as well those less well known, and even still unidentified. They will be arranged thematically: Paris; The Craze; Style; About Town; Women; Famous and Familiar; Power, Speed, and Flight; Making the Sale; Healthy Bodies; Around the World; and The Great War.

For more information, visit or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.