He brought Picasso, Karel Appel and Michael Jackson into millions of living rooms

If there was a Nobel Prize for the dissemination of culture, Engel Verkerke, who died on Thursday at the age of 97, would have been a serious contender. The Poster Pope, as one of his nicknames went, introduced art to millions of households worldwide as a publisher of affordable prints and posters. At a time when reproductions of paintings cost 25 to 50 guilders (then the price of a new bicycle), Verkerke began publishing a large number of prints and posters in the late 1950s. He offered them for sale for 4.50 guilders, as consumables that could be replaced after a while.

Liberation of the Churchc. 1969. Successful Verkerke poster in the 1970s of a nun with a portrait of Che Guevara (Photo Riehl, 1969).

Photo Bob Tursack


His reproductions of paintings by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec and Karel Appel adorned living rooms. In teenage rooms, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson hung on the wall. Posters from the anarchist protest movement Provo, the red-and-black portrait of Cuban guerrilla Che Guevara and ‘Easy Rider’ Peter Fonda on his chopper were hung with thumbtacks or tape in student rooms. In the 1970s, Verkerke even managed to find a large audience for British fashion photographer David Hamilton’s nude teenage girls.

“Art for the people”, the former communist Verkerke described his mission. “And besides making a lot of money, of course, you know. Lots of money.”

The truth

Engel Philippus Verkerke was born in 1924 as the son of a metal worker in Rotterdam. He started as a journalist at the former resistance newspaper The truthworked in the communist bookshop Pegasus in Amsterdam, but lost faith in Marxist ideals after the Hungarian uprising of 1956. “What I thought was the most humane system turned out not to be,” he later said in the newspaper. General trade journal.

Verkerke got a new start as an employee of a wholesaler of school supplies. When school administrators asked for alternative wall decorations and his boss saw nothing in his plan to publish prints, he founded Verkerke Reproductions in 1957. His first print, an ink drawing of a galloping horse by Chinese artist Xu Beihong, was in high demand.

Also read: Engel Verkerke’s posters: always something sinful

Together with his wife, Verkerke worked fifteen-hour days for years, including weekends. In 1963 he was able to employ his first employee, the year after the second. By 1978, the company had grown to become the European market leader with 350 employees spread over eight countries and its own stores in the Netherlands. Verkerke Reproductions sent 20 million posters a year from Ede to more than a hundred countries. Television had trained us to be viewers, Verkerke explained about his company’s rise. This summer, Design Museum Den Bosch is dedicating an exhibition to the meaning of the Verkerke posters, which can be seen until 2 October.

Angel Verkerke in 2013.
Photo by Chris Pennart

Luck

Verkerke was adept at acquiring reproduction rights. He traveled a lot, called celebrities if necessary and dared to bet big on copyrights. Sometimes he was lucky too. In the early 1980s, when he was negotiating with the agent of the popular British pop band Duran Duran, he had to take the poster rights from three then unknown artists. Their names: Madonna, Whitney Houston and George Michael.

In 1987, Mundadori, the publishing group of major shareholder Silvio Berlusconi, bought Verkerke Reproductions. A few years later, the Italians sold the company to Hallmark, an American greeting card company for billions of dollars.

Verkerke was satisfied with the new owners, he said in a radio interview with Ischa Meijer in 1989. When asked why he stayed on as director for years after the takeovers, he replied: “There is only one Engel Verkerke.” A print should have something cheeky, he explained to Meijer. How was the selection process? One Monday morning, Verkerke said, he asked his operator if she had already danced the lambada. When the woman replied that she thought sensual Brazilian dancing was so dirty, Verkerke knew enough: “The Lambada had poster quality.” After that, it was just a matter of finding the right pictures.

Verkerke was a gifted storyteller with an iron repertoire of anecdotes that he had refined during his frequent café visits. At Meijer’s urging, he told the listeners of his VPRO program – a story from another age.

The first ‘gay poster’ from 1969.
Photo Jean-Paul Vroom

At the book fair in Frankfurt, where Verkerke sold his posters every year, he met a German interpreter with particularly beautiful breasts in a Japanese booth, ‘a childhood dream’. “Stands on its own,” Verkerke told Meijer, unable to resist the temptation to grab the woman on the trading floor by her breasts.

According to the poster pope, the woman pretended nothing had happened and started a good conversation. Verkerke: “I still told her: ‘Das tue ich fast niemals und auch nicht wieder.’ On each new visit to the fair, according to Verkerke, he went to visit the woman to shake her hand.

Verkerke told this (made up?) story with the timing of a conference, without ever falling out of his role. Meijer, meanwhile, cried out, as did the pub crowd attending the radio taping.

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