- City Guides
An Old-Time View of the 21st Century
Retrofuturistic images from France and Germany offer a historic glimpse into the Year 2000
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
It’s always fascinating to see how people of the past imagined the future, especially when they did it in visual form. Back around 1900, a French artist named Jean-Marc Côté created a series of images depicting life in the year 2000. He produced them for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, where they were intended for use as postcards or cigar box inserts. However, they were never distributed and remained in obscurity until they were discovered many years later by science-fiction author Isaac Asimov. He published them with commentary in his 1986 book, Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000.
A French artist known as Villemard created a similar set of images around 1910. And around 1899, Theodore Hildebrand and Son, a German chocolate maker, commissioned a set of illustrations for cards that were enclosed with its confections. These images depicted German life in the year 2000.
In many respects, these images show great imagination, but they also demonstrate the ways in which artists are unconsciously constrained by their cultural environments. For example, they did not anticipate changes in fashion styles, and you’ll note the preponderance of balloons and propellers. The drawings could easily pass as steampunk imaginings, set in an alternate-world 19th century.
The images are in the public domain and can be downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. Many of the Côté and Villemard illustrations have been scanned at relatively high resolutions, but others are too small to appreciate. So we used Gigapixel AI, a program from Topaz Labs, to enlarge them to HD resolution. It’s similar to the algorithms employed by YouTuber Denis Shiryaev to scale old film footage to 4K resolution. We used other software tools to reduce noise and other artifacts in all the images.