Reworking the ideas and the composition of an unpublished poster for yet another shipping line, Les Messageries Maritimes, Cassandre renewed his vision yet again in Italia Cosulich (1936), dramatically reducing the size of the three ships setting out to conquer a watery globe.
In two posters - Dunkerque Folkstone (1932) and Cherbourg (1933)-the theme of ocean travel is combined with the railroad theme. The latter work is especially interesting for its emphatically frontal composition enhanced by tall Egyptian characters, each one of which is colored separately - a graphic treatment which underscores the contrast in planes between the docked ship and the locomotives.
Cassandre first treated the theme of the rural landscape in L’Ecosse (1928)-or rather in a first unpublished version of this poster, which was presumably rejected because it gave too much weight to the railroad signal, framing a Scotland that is far less well characterized than in the published version. In Lys Chantilly (1930) the artist plays skilfully on the contrast between warm and cool green tones to suggest an opening in summer foliage. The twin Angleterre Ecosse poster of 1934 dans les Alpes (1935) complete the cycle of Cassandre’s works inspired by rural setting.were designed to be viewed together-hence their deftly contrasting tones. Two further works, the anecdotal Clacquesin (1934) and L’Eté
These -landscape- posters are very different from Cassandre’s other advertising designs. His attempt to straddle the borderline between a naturalism that was no doubt meant to appear full of wonder and the dictates of a synthetic approach to composition was bold, if not reckless. It forced him to draw on all the resource of his fertile plastic imagination. In the 1928 L’Ecosse and in Les Alpes he combines the elements of a broadly descriptive vision, fusing them in a remarkably concentrated image which appear to be cut out and placed over a meaningfully colored background. Elsewhere, his vision is expressed in an abbreviated, almost impressionistic manner.
Cassandre was later to write with a great deal of astuteness: “A thing that is merely imagined may well surprise or astonish the viewer. It may even hold his interest, but it will never move him. Only that which is experienced has this power to move and therefore to persuade.”
En Wagon-Lits de 2e Classe (1930), Cassandre’s last railroad poster and an example of a design inspired by the theme of the urban landscape, is unquestionably persuasive. The breathtakingly simple device of a red light glowing in the foggy darkness of a railroad siding is perfectly consistent with our poetically charged experience of looking out the window of a speeding night express. In the NE NY TO poster designed two years earlier (1928), Cassandre deals with the theme of the industrial landscape in a manner that is simultaneously picturesque, emblematic and ideographic. The cunningly staggered letters NE NY TO, their meticulously patterned brick texture and the remarkable typographical exercise in the composition of the text all contribute effectively to the meaning of the schematically rendered factory chimneys silhouetted against an unusually pictorial sky.
In Grandes Fêtes de Paris (1934), Cassandre celebrates Paris-the Paris of tourists and sunny days in late June when the statues in the parks are framed in foliage. His design has all the spontaneous charm of a free-hand sketch. In L’URSS (1934), a modern, industrialized Soviet Union is contrasted to the golden domes on Red Square. With its Roman arches, baroque entablatures, delicately tapering columns and fake marble, the charming, dreamy Paris of 1935 gives us a foreglimpse of Cassandre’s last stage designs. Vegetation and architecture are again combined in Stations Thermales (1935-1936), but in this case the poster’s interest lies in the bold color scheme.
In general, Cassandre framed his advertisements in carefully worked-out designs which gave them their eloquence. But every rule has its exception and at times the artist chose to disregard his own guidelines. Indeed one of the things that made him such a delightful person was his ability to contradict himself. Certainly the five works we will examine next are contradictory. They were designed to appeal to the eye and, give them their due, they succeed in doing so perfectly. This is especially true of the 1933 posters : Grèce, with its text composed in letters reduced to their simplest expression-like Bifur characters-in a style that is thoroughly in keeping wit the poster’s theme ; and Le Jour with its lovely design inspired by the theme of the dawning sun swallowing the night-a theme Cassandre touched on in a number of works. Fêtes de Paris (1935), Italia and Decorator’s Picture Gallery (both 1936) complete this decorative cycle.
The primary virtue of the IDEOGRAM is to be precise and clear, and this makes it a particularly effective instrument in advertising. By overturning the established order and scale of things to create a fictive counter-reality that is more explicit than reality itself, it becomes a poetic object in its own right.
A good example of the ideographic approach in Cassandre’s work is the poster for Chemins de Fer du Nord (1929), which was designed after Le Nouvelliste, L’Intransigeant, Le Kid, the 1927 advertisements for Le Progrès and EMSA and the five Vu posters of 1928. It derives its emotional strength from the ambiguous relationship between two superposed images: the unexpected confrontation between the emphatically objective treatment of the compass needle, which seems to be resting on the surface of the poster, and the vastly poetic image of the tracks viewed through the graphically rendered compass dial. So explicit is this image that the cloudlike work Nord seems to serve as a link between the two orders of reality-the tracks and the compass-rather than as a way of establishing the poster’s message.
Cassandre again uses the device of superposed images in Vinay (1930) to combine humorously a concretely rendered chocolate bar with the source of the milk used in manufacturing it-a cow’s udder.
In Triplex (1934), our attention is directed to the two eyes framed in the scaled-down rectangle of the safety-glass windshield. The idea of safety is convincingly communicated by the driver’s steady gaze. The image has the quality of a snapshot from which every detail that does not contribute fully to the message has been removed.
The same idea is expressed ideographically in a design for the cover of an advertising folder for the Triplex firm (A Deux Doigts de la Mort, 1932). Skilfully integrating the typographic message in the illustration, Cassandre uses totally different means here to achieve the same effect.
In Wagon Bar (1932), a descriptive rendering of a geometrically architectural still life is superposed over an impersonal photomechanical image of a train bogey-yet another successful example of the device of combining widely different modes.
Ferry Boats (1933) is an ideographic railroad bridge, so to speak, over a channel that is more evocative than any figurative representation could be.
Amplified by the gay complementary blue-and-yellow background, the phonograph of the laughing man in Pernod Fils (1934) is contained in the rounded forms of the bottle and glass (which reveal the grain of the blown-up half-tone). His face-that of the average Frenchman-is a far more eloquent advertisement than any slogan proclaiming the virtues of the alcoholic beverage manufactured by the firm whose name completes the ideogram.
In Prince’s Motorine (1934), the metallic hardness of a gear seen through a drop of oil is contrasted to the latter’s soft, suggestively colored curves in order to vaunt the lubricating qualities of the oil being advertised.
In Le Cuir (1934), a statuesque foot modeled in pink tone and supported by a non-skid leather ole is the only human presence in a damp winter sky.
There are so much pictorial devices in the more strictly graphic posters for RAI, Heemaf, Thomson, and Paris-Soir. In RAI (1929), an eye contemplating the hood of one of the automobiles on display at the Amsterdam auto show is enclosed within a tall vertical rectangle, of which the letter RAI form the base, and which is an effective way of structuring the composition. The eye’s significance is underscored by the difference in scale between it and the automobile, while the rectangular composition harmonizes these two disproportionate visual elements. The remarkably legible design for Thomson (1931) is based on a clever graphic pun on the word main-d’oeuvre (literally, hand-labor, i.e. hired help). A similar pun was fatal to a lovely poster designed in 1932 for the newspaper Paris-Soir, which enchanted me as a child of seven and is unfortunately no longer extant. The design included birds that appeared to be cut out of a newspaper and it seems that the client complained that they looked too much like ducks (the French for duck, canard, is also a slightly derogatory term for newspaper). In advertising even the suspicion of a negative connotation is enough to doom a poster, no matter how pleasing its design is.
In three of Cassandre’s ideographic posters a visual play on the letters of the text features prominently, so that the products they advertise are not only named but described as well. Spidoléine (1931) could have been designed by a Bauhaus typographer. The oil trickling from the can turns into a thin vertical line connecting the brand name with the clean sans serifs of the word sécurité. In Ideal Milk (1933) the thick multicolored letters of “fruits” are coated with the creamy white texture of a brand of concentrated milk. In Lanital (1935), milk poured from a can divides into three sinuous arabesques which have the same color as the bobbins of thread which define them concretely, while the letters forming the name “Lanital” are arranged in a curve and given a fluffy texture.
A number of Cassandre’s other ideographic designs exemplify his different approaches to the art of the poster and lend themselves readily to analysis, but they are less representative than the works I have just mentioned. They include Candide (1930), Paris Films (1931), Orange (1932), Pathé TSF (1932), the two Air Orient designs of 1932, the second version of Price’s Motorine (1935), Sniafiocco (1935) and the mysterious, nameless, undated 6-4-2.
This survey, which follows the windings of an analogical approach rather than a straight chronological order, brings us, finally, to the last of Cassandre’s five “registers”-the OBJECTIVE mode. Whenever the theme of the poster he was designing permitted, he strove to express the object being advertised according to its “laws of tension” in a plastic vocabulary that resembled according to the language of painting, whether it reflected the Cubist influence on the graphic arts an in his early work, or whether it evolved, as it did in his later work, toward a distinctly figurative discourse.
Characterized by the spirit of geometry, Cassandre’s first manner includes a number of posters designed before 1927 (another Pivolo design, Turmac, Réglisse Florent and the different versions of Huile de la Croix Verte, Huilor, and Onoto).
There is no question that Droste’s (1929), despite its obvious modular structure, is typically inspired. It indulges successfully, with a fine disregard for the laws of perspective, in a Cubistic-or rather Cézannian-expression of reality examined from all angles. More inventive in the way they combine image and typography, Ova (1929) and Delft (1931) belong to the same vein as well.
The 1930 Veramint design, on the other hand, is sheer poetic evocation. Here the figurative element is reduced to a bare minimum: a diagrammatic glass holding two straws, its contents spreading well beyond its graphic boundaries and dissolving in the warm navy blue and burnt sienna aura of summer. A few white strokes summarily indicate the perspective-free plane of the table upon which the glass is standing. Cassandre, ho claimed he designed this poster directly on the press, draws on all the resources of lithographic ink used transparently to celebrate the beverage’s cool taste in contrast to the heat of summer.
Cassandre further refines this approach in the unpublished Marie Brizard project of 1931. despite the small scale of the object being advertised, its reality is enhanced by the fact that it is enclosed within an imaginary space that is suggested through evocative forms and colors. Yet the very same year this was designed Cassandre abandoned his early approach, with De Vries Robbe, Stork Hijch and Champions du Monde, and began to search for a more realistic vocabulary. Nevertheless, his new works continued to exhibit traces of his initial determination to represent reality as an intellectual construction based on a simultaneous view of an object from all angles.
Spidex 7, which clearly owes some of its dryness to the theme it illustrates, inaugurates a hansoms series of posters. Remarkable for the spareness of their style, these works reflect an unflagging desire to give prominence to what characterizes the object-or feature-being advertised by choosing a significant angle and position and by modeling it to suggest its volumes. Whether it is executed in a range of greys or in the tones of anonymous fidelity to an ideal reality, the object appears larger than it is in real life. Further emphasized by a dramatic chiaroscuro, to which a more or less finely regulated air brush brings a variety of textures rendering the material it consists of, it stands out, a fully substantial thing, against a background of sharply contrasting or-in some cases, subtly evocative-colors.
Such is the case in Miniwatt (1931), Coupe Davis, Pathé records, Unic, Sanka and its Maison du Café variation (all 1932), as well as the 1933 Unic and two other posters designed that same year, Le Lait and Auer (a casualty of Cassandre’s objective experiments). The pack of cigarettes in Celtique (1934) might be the creation of a hyper- or neo-realist artist-except for the fact that the plane on which it rests so massively is a fake wood panel used strictly as a decorative background. Two unpublished posters for Nicolas also deserve mention here-or rather, two scaled-down brush-and-gouache maquettes (really two variations on the same theme) painted in 1935. in these handsome, well-balanced compositions of geometrically simplified forms, Cassandre, a connoisseur of Bordeaux wines like his father, reverently celebrates the Lord of Wine, before whose ruby glow dissolve muted harmonies of black, green and the grayish-brown tones typical of the artist. He reworked these designs in a 1935 project for Antar motor oils, but, not unsurprisingly, the result is far less inspired.
In two further works in the objective mode, Chat Noir (1932) and Borwick’s (1935), the formal poverty of the themes is offset by an artfully arranged still life. Still lifes also appear in De Stordeur (1933) and the exceptionally decorative design for Prunier (1934), but in both cases the artist has felt free to alter the scale of the different object he groups. Despite its realism, Milton design of 1934 is almost an ideogram. In Kisroul (1935), a finger pointing to a pipe makes it clear that the product being advertised is the pipe and not the cigarette tobacco (Kisroul = qui se roule, i.e. easy to roll). Pacific (1935) is a rather uninspired figurative design, except for the inventive typography of the brand name at the bottom of the poster. Vautier-César and Vautier-Marocaine (both 1935), on the other hand, are far more satisfying.
A number of Cassandre’s designs inspired by objects are centered on a text and they show the artist attempting to express reality through quasi typographical means. The earliest of these posters is Fizz (1927), followed by the dazzling 1931 Van Nelle - another virtual ideogram - Huilor, Champagne Mercier, Buvez du Champagne (all three designed in 1932), Aurore (1933), a third Unic poster, probably dating from the same period, and Toile de Lin (1935)
The second Italia (1936) and Simca 9900 (1936) defy analysis-or at least the analogical approach used here. In the first, a picturesque landscape is shown in the background, while the foreground is taken up by a series of more or less graphically expressed objects. The resolutely descriptive approach gives the objects an emblematic character. An earlier example of his procedure can be seen in La Roche Vasouy (1926). A number of advertisements, as we will see later, use the same strategy. As for Simca 9900, its interest is strictly historical. Loupot handled this type of design far more skilfully.
As should be clear from this synoptic approach, the purpose of which is to show the range of strategies Cassandre used in advertising, it is extremely difficult to define his style. To reduce it to the terms of an aesthetic dialectic would only be to limit it. For while Cassandre unquestionably has his own style, its most vital characteristic is that it cannot be enclosed in any system or within any limits other than those of the artist’s insight and intelligence.
This is the proper place to turns to the strictly manual aspect of Cassandre’s work as a poster artist-the tools and techniques he utilized. It is a truism to say that what distinguishes the poster as a pictorial creation is the fact that it exists only on condition that it can be reproduced and run off in thousands of copies without the artist’s intention being altered in any way. But at the time when Cassandre began designing, lithography alone satisfied this requirement. Like Chéret and, later, Loupot, Cassandre was not a lithographer by training ; he was obliged to adapt his methods to the exigencies of the lithographic process and prepare the ground for the lithographers whose task it was to transfer his designs by hand onto stone. Nor was it an accident that he preferred opaque gouache colors and that he stencilling brush on flat tints to give his modelling the grain that it would take when reproduced ; he also employed an air brush to create limpid impersonal gradations, and a wide flat brush which allowed him, when working on stone, to preserve a more palpable trace of his own touch. Whatever the technique he chose, he always identified with the gesture of the technician who was responsible for transcribing his pictorial intention.
In the twenties and thirties, when the tempo of work was less hurried than it is today, when rotary presses had not yet replaced flat-bed cylinder presses and stone was still being used instead of zinc, when color separation was still done by printing eight or nine colors separately, and there was no way of telling exactly what the final outcome would be until the sheet was engaged in the press for the final run, Cassandre often personally supervised the printing of his posters at the Danel or Courbet presses. The creation of a poster, up to the very last stage when it was ready to be displayed, was a collective-and manual-entreprise in those days, one that my father, judging from my memories of him a few years later, must have enjoyed immensely.
He was very particular about the reproduction of his designs, as particular as he was when conceiving, composing and executing them. He always insisted that they be sufficiently faithful-they could never be perfectly faithful-for him to feel satisfied that he had exhausted every available technical means. I can still hear him speaking to lithographers and printers grappling with their own technical problems-as I have heard him talking to stage hands in the theatre-explaining what he wanted with warmth, clarity, and simplicity.
In keeping with the thematic approach adopted here, Cassandre’s earliest typographical posters, though they belong to his first period as a poster artist, will now be discussed in conjunction with his later, purely textual designs, to show the evolution of his experiments in this field. In the curved 1925 Huilor composition, which is a typographical reminder of the illustrated Huilor of the same year (itself derived from a design for Croix Verte cooking oils), Cassandre uses dramatic lighting to transform the letters virtually into the object. More interesting, however, is the 1926 design A La Maison Dorée - a particularly successful example of a modular composition based on a 6:8 relationship. It inevitably recalls the work of the Bauhaus graphic artists. The German influence is apparent in the way the text is organized on the page and in the geometrical treatment of the letters connected by 45° diagonal lines and constructed, like the letters in Alber’s stencil alphabet, with three basic figures-a square, an isosceles right-angle triangle, and a half-circle.
With a monument typographical composition designed in 1928, J’Achète Tout aux Galleries Lafayette, Cassandre inaugurated a radically new approach to the typographical poster, one that was to be special to him for several years. The geometrical structure-far subtler than in A La Maison Dorée-is based on a rhythmical cascade of squares. It is further enriched by a distinctly pictorial treatment which endows the image-word with a surreal quality that transmutes it into an optically riveting poetic object.
Continuing his researches in this field, Cassandre designed a superb poster for Deberny & Peignot the following year. Unfortunately, it was displayed only on the company’s delivery trucks. The geometrical element is almost forgotten in the celebration of the dense objective nature of the typographical material. The “eye” of the noble Elzevir display letters, tracing a handsome graphic architecture on the ambiguous picture plane, fill the two squares of an improbable, Escher-like construction in which imagined reality appears more substantial than reality itself. The poster is a splendid stylistic exercise on one Cassandre’s favorite themes.
Paris Films (1931), with its bright electric lights and vibrating straight lines, is a remarkable anticipation of Op Art and kinetic art.
The Dubo Dubon Duonnet typographical poster of 1932 achieves the same dynamic quality as Paris Films, using far subtler means. Its strong three-part typographical statement echoes the triptych of the Dubo Dubon Dubonnet image sequence. The typographical designs for Filatures de la Redoute (1932), Alliance Graphique (1932), Visseaux (1933) and Saponite (1934) are equally evocative, despite their severity. In Filatures de la Redoute, a black rectangular “aperture”, from the center of which a strand of spun thread escapes, acts as a spatial reference for an expressive construction delicately modulated by the quiet tones of the individually colored letters. In Alliance Graphique, a white disk, like the sun sinking behind a stand of trees, gives the daring yet balanced composition its particular appeal. The brand name Visseaux seems to stir with life over the incandescence of the word lamps. In Saponite, the chromatic variations in the treatment of the shadows cast by the tall sans-serif imparts a concrete reality to the brand name, in contrast to the abstractness of the broadly undulating background.
Together with a number of compositions which have unfortunately been lost, Cassandre’s purely typographical experiments also include a pair of handsome designs executed in 1932 for the cover of two luxurious brochures - Fer Blanc and Acier - commissioned by the Office Technique pour l’Utilisation de l’Acier (OTUA).
Differing stylistically from the typographical posters just mentioned, 1er Salon de la Qualité Française and Wagon-Lits Reduction (1933 and 1935 respectively) foreshadow a new direction in Cassandre’s typographical explorations-a search for the inherent calligraphic virtues of the written letter.
This quest for a spare and elegant style is reflected in Cassandre’s studies for two new alphabets-especially that for his third alphabet, which was specifically designed for book work. After designing Acier, a black-and-grey display face, Cassandre began working, probably in 1933 or 1934, one a new type-“Peignot, designed by A.M. Cassandre”-which appeared in print for the first time on February 12, 1937. his intention was to create an all-purpose typeface including, of course, in three weight of type, display letters, upper and lower case. Despite the commercial failure of Bifur, Cassandre remained convinced that the only way to restore the dignity of the written word was to return to the Roman alphabet and to remove the decorative accretions which had accumulated around it over the centuries. What the twentieth century needed was a pure and noble letter. It would necessarily have to be a sans serif, Cassandre believed like the Weimar typographers, but… The essence of his creation lies in that but.
Before actually starting work on his design, Cassandre reflected, over a period of two years or more perhaps, on the evolution, or rather decline, of the original Roman alphabet. This naturally led him to consider the reading habits which have arisen over the centuries. His cogitations convinced him of two things. The first was that what holds true for the word in an advertising-the word used as a graphic entity, one that surprises us without giving us the time to become jaded-does not necessarily apply to the word printed in a book. For what gives charm to the printed line, what captivates and delights the eye-or what eye is accustomed to, which is perhaps all that counts-is the vital contrast between gracefully measured, well distributed thick and thin strokes.
Cassandre’s second conviction concerned lower-case letters, which re-derived from cursives that have been deformed by generations of scribes and have come down to the typographers in a much-bastardized form.
“Paradoxical as it may seem [says the text accompanying the specimen], Peignot is neither a “creation” nor an “innovation” in the commercial sense given too often to this words-a sense so vague that it is bound to create the wrong impression.
The fact is that the essential characteristic of the alphabet we are unveiling today is that it has not only been designed but also conceived differently from the host of characters which have preceded it… Its design is interesting only insofar as it is a material expression-but in that respect it is very interesting. Had it been designed differently, the appearance of each letter-and of the alphabet as a whole-would have been different; yet the essential principle, the very idea governing it, would in no way have been altered.
Peignot is not another purely decorative variation on a hackneyed theme. It involves the creation of a new theme, one that will in time be the point of departure for decorative experiments that will influence succeeding styles and fashions.
Having considered at length the evolution of letter forms throughout history, the designer has acquired the conviction that there is no reason for his evolution to stop.
Sharing the ideals of simplification, purity epigraphically (A) or cursively (a). each form correspond to an essentially different writing technique, and obviously the epigraphic form is far more logically suited to printing techniques than the cursive.and logic which inhabit all fields of contemporary art, the designer feels that there are only two ways of conceiving the sound A : either
The palaeographic lesson to be drawn from the album published by Mssrs Mallon, Marichal and Perret and from Monsieur Mallon’s film on the evolution of the letter, is that obviously the lower-case form a was initially nothing other than the form A deformed by scribes, up to the invention of printing… In its efforts to imitate manuscripts, printing at first adopted the minuscule and this subsequently inspired all manner of decorative variations. This is true not only of the lower-case a, but of a large number of letters as well. For that matter, if c, i, o, s, u, v, x and y all retain the same original form in upper-and lower-case, it is merely because these simple shapes are easy to write and there was no need for scribes to simplify them further.
There is no technical reason in printing why we cannot return to the noble classical shapes of the alphabet and discard the lower-case forms, which will soon come to seem as archaic as the shapes of Gothic characters.
One condition alone must be fulfilled: the character must be legible. Now it is obvious that a text in capitals is less legible than a text in lower-case letters. Why is this so? The only reason is that the word tends to assume a monotonous rectangular appearance offering no familiar distinguishing feature to assist the eye. The eye grasps the outline of a word or word group; it does not spell out each letter. It does not break down the word into letters-only the proofreader’s eye does that.
The eye has become accustomed to long ascenders and descenders and this habit must be respected. That is why, in Peignot, we have not done away with those indispensable aids to rapid reading. None of the ascenders or descenders is anachronic, however: l, b and f are atrophied capitals; h and k are capitals transformed into lances, for easy reading ; p, q, and y are capitals which have dropped from the base line. Only one minuscule has been retained-the cursive form d. Our reading habits being what they are, it would not have been feasible to conceive it differently.
This new principle may jar the reader at first. But while there are honorable habits which deserve to be respected, there are others which can easily be dispensed with, since they have no deep physiological roots in the individual. New habits will replace them. Didot types would have jarred the sensibilities of medieval scribes.
Letters evolve very slowly over centuries. This is not to say that they have ceased evolving. It took the scribes ten centuries to alter the Roman capitals; it will take five centuries for printing to influence the basic shape of letters.
The rest was only a matter of talent and sensitivity-and on these points Cassandre could be trusted.
Cassandre, as we have seen, never made a secret of the fact that he preferred capitals to lower-case letters. He liked their noble architecture based on the compass and T-square. This was an aesthetic choice. It reflected a bias toward the spirit of geometry rather than toward the spirit of refinement. In the lower-case Peignot characters, clear evidence of this is found in the capitals replacing the minuscules a, e, q, h, m, n, r. it is obvious too that, notwithstanding Cassandre’s affirmation that these substitutions are the result of a logical process based on historical considerations, his aesthetic choice was fundamentally subjective. The sharps of the lower-case Roman alphabet simply did not satisfy his standards of beauty.
To be sure, up to the great Carolingian reform of 789, writing-which was the province of scribes-did not evolve in a straight line. There were hesitations, transitional forms, reversions. But the reform, which was made necessary by the need to propagate ideas freely throughout the Holy Roman Empire, put an end to the vagueness, not to say anarchy, which had been the rule in this field for close to ten centuries.
What Cassandre was disputing, therefore, was the shape established by the Carolingian edict. But whereas the reformers had wisely chosen to perpetuate in standardized form centuries of written practice, Cassandre proposed nothing less than a revolution. Now the history of writing, as we know, tells a story of gradual change, not violence.
“[…] There are conventions of an affective order, and characters and the way they are ordered procure certain satisfactions to the members of the human communities which use them, in accordance with the inclinations of their spirit. Even though it has definitely severed its ties with its pictographic origins, writing is related to the art of drawing; like any art, it involves questions of mass psychology and the psychology of populations. Aesthetics and psychology are delicate subjects to handle and among the last to be approached with scientific methods […].”
Inasmuch as lower-case Peignot did not take psychological factors into account, it signed its own death warrant. The baleful effects of photo-composition have contributed to its failure. Strangely enough, though, on those rare occasions when it is used, its unique structural characteristics seem to predestine it to appear in titles, subtitles and even logos-a complete contradiction of its original purpose.
This is unfortunate. Lower-case Peignot is a handsome character; it is elegant, sensitive, beautifully proportioned. Had it not been for its subversive aspects, it would doubtless have been the ideal vehicle for modern thought.
In January 1936, the Museum of Modern Art in New-York organized the first exhibition of Cassandre’s poster in America. The following sentence from Ernestine M. Fantl’s witty introduction to the catalog suggests why, in the context of American advertising in the thirties, this exhibition was significant: “[…] Advertising, in general, is geared to the intelligence of a child in order to insure universal comprehension. In America the main emphases are apparent: Sex Appeal (young ladies of fabulous face and figure); Statistics (different but equally fabulous figures); Fear (will your best friend tell you ?). A tooth-paste advertisement achieved widespread notoriety by combining all three. Beneath the picture of a beautiful girl (formula No. 1) appears the legend “4 out of 5 have it” (formula No. 2),-the implication (formula No. 3) […].”
Cassandre designed an ideographic illustration for the cover of the catalog: it shows an allegorical figure with its eye pierced by an arrow-an amusing way of expressing his view of advertising.
The exhibition made enough of an impact on American advertising circles, if not on the general public, for Cassandre, encouraged by some of his friends, to sign a contract with Harper’s Bazaar for the design of their covers, and to decide to spend the winter of 1936-1937 in New York.
For Cassandre, the thirties were rich in important encounters. Professionally, the most important was the encounter with Maurice Moyrand. It was Moyrand who commissioned Cassandre’s first railroad posters. His father, André Moyrand, was one of the directors of the Chemins de Fer du Nord. André Moyrand asked his son to find someone to design a poster for the Nord Express. Maurice Moyrand contacted Cassandre, whose work he was acquainted with and admired. This was the beginning of a relationship based on deep mutual esteem. Moyrand had exceptional gifts of his own. Thanks to his dynamic, daring personality and his extraordinary persuasiveness, he rose rapidly and was soon heading L. Danel’s publicity department in Paris. He went on to found the Compagnie Artistique de Publicité and then, in 1930, with Loupot and Cassandre, the Alliance Graphique. He commissioned over forty Cassandre’s French posters as well as several of Loupot’s designs and encouraged a number of younger artists entering the field. Moyrand made the Alliance Graphique the spearhead of the modern poster. He died in an automobile accident in 1934 ; to Cassandre, always on excellent terms with him, this was an irreparable loss.
In 1927 J. Th. Pick, the director of the Rotterdam publishers Nijgh en Van Ditmar, offered to go into partnership with Cassandre. The relationship between the two men was not limited to the publication of some ten Cassandre posters between 1927 and 1931. Pick and his wife frequently stayed at Cassandre’s house in Versailles, as did Cassandre and his mother at the Pick’s delightful property near The Hague.
I do not know whether it was Etienne Nicolas himself, Georges Draeger (who was running the prestigious printing establishment in Montrouge at the time) or Maurice Moyrand who commissioned Cassandre to design the first price list for Nicolas wines in 1930. In any event, this commission marked the beginning not only of Cassandre’s collaboration with the Draeger brother but also of his privileged relationship with Etienne Nicolas. “Le Père Nicolas”, as my father called him in a warm expression of his respect for the great entrepreneur (an enthusiastic art lover and distinguished collector of Dutch masters), was quite capable of recognizing Cassandre’s graphic talents and deciding on his own to hire the young artist to design the luxury publications which he printed himself in commissioning for his firm. A second price list, which Cassandre designed in a manner inspired by the court of Louis XIV, appeared in 1935, followed by a third price list in 1937, illustrated with woodcuts by Galanis (which had the added distinction of being the first publication composed in Peignot). Cassandre also designed a book for Nicolas, Mon Docteur le Vin (1938), which was illustrated with watercolours by Dufy and was printed on the Draeger presses. Cassandre’s collaboration with the printers did not end there. In 1935 Draeger published Le Spectacle est Dans la rue, an album of reproductions with an introduction by Blaise Cendars. In this beautiful book, the printers took pride in announcing that many of Cassandre’s posters had been printed on their presses. The artist’s relations with Draeger continued to be excellent and, as we will see, resulted in several further projects.
In the spring of 1935, Cassandre discovered Balthus and his paintings. Unless I am mistaken, it was Varia Karinska, who had just completed her costume designs for Antonin Artaud’s Cenci, who introduced them. My father did not get a chance to see this short-lived spectacle, with its beautiful stage designs by Balthus, but his meeting with the artist was to have an important bearing on his career in the future. Hitherto he had admired chiefly Bonnard, Derain, and Segonzac. Balthus’ painting came as a revelation. Moreover, the artist’s personality captivated Cassandre-whose first reaction was to commission a portrait of my mother.
It was in the summer of that same year that, through Gerald Kelly, Cassandre met the American artist Leslie Saalburg and his wife Lola. Their friendship, cemented a year before Cassandre’s trip to the United States, paved the way, in a sense, for that visit. Leslie Saalburg’s work as an illustrator and advertising artist enabled him to travel back and forth between France and the United States. He encouraged Cassandre to try his luck on the other side of the Atlantic. In the fall of 1936, Leslie Saalburg, his mother Allen-also a painter-Jean Lurçat and Cassandre shared a studio in New York.
But before sailing for the United States, Cassandre spent the summer at Ghiffa on the shores of Lago Maggiore in Italy. This was no holiday stay, however-Cassandre never took a vacation! As the Mussolini regime had passed a law forbidding Italian companies from commissioning French artists, Cassandre’s future publisher in that country, Augusto Coen, invited him to come and work in Italy during the summer as a way of circumventing this regulation. The three Italian posters of 1936 were designed at Ghiffa, with the collaboration of Savignac, who had been working as Cassandre’s assistant for several years and had loyally followed him to Italy. In order to obtain a visa from the all-powerful Italian Tourist Office, the posters were signed, in a transparent subterfuge, with the monogram A.M.C.
Henri Mouron, AM.CASANDRE.1984
Translated by Schirmer / Mosel Production
Schirmer / Mosel Production © Mouron.Cassandre.All Rights Reserved.