Art Deco posters advertised not only products and events, but a lifestyle and attitude that evolved from moments in time across continents. Some of the most iconic images from the era were created by the revolutionary Art Deco artist A.M. Cassandre.
Table of Contents
- 1 Art Nouveau to Art Deco – Nature to machines
- 2 Turn of the century advertising
- 3 A.M. Cassandre – Art Deco posters as an art form
- 4 Cassandre launches his advertising career
- 5 Alliance Graphique – Art Deco travel posters & other commercial works
- 6 Art Deco fonts – Typography of the times
- 7 A.M. Cassandre – Visionary ad man
- 8 References
- 9 Additional Image Credits
Art Nouveau to Art Deco – Nature to machines
The Art Nouveau movement celebrated modern design, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, through the use of flowing curves and nature-inspired motifs. The organic aesthetic emphasized contours over color and evoked a dreamlike feel. Mythical faeries, floral blooms, vines and other natural forms were represented in muted tones of green, yellow, brown and blue. This ethereal and other-worldly look was incorporated in Tiffany glass lamps, the Eiffel Tower and the fantastical living architecture of Gaudi, which epitomized the era of Art Nouveau.
After World War I, however, Art Deco began to replace naturalist design with streamlined forms and geometric shapes. In France, the movement highlighted exclusive luxury, while the American offshoot elevated the democratic potential of new means of transportation and the evolution of the machine age. Art Nouveau embraced natural materials and textures, while Art Deco embodied the opposite – lacquers, wooden inlays, gold, stainless steel and other sleek modern materials.
Turn of the century advertising
The movement’s popularity grew after the 1925 French Exposition Internationales des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which showcased the emerging style in art, architecture and commerce. Its shortened name “Art Deco” is a perfect example of how life’s complexity was simplified for consumption by a wide audience. The hand-made artisanship of the earlier Arts and Crafts period was replaced by the clean lines of mass-production of the Machine Age.
The economy was booming during this timeframe. Advertising appealed to the optimistic spirit of those hoping to buy the latest consumer goods, pursue leisurely activities or travel the world. New products and services were developed every day, so the advertising poster was a great economical solution to grab people’s attention.
A.M. Cassandre – Art Deco posters as an art form
Graphic artists such as Paul Colin, Jean Carlu and Charles Loupot found commercial success, but no one is more identified with iconic Art Deco advertising than A.M. Cassandre. Born Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, he was classically trained in art at the Parisian Academie Julien and Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While there, his paintings evolved from the academic look of Cezanne and began to take inspiration from the Cubist and Bauhaus movements of the time. He began using the name “Cassandre” on these modernist works, which later became identified with Art Deco style.
Cassandre rejected the concept that art was for the elite or “bourgeoisie.” He observed that painting was increasingly evolving toward poetic “individual lyricism,” while poster art was much more utilitarian and spoke to a collective. Cassandre believed that the poster was far more relevant to contemporary life than the traditional easel painting. He desired to connect with a larger audience (and reap financial rewards), which encouraged him to let go of his earlier ambitions and commit to the emerging field of poster art.
Cassandre had a clear understanding of the role of the poster artist. He thought, “Designing a poster means solving a technical and commercial problem which has nothing to do with the artist’s own unique sensitivity. It means communicating with the masses in a language that can be instantly understood by the common man.” Cassandre was also keenly aware of the changing environment of the modern world and how that impacted visual communication. He was one of the first graphic artists to design advertising that could be read from fast-moving vehicles. This simplification of imagery and text are hallmarks of his memorable advertising.
Cassandre launches his advertising career
After completing his education, Cassandre began working from his own studio where he created the first poster that epitomized his truly unique style – Au Bucheron. This large-format advertising poster was created for a local cabinet maker and was seen throughout Paris. Parisians were drawn to this striking look and Cassandre’s reputation grew quickly. Au Bucheron earned him first place in the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes and his career as a graphic designer and artist took off after that.
Alliance Graphique – Art Deco travel posters & other commercial works
The success of Au Bucheron at the 1925 exposition enabled Cassandre to found his own advertising agency Alliance Graphique in 1926. The firm served a variety of clients, but Cassandre was most recognized for his Art Deco leisure and travel posters for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits.
Le Nord Express
Art Deco fonts – Typography of the times
Cassandre’s work is renowned for its blending of graphics and textual elements. His innovative use of typography as a graphic element was revolutionary, so it’s not surprising that he developed original Art Deco fonts. Over the years, he was commissioned by the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot to design a number of modern letter sets.
Bifur – Positively negative
The first font set that Cassandre created was Bifur. It was a bold sans serif alphabet comprised solely of capital letters and a Bauhaus look that has become synonymous with the Jazz Age. Through Bifur, Cassandre explored the use of negative space (with or without parallel lines) to emphasize stylized shapes to capture the viewer’s attention. These shapes conveyed the overall concept of the design while communicating information through the word read in its entirety.
Acier Noir – Fill in the blanks
The second major Modernist typeface Cassandre developed was Acier. Like Bifur, Acier was an all-capital sans-serif font set that experimented with the composite shapes that make up each letter. Rather than highlighting negative space, however, Acier emphasized individual elements through the use of outlined or filled-in contours. It may have been less spectacular than Bifur, but it was certainly more pragmatic for typographic use by newspapers and publishers.
Peignot – His most famous Art Deco font
Cassandre’s most recognized font was undoubtedly Peignot. This all-purpose typeface had both upper and lowercase letter sets that incorporated thick and thin lines to create a distinct and modern look. The curved lines and gracefully rounded edges of many letters helped give Peignot a subtle sophistication. This erudite quality made Peignot highly sought after by advertisers wishing to appeal to an upscale clientele. Peignot was even exhibited at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.
Yves Saint Laurent Logo
In his later years, Cassandre was commissioned by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge to design the branding for their revered fashion house. The resulting logo subtly mixed serif and sans characters that drew from both Italic and Roman inspirations. Its harmonious blend of letterforms created an elegant, yet contemporary look that reinforced the essence of the company. The iconic stacked YSL monogram remains a lasting testament to the inspired visions of the man who imbued his work with irreverence and modernity while giving a nod to the classics.
A.M. Cassandre – Visionary ad man
Cassandre’s work captured the zeitgeist of the era, because it, like the times, combined the old and the new. His iconic Art Deco posters and Art Deco fonts bridged the gap between traditional fine art and the commercial art of the new world of mass production. His work spoke to the modern masses while acknowledging the artistic surrealist brilliance of contemporaries such as Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst. Later in life, he taught graphic design at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs, as well as the Ecole d’Art Graphique. His timeless commercial designs have been frequently exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
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- AM Cassandre
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- Hypocrite Design Magazine
- Art History Unstuffed
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Additional Image Credits
- AM Cassandre – © Gaston Paris