Cover: ...A Lâ€™ Eau (Dubonnet), 1934, Lithgraphic poster, 26 x 36 cm, Alliance Graphique, Paris, Collection Susan J. Pack, New York
A.M. Cassandre was a painter, commercial poster artist, typeface designer, and stage designer.
The Beginning Years
A.M. Cassandre the Exposition Internationale, Paris 1937. Private collection
A.M. Cassandre was born Adolphe Jean Marie Mouron, on January 24, 1901 in Kharkov, Ukraine. To find profession freedom, Cassandreâ€™s father ran away to Russia at the age of 17. In Russia, he joined his uncle, who imported French wines. Although his father married a Russian, in general, he despised them and sent his children to France for their schooling. A.M. Cassandre was the youngest child and had to remain in France because of World War I. Ironically for one of the most celebrated designers of all times, Adolphe had decided to become a painter upon graduating from high school.
Education Cassandre entered school at the Ă‰cole des Beaux-Arts but walked out after one hour. He then studied with Lucien Simon at AcadĂŠmie Julian. In order to earn money for his art studies, he took a job at the Hachard & Co. Press. He only turned to the art of poster, under the name A.M. Cassandre, in the hopes that it would make him self-supportive enough to soon drop it and dedicate himself to painting.
Lâ€™ Interansigeant, 1925, Lithographic poster, 120 x 160 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Private collection, Paris
Au BÛcheron, 1923, Lithographic poster, 150 x 400 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Collection Musée de la Publicité, Paris
As a Designer Cassandre earned a reputation as the designer of bold, stringently geometric posters in the Art déco style. A.M. Cassandre received his first commission for a large poster rom the Paris furniture store Au Bûcheron in 1923. He designed hundreds of posters, among them posters for the apéritif Pivolo (1924), the newspaper “L’Intransigeant” (1925), and Pernod (1934). For the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Nord Railroad Company and several passenger steamship lines, A.M. Cassandre designed posters in a stringently constructive formal language that pays obvious tribute to the power of the machine.
Pivolo, 1924, Lithographic poster, 97 x 130 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Collection Susan J. Pack, New York
Nord Express, 1927, Lithographic poster, 75 x 105 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Private collection, Paris
Etoile Du Nord, 1927, Lithographic poster, 75 x 105 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Collection Posters Please, Inc., New York
Saga, 1927, Lithographic poster, 80 x 120 cm, Hachard & Cie, Paris, Collection BibliothĂŠque Forney, Paris
Statendam, 1928, Lithographic poster, 75 x 105 cm, Nijgh en Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, Collection BibliothequĂŠ Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes, Paris
Text in Posters Poster design, at the time, usually left the lettering for last, placing it at random on the illustration or squeezing it in a convenient corner. Cassandre radically changed that approach: â€œthe design should be based on the text and not inverselyâ€?. In Cassandreâ€™s work it is the text that sets the creation process in motion. For his typography, Cassandre used almost nothing but san serif capitals, which owing to their simplicity were particularly well suited to the modular construction method he favored. Another advantage they presented was that they could be deformed and remain legible. Cassandre was unfailingly loyal to the uppercase because he considered the lowercase to be a manual distortion of the monumental letter. He wanted the primitive letter, a product of T-square and compass, the only letter to be truly monumental, because he hoped to restore the largescale monumental painting of the finest periods of art history. Such was his state of mind about type
Ne Ny To, 1928, Lithgraphic poster, 75 x 105 cm, Nijgh en Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, Collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Cover of Acier speciman, Deberny & Peignot, 1930
From the Eifur specimen, 1929
Typefaces by A.M. Cassandre
when he started designing fonts himself in 1927. He first invented the Bifur font used in the poster for Pivolo. Bifur was intended to surprise; its letters were to impress themselves on the viewer’s mind because they don’t have the appearance of conventional letterforms. Cassandre created the font by simplifying the architecture of the alphabet: he stressed its geometric qualities, eliminated all horizontal lines that could be removed and filled in the spaces with grey. He stripped the letterforms down to their essence while keeping them instantly legible. Once again, in his words, Bifur was “meant to answer a specific need, not to be decorative. It is naked among letters”. With it he was trying to revive the word’s original power as an image. Bifur had been a commercial failure, but Cassandre remained convinced that the only way to restore the dignity of the written word was to return to the Roman alphabet and remove the “decorations” that had accumulated on letterforms.
BIFUR, 1929 Advertising face Deberny & Peignot, Paris ACIER, 1930 Display face Deberny & Peignot, Paris PEIGNOT, 1937 All-purpose face Deberny & Peignot, Paris GRAPHIKA 81, 1960 Typewriter face Olivetti, Ivrea CASSANDRE, 1968 All-purpose face Unpublished METOP, 1968 Epigraphic verison of Cassandre Inscription at Flanine winter sports resort
Peignot A few years later, Cassandre took a new direction in the search
they were easier to write, but that now, in the printing era, there was
for the calligraphic values of the written letter. This is particularly
no reason why typographers could not return to the noble classical
reflected in his study for Peignot (left), intended to be an all-purpose
shapes of the alphabet and discard the archaic lowercase. The prob-
typeface with upper and lowercase. Peignot was not born as a
lem raised by this choice would have been that of legibility: a text in
decorative variant on a theme: it was the creation of a new theme
capitals is less legible than a text in lowercase. This is caused by the
that would be the point of departure for decorative experiments.
fact an uppercase word tends to assume a monotonous rectangular
Cassandre thought of it as a new step in the natural evolution of the
appearance with no familiar distinguishing feature to assist the eye,
letter. He believed that lowercase letters came into existence because
so that the eye grasps only its outline and canâ€™t break it down into letters. To solve this, the Peignot small caps preserve ascenders and descenders, which are aids to rapid reading. The only letter to keep its lowercase form was the d. Cassandre conceded to this because he realized that we cannot change our reading habits. However, Peignot failed to take certain factors into consideration: writing is related to drawing, and so like any art it involves mass psychology. Aesthetics and psychology are delicate subjects and cannot be approached with scientific methods. So, Peignot was again a commercial failure.
In 1958, Olivetti commissioned him to design several other typefaces including Nuova Pica, and Graphika 81. He then developed a style of letter in which the hand, influenced by painting, is now freed from the geometrical constraints of his pre-war work, and seems to flow with a rhythm inspired by the Roman proportions. The bold vertical strokes are balanced by ample curves, and there is an elegant slope to the letters, yet they have also an incisive quality that recalls stone cutting.
Graphika 81, typeface, for Olivetti typewriters, proof 1958
The Later Years In 1937, after an extended stay in the United States, he turned to his original vocation again: painting. This practice would influence all his late posters and types. In 1930, A.M. Cassandre joined forces with Charles Loupot and Maurice Moyrand to found Alliance Graphique Internationale, an advertising studio that existed until 1934.In 1934 A.M. Cassandre taught at the École des Arts Décoratifs and had his own art school until 1935. Between 1936 and 1939, A.M. Cassandre lived in New York, where he freelanced as a commercial artist. Alexey Brodovitch commissioned several covers for the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar from A.M. Cassandre. In 1939 A.M. Cassandre returned to Paris, where he continued to work as a graphic designer, also designed stage sets, and again turned to painting. Cassandre spent much of the rest of his life painting and he designed one last typeface, which was named Cassandre, after his death.
His Death On June 17, 1967, he attempted to commit suicide. One year later, to the very day, he succeeded in crossing “the frontier”. On his desk was a letter from a leading German type founder. The letter informed him that his new typeface, Cassandre, was to revolutionary and they decided not to publish it. Morally worn out by years of struggle, unable to marshal his creative energies longer than a few brief moments each day, refusing to submit to the indignities of old age and physical decline, Cassandre took his own life.
Le Jour, 1933, Lithographic poster, 120 x 160 cm, Le Jour, Paris, Private collection, Paris
His Legacy Cassandre occupies an important position in the history of graphic design, as a pioneer of poster communication, typographic treatment and the translation of complex visual subjects into symbolic form. The visual themes he tackled became part of the program at the Bauhaus school, among other things. He used the organic techniques of the fine arts and without losing their dynamism, tamed them into the controlled precision of the machine age. By showing the way to a new visual vocabulary more adapted to mass communication, he had a hand in widening the rift between fine arts and graphic design.