Cappiello, inexplicably, had no formal training in art. First gaining attention as a caricaturist for Parisian humor and culture gazettes, he followed up the pioneering poster exploits of Jules Chéret by taking the exact opposite approach. Rather than take a painterly route, with detailed backgrounds and such, Cappiello’s best works give us bigger-than-life figures bursting with emotion, or unforgettable weirdness. By re-imagining products as Iconic Characters, and delivering that big burst of energy into the viewer’s experience, Cappiello became known as “the father of modern advertising.”
“For Vermouth Martini, Cappiello’s creative mind conceived a sun-like light source, complete with stylized corona, directly behind the exuberant product porters. This was one of the many brands distilled by the Martini & Rossi firm, established in 1863 in Torino. A smaller format image was produced for the Italian market. It had an additional line of text at bottom, “Martini & Rossi – Torino,” and was printed by Tipographia Teatrale Torinese” (Rennert/Cappiello, p. 161). While undated, it is definitively the original issue produced about 1914, which has been described as “beyond rare.”
An absolutely smashing lithograph of Mistinguett by Cappiello, who has an unusual sensitivity to the actual contours of her face, making it a more realistic portrait than most. The electricity in her toothy grin and the signature headline extending out of the white ribbons is unlike anything else in either the Mistinguett oeuvre, or in the entirety of Cappiello’s work. Cappiello catches her in 1920 for ‘La Revue Nouvelle’ at the Casino de Paris. “Cappiello managed to find a rather novel angle to present the legendary performer: He sets us down in a box seat, a superior vantage point from which to watch her. It was Mistinguett’s first public appearance in several years without her steady partner and lover, Maurice Chevalier, with whom she had just parted ways. It was in this revue that she introduced one of her signature songs, ‘La Parisienne.” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 204).
Cappiello had great success with the well-known Parapluie-Revel – a cascade of three umbrellas for the Revel apparel company of Lyon – so Monsieur Revel asked him to help out with a new line of hosiery (Cappiello/Rennert p. 289). Cappiello’s cheerful, leggy assortment picks up from the cancan kicks of Montmartre days, converts the assemblage into a five-pointed star, and makes the ladies cheery rather than titillating — although the lasses continue to blush. This is a 3-sheet poster.
A crimson-faced Dionysus raises his mug of suds in praise of beer in this framed gouache and ink maquette. While Mucha would idealize beer as a lady, Cappiello’s designs concentrated on the warmth and good cheer of an evening down the pub with the mates.
Around 1912, advances in food preparation and storage were transforming how people cooked and ate. For the French gourmand, however, steeped in the thousand-year history of the French corner bakery, pre-packaged tinned biscuits appeared a little suspect. Cappiello’s brightly-hued poster aimed to persuade consumers otherwise. As an obsequious shop-hand stands in the midst of a tower of biscuit tins, offering one to an ostentatiously elegant lady, we are assured these confections are “Practical, Advantageous, and Assured Fresh.” Cappiello went on to design many other posters for Paquet Pernot, likely a result of nailing this brief.
Look at that winning smile! She’s figured out what Katabexine means (ancient Greek ‘kata’: ‘against’; ‘bex’: ‘cough.’) Look at the color-coding Cappiello uses in demonstrating the medicine’s benefits: from a congested and inflamed red in the upper body to a soothing green-for-go around the head, which creates an in-the- pink sensation all the way down. The lady’s posture, a confident and sassy “Well there you go,” was appealing enough that Vercasson sold a slightly different version of the image to El Siglo department store for their annual clothing sale. (The medicine-vial was replaced with a lorgnette.)