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 Sancta, a liqueur distilled in a Benedictine abbey, Cappiello had a ready-made motif. In 1608, the abbey was witness to a miracle: on the eve of the Feast of the Pentecost, a fire had burned the altar, but left the Sacred Host intact. Cappiello could have produced a static, beatific vision, an icon not unlike Mucha’s maidens. Instead, he makes the Divine active in the world. An Art Deco angel, in a classic dress of the period, bursts out of the darkness and smoke of purgatorial fires to radiate the reflected light of her metallic halo upon the holy nectar: a fit accompaniment to the unscorched sacrament. Rare!
A giant red face with a wicked scowl-smile looms over a woman, who, big bottle of cider in hand, cheerfully dismisses the patriarchal threat. This delightfully over-the-top study by Cappiello was accomplished in gouache and crayon. It arrives from the archives of Cappiello’s longtime printer, Devambez, and comes with the stamp of the Atelier Cappiello on verso. One of a kind.
One of the most famous images in the history of posters, this was produced for the Revel umbrella company of Lyon. It was so successful, Revel commissioned Cappiello to produce a similar treatment for ladies’ hosiery (see PAI-LXXIII, 232). How could it fail to impress? If you listen carefully, you can hear the music of its composition: a rain-dance, in arpeggios. When this went on the walls, a 10-year-old Gene Kelly must have been watching: and listening, and splashing about in a puddle.
Cappiello is better than anyone at delivering the exuberance of pure celebration. From the 1880s onward, the Paris Opera’s masked balls were the social event of the year. Chéret’s attempts in the 1890s (see, for example, PAI-LXX, 290) were great seas of people in the regal expanse of the Opéra Garnier. Cappiello releases us from those claustrophobic confines, and gives us a sense of weightless effervescence. Rare!