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.” From Tony the Tiger to Joe Isuzu, all of the great ad pitchmen have a bit of Cappiello in their DNA.
A brisk day by the seashore – and the delirious, aphrodisiacal taste of fresh-shucked oysters right on the pier: that’s the promise of La Caisse Simon. Exquisite oysters that arrive in a perfect state, anywhere in Europe. Cappiello adds the eye-winking touch of the ladies’ skirts blown by the breeze, while the gentleman waits in anticipation as his companion slurps a shell.
It’s 1933. Prohibition comes to America. Cappiello and France thumb their noses. Monsieur et mademoiselle emerge from a dense grove of multi-hued grapes in the shape of France, dressed in lily-whites, as if to suggest that the act of drinking wine is sacred, is pure, is a sacrament of life, and not something opposed to it. “Drink wine and live joyfully”: sounds right by us. This is the larger format of the poster.
The dentist’s dream: a lady basks in the glory of her blindingly white chompers thanks to Serodent toothpaste. “Cappiello first makes us wonder about the lady’s improbably flamboyant outfit. Could these be eccentric pajamas, we wonder. Or is brushing the first thing she does after returning from some fancy affair? Cappiello doesn’t explain; he’s gotten our attention, and that’s all he’s required to do” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 285) –practiced first in this signed gouache and ink maquette.
Well, this is audacious. To prove the strength of Lefort’s bike tires, Cappiello unleashes an alley’s worth of rats upon them. In the foreground, three rodents have their heads in slings, bawling and bloody, their teeth broken upon Lefort’s street-tough rubber. It’s extremely unusual for Cappiello to deploy the emotion of revulsion in the service of sales, but memory is our guide here: in 1910, Paris faced the worst flooding it had seen in 300 years (and far worse than 2016). Hordes of rats emerged amid the muck. Octave Mirabeau wrote to Monet, “I am beginning to believe it is the end of the world.” Cappiello, in response, gives us bike tires that can survive the Apocalypse. This is the smaller format.
This was the very first poster Cappiello created on behalf of a product. You can almost hear the lady insinuating, “Darling, isn’t this divine!” The owner of Amandines de Provence was impressed. “We are happy to tell you that we are very satisfied with both the design and the printing. . . We found it at once original and very personal,” he wrote.