A. M. Cassandre was a leading graphic designer of the twentieth century; he was born in Ukraine to French parents and moved to Paris as a young man. The geometric and dynamic posters he produced in the 1920s under the influence of Cubism and the Bauhaus had what might be described as a “revolutionary” impact on the graphic art world. The spectacular composition and sense of speed commonly identifiable in Cassandre’s posters perfectly embodied the age of machinery and mass consumption.
This is the first, and the rarest, of all the variations on Cassandre’s world-famous poster for the Normandie: the very first impression travelers would have had of the magnificent ship. “The simplicity and symmetry of Cassandre’s frontal view of the looming hull of the liner immediately conveys its gigantic scale and streamlined elegance. Cassandre developed a striking visual language inspired by avant-garde art in Paris and counts among the most important graphic artists of the 20th century” (V&A Museum).
In 1935, Cassandre created four tobacco posters which were printed in Switzerland: Marocaine cigarettes (see PAI-LVII, 252), Cesar cigars (see PAI-XVII, 9), Kisroul pipe tobacco, and this one for Pacific cigarettes. In the mid 1930s, just about everything Cassandre touched was permeated by the spirit of geometry, wherein a cigarette pack makes a natural Object Poster. Here, though, it’s modified with the inclusion of a hand which at first glance nearly turns the Pacific locomotive logo into a palm-centered eye.
“Opens the appetite,” Bonal claims, and Cassandre quite literally depicts this. Founded in 1865, Bonal is a sweet vermouth-like apéritif wine, infused with quinine, gentian, and many of the herbs featured in Chartreuse. This is the second version of the image, printed two years after the original with slightly different coloration.
Paul Colin was one of the greatest French poster artists. His 1925 poster for the Revue nègre put him in the limelight, and he worked for nearly forty years for the show, creating not only posters but also many sets and costumes. His style—very Art Deco from the onset (his album Le Tumulte Noir is a masterpiece of the genre)—quickly became very personal and impossible to categorize. The symmetrical accuracy of his portraits and the evocative force of his posters for great causes make him a master of visual communication whose powerful work remains exemplary today and perfectly current.
“This poster, which launched the career of both Josephine Baker and Paul Colin, is one of the finest examples of Art Deco work in this medium and created a great impression in the field of poster art. That it was almost accidentally created, in a great rush, by an unknown painter and an obscure dancer who had never previously met each other, gives the story the added quality and appeal of a fairy tale. In Colin’s recollections… he takes the lion’s share of the credit for having discovered Josephine, who was, in fact, the star of the show as soon as it opened. He remembers the arrival of the troupe: ‘I can still see them: The women wore high-button shoes, green shoes with red laces, and they had a veritable garden growing on their head with forget-me-nots and other floral decorations. The men were dressed with equal gaudiness, color and flourish. The music was intoxicating. And the star [Maud de Forrest]… was a fine woman, but too hefty and physically not very interesting. So I looked among the girls for a more pleasing subject and I found a very beautiful girl, above all a very beautiful body, and I found her: Josephine Baker'” (Colin, p. 7). This rare and very completed Colin maquette shows that with a few strokes he was able to get all the energy of the show and its star; in the final printing, the eyebrows are a bit more modest and the bow tie takes on a new color, but otherwise the artist’s drawing and inspiration are fully realized in the design and the attitude of the printed poster.
Colin indicated that he had to make another poster for Loïe Fuller before actually meeting her (see PAI-LIII, 208), but that he created another thereafter—it was never printed, but was discovered in the office of his art school in Paris. This remarkable modernist vision with surrealist overtones stands on its own as an important document of Art Deco significance. It is interesting to compare the official, printed poster and this masterful maquette—whereas the poster still places the dancer in the eye of a prismatic hurricane, his artwork—doubtlessly enriched by having seen Fuller in person—casts the dancer as the very flame of pyrotechnic innovation, a flash-and-swirl of conflagrant colors to which no corporeal entity is attached. Colin, in a move that can be described as nothing short of genius, captures the precise spirit of the performer without requiring her presence. It’s simply and utterly brilliant.
This maquette from Colin was never used for a poster—nor did he make any similar posters that might illuminate this work. However, it’s possible to deduce that it was likely meant to become a promotion for the 1931 Paris Colonial Exhibition, which attempted to display and celebrate the diversity of cultures throughout France’s colonies; the three faces depicted here may illustrate France’s international reach. However, it was not used—perhaps it seemed too reproachful to the exposition’s organizers? In any case, it is a great example of Colin’s esteemed compositional acuity, as well as his inclusive nature.
Silhouettes of an engineer and a conductor, set against a never-ending sea of train tracks, results in a powerful Deco design. “The whole impression which the French Railways tried to convey here, and which the graphics reinforce so directly, is that of strength, stability and safety—all important elements of ‘A Public Service at the Service of the Public’” (Colin, p. 12). The apparent simplicity of the art and tag line belie a complex political reality in post-war France: consolidating the welfare state, while mollifying the right wing, and marginalizing the Communist Party. In this context, Colin’s design is superb: conductor in blue, worker in red, and a multitude of tracks stretching to the horizon—an assembly of roles with a common goal.
Chicago-born Katherine Dunham has been called “the matriarch and queen mother of black dance.” While a student at the University of Chicago, she took a leave of absence to study Caribbean dance and ethnography—a performance path she’d follow for the rest of her life. 1947 was a huge year for her. She began it by choreographing the musical play Windy City, which debuted in her hometown; then she opened a cabaret show in the brand-new tourist destination of Las Vegas, and followed that up with tours in Mexico and Europe, “where she was an immediate sensation.” Colin’s poster, a spiritual successor to his world famous Revue Nègre and Bal Nègre for Josephine Baker, captures the Windy City jazz opening in Paris: all fishnets and flappers and zoot suits and gangster hats—with a little bit of the voodoo that they both do so well. This version is before the addition of Theatre de Paris dates on top.
Paul Colin not only designed posters for the revolutionary Ballets Russes—he also made significant contributions to the troupe as a theatrical designer. In 1952, he again provided his creative services—this time, for a summer resort ball at the municipal casino, which was surely a festive occasion. Colin’s spectacular brevity once more comes to the fore: the vivacity and flare of the evening’s festivities are encapsulated in the sole dancer’s featureless form—she’s exuberantly lost in the purity of uninhibited movement.
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