Born in Ukraine to French parents, Mouron (later calling himself Cassandre) came of age during the time of Bauhaus – and his “geometric and monumental” work is fused of all these influences. He wrote, “The poster is not a painting, it is a machine to announce… it is before anything else a word.” One little-known fact is that Cassandre created the Yves-Saint-Laurent logo. “He made us a single proposition, that of initials intertwined,” YSL’s co-founder recalled.
“Clothes make the man.” Cassandre might have been meditating on this old adage while formulating his approach for this Grand Sport poster. The cap, “the champion’s choice” on offer, is detailed with loving realism, every fold and curve supple and tactile. It sits on the head of a Cubist abstraction: one that faces both straight-on and “cocked-to-the-right,” redolent of Oskar Schlemmer and Picasso (Brown & Reinhold, p. 13). As such, it stands with the best works of Cassandre, which find the most elegant and efficient way of communicating two or more (sometimes subversive) ideas in a single image. This is the medium format.
Seldom seen, this Cassandre should be considered a masterpiece of Modern design. Advertising the French Northern Railway from Paris to the English Channel, it’s an exemplification of its own expression: meaning is conferred here swiftly, and with great elegance. The compass points, conflating with the speed lines of the train, the oblique angle of true North, the convergence point of the rails, all create dramatic, unusual geometries for a perfect symphonic whole. Note that the southeast compass point directs a beam of light directly onto the word “confort”: a trick that Cassandre would deploy, three years later, for his world-famous Pathé (illuminating “electrique,” 1932, PAI-LXXI, 279). This is the smaller format of the poster.
Est: $25,000-$30,000 (3).
Cassandre’s most popular and enduring advertising idea was for Dubonnet, an odd aperitif created with fortified wine, herbs, spices and quinine. It’s basically the French version of the gin-&-tonic: a drink invented so French Foreign Legionnaires in North Africa could get the quinine down. For a commercial market, however, the libation was a little more dubious. Cassandre ran with it: “Dubo,” (a casual French word for ‘doubt’); “Dubon” (‘good’)… Dubonnet. “Whether Cassandre was thinking of comic strips or motion pictures is impossible to say,“ but “among French posters of the twentieth century none is better known. It was kept in circulation for more than two decades” (Brown & Reinhold, p. 17). This is in a version not previously seen: 3 sheets, smaller format, and with the originally intended blue center panel. Rare!
In this magnificent poster, Cassandre perfectly portrays the two most important factors in early rail travel: romance and speed. Our eyes are both focused on the geometric whirl of the wheels and the seemingly endless, far off horizon. The size and power of the engine is so brilliantly executed that one can almost feel that solid wall of hot air hitting you as it races by.
Once, long ago, there were books. They were mentors to the questioning youth. In one of Cassandre’s last posters, “Mentor” – the name of the Danish encyclopedia – has all the answers for this bedraggled, perplexed student, his hair forking like lightning as the question marks rise and multiply. This is the larger format.