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.
To promote a new cruise service between Holland and America, Cassandre appears to have sought out American artists for inspiration. One work came to mind immediately: Gerald Murphy’s enormous 13-foot-tall Modernist masterpiece Boatdeck, exhibited in 1924 at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris’s Grand Palais. The similarities are striking: both concentrate a view of the ship entirely on smokestacks, exhaust funnels and halyards. “Where Cassandre departs from Murphy is in the simplification and distortion of the rendering…” (Brown & Reinhold, 14). Murphy’s work, however, is lost – we only have a couple of black and white photos of it – so it’s fortunate Cassandre’s brilliant and bold experiment in advertising has survived.
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.
The North Star was the name of a Paris-to-Amsterdam express; Cassandre gave it glamor by catching the purely sensual enjoyment of rail travel – the rhythm of the wheels, the fascination of the endless perspectives of converging tracks, and the North Star itself. A truly mesmerizing achievement.
One of the most infrequently seen of Cassandre’s ship images advertises a new luxury vessel, the Côte d’Azur, on the Dover-Calais cross-Channel service. The funnel, air vent, and lifeboat are lined up with geometric precision – pure Art Deco. The black hull doubles as background for the lettering (as the sea does in Normandie). “Like the old masters [Cassandre] uses chiaroscuro to express shadows rather than light. He is able to make us overlook the mechanical character of the image, which is virtually a blueprint of the steamer’s super- structure, so faithful is it to realistic details” (Mouron, p. 66).
An advertisement for the Normandie and her “First Arrival in New York City on June 3 19335]” touted that “The arrival in New York Harbor of the gigantic super-liner Normandie will inaugurate a new era of transatlantic travel. She will set new standards of luxury and speed, steadiness comfort and safety . . . not merely the largest liner afloat (79,280 tons). . . but in almost every respect a new kind of liner!” And in almost every respect, this Cassandre masterpiece was a new way of selling the glamor and excitement of ocean liner travel. A deceptively simple, but impressive design with the ship towering above us, a flight of small birds at bottom giving the image as much scale and strength as the imposing hull itself. The classic design appeared with several variants of text at the bottom; this one, printed in 1938, is one of the last changes, indicating that this proud ship will have made 60 Atlantic crossings, covered 400,000 nautical miles and carried 115,000 passengers by January 1, 1939.