A. M. Cassandre (Adolphe Mouron, 1901-1968) was born in Ukraine to French parents. He later moved to Paris and studied at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts and Académie Julian. He began designing posters influenced by Cubism and Surrealism, which were received with great acclaim. Throughout the 1930s, he created dynamic images at the studio he co-founded, Alliance Graphique. He was pioneering in many ways: he championed airbrushing, conceptualized posters meant to be seen from moving cars for Dubonnet, and professionalized the art of typography by creating several innovative typefaces. The success of his work is largely due to its timelessness: a poster by Cassandre feels fresh and inventive even today.
The North Star was the name of a Paris-to-Amsterdam express; Cassandre gave it glamour 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. In their book on the artist, Brown and Reinhold claimed that this poster “May be his most audacious… Cassandre solves the problem of having to advertise a daytime service that uses a nocturnal image as its name. He achieves his solution by using the somewhat surreal device of turning a night sky into the ground of the poster and having the star hover above it. In what could have been a static arrangement, the rails are laid out so that they imply forward movement… Even though such an arrangement is mechanically false… it is precisely because of it that the poster attains a dynamic realism more compelling than ‘reality itself,’ which is why Étoile du Nord is one of Cassandre’s best images” (p. 13). Hillier declares this work “his masterpiece,” and we couldn’t agree more: it’s a truly mesmerizing achievement, and arguably one of the best posters ever created.
“Is it possible that by this time the glorification of the machine wasn’t worth the gamble? Because, indeed, it’s the cost, and not the machine that’s pointed up here. It’s true that the crucial message is, in fact, the price of vehicle” (Cassandre/BN, p. 116). However, even if the monetary bottom line has become the motivating factor in the minds of the consumer, it’s Cassandre’s Simca blue streak that provides the true visual impact. This is the rare smaller format.
From 1879 to 1944, Le Nouvelliste was a daily French newspaper based out of Lyon. This is one of Cassandre’s earliest works for the political publication, which depicts a stylized geometric pattern in French tricolor to represent the morning bird swiftly delivering the paper to one’s door. Quite rare!
Air mail, it could be said, was invented after World War I by former wartime flyers looking for new lines of business. Posters helped to sell the outlandish concept to the public. “Speed is the theme of Flèche d’Argent (Silver Arrow).” Indeed: the wing of the cloud-like plane seems to tear a hole through the sky. Although at the time of this poster’s production this was one of the largest and most successful French airlines—with 131 aircraft and a network not only throughout France, but reaching Africa and South America as well—it could not withstand the pressure of the Depression. It went bankrupt in 1931 and what was left of it was amalgamated into Air France in 1933.
An advertisement for the Normandie and her “First Arrival in New York City on June 3 ” 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!” Cassandre’s masterpiece was a new way of selling the glamor and excitement of ocean liner travel. The ship towers above us; a flight of small birds at bottom gives 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 has made 60 Atlantic crossings, covered 400,000 nautical miles, and carried 115,000 passengers by January 1, 1939.