Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942) is known as the “father of modern advertising” for his revolutionary vision of the promotional poster. Though he studied under the great Jules Chéret at the printing house Vercasson, he eventually broke away from the established aesthetic spawned by the Impressionists and developed his own style: flat backgrounds, bold and saturated hues, and animated scenes that nearly burst off the page.
“For Champagne de Rochegré, one of the products of the Chamonard distillery in Epernay, Cappiello has an elegant woman in a formal black dress taking a delicate sip as if afraid that too much of the bubbly might go to her head” (Wine Spectator, 162). This is one of Cappiello’s most effective and charming designs.
Cappiello created two designs for the Pygmalion department store; for his summer fashions design, see Cappiello/Rennert, 187. “In numerous instances, Cappiello created designs for commercial products in which his penchant for exuberance and exaggeration remains quiescent. What we get instead of extravagance are commercial images executed in fine style with the quiet competence of a talented artist. These two large, 4-sheet posters… [typify] this approach. The carefully arranged scenes could easily stand alone as pieces of fine art; note how they create an aura of refinement and gentility without ostentation. Where is the exuberant, outrageous, capricious Cappiello that we know and love? He’s still there, but in these designs he shows his quiet side: the artist who may easily have chosen a less volatile professional career, a skilled posterist who knows when excess would be inappropriate or unnecessary” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 134). This four-sheet poster is the only known copy.
“The Carnaval / Vinho do Porto is surely one of Cappiello’s most spectacular posters, with a traditional pantomime figure being tempted by the masked woman holding the drink. The whole aura of enchantment and temptation, in the midst of the confetti strewn merriment, is precious and compelling. The highly-prized Portuguese sweet wine takes its name from Porto, the northern trade center of the small country, not necessarily because most of the grapes are grown there, but because nearly all the region’s wine is exported through there; hence, merchants have made that association since the 18th century. Here, for example, the winery is actually in Almeida, an inland town near the border with Spain, but it’s still ‘vinho do Porto’ for all practical purposes” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 131). This is a hand-signed and dedicated maquette for that incredibly rare poster.
“Although printed by the client’s own presses, this was, in fact, one of the first Devambez commissions. The Visa censorship requirement, seen at bottom, continued into 1919. This is one of the artist’s most flamboyant clowns of record, quite in line with Cappiello’s firm conviction that the more humble the product, the more ballyhoo it required. Naol, as the shoe polish tin states, is for all leather goods, including saddles” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 190). Rare!
In one of the earliest examples of joint advertising, Cappiello simultaneously promotes the Automoto bicycle and Byrrh apéritif. And although we think he handled the design with aplomb, the image was quite controversial at the time. The magazine Vendre thought that while the two products might appeal to the same sporting crowd, their juxtaposition was inappropriate, as the reliance on alcohol rather than water could shortly result in an accident. “Nonetheless, what the poster lacks in persuasion, it more than makes up in notoriety. Cappiello’s hand assures that result” (Sept. 1926, #35, p. 225). The notoriety they mention was due to major agitation in advertising circles of the time, proving that promotional shock can indeed work in favor of brand recognition. This is a four-sheet poster and rare!
When M. Revel founded his Lyon-based umbrella company in 1851, one could purchase his wares in both silk and cotton. While the subject matter may seem slightly ordinary, the poster is one of Cappiello’s most ingenious and delightful designs. As effective as it is simple, one sees “the umbrellas braving the storm like black ships’ sails. All the elements of fine poster design are here: bold shapes, strong contrasts (the background is a surprising sunny yellow), tight yet lively composition, unusual perspective—and no more detail than necessary” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 236). Although the company closed its doors in the 1950s, this poster remains a testament to its once brilliant advertising campaign. This is the larger four-sheet version of the poster.
Cappiello undoubtedly saw the dark humor in the Golden Goose brand, and chose to take on the less savory aspects of foie gras head on: he used the label’s “Queen of Foie Gras” sobriquet to fashion a regal golden gander mourning over his mate, now in the tin. A blood-red background and a dramatic shadow falling over the crowned tin complete a scene that is simultaneously poignant, dangerous, risqué, and tempting.
“When this poster first appeared on the streets of Paris in 1931, it had as much shock value as Édouard Manet’s unapologetic Olympia… Nothing so bold or graphically aggressive had ever been done in advertising. It was, and remains, a revolutionary poster, pushing the medium to a new level of compositional directness and intensity” (Crouse/Deco, p. 211). It’s also a milestone for Cappiello, whose penchant for exaggeration is here expressed with a surprising economy of means. Two simple shapes and the omission of extraneous text form a powerful and unforgettable visual.
“Le Petit Dauphinois, ‘the largest daily newspaper of the French Alps,’ was founded by Pierre Baragnon in 1885; its avowed aim, as Cappiello’s design indicates, was to keep an eye on the world and report back to its readership. The paper earned a reputation as one of the better regional publications in France” (Cappiello/Rennert, p. 314). Rare!