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.
In this exceptionally rare and unusual design, Cassandre shows that Thomson brings the power of electricity straight to your hands.
“Eight years after the poster for Golden Club cigarettes, this publicity for Celtique played around with the realistic rendering of the object and the monumental scale of the cigarette pack but, by tilting the package towards us, it’s an invitation to grab the offered cigarette that establishes the relationship between the advertisement and the passerby. The faux wood of the surface upon which the package is positioned adds to the familiar character of a cigarette that’s not associated with luxury but rather with the day-to-day” (Cassandre/BN, p. 100). This is the medium format, one-sheet version of the poster.
“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 is 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.
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—in pure Art Deco form. The black hull doubles as a background for the lettering (as the sea does in his 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).
Cassandre’s awe-inspiring design commands the covers of many books on the artist, and on the Art Deco period. It’s been endlessly referenced—from Razzia’s ads for Louis Vuitton to a sly poster for Iron Man and Stark Industries. But this is the original design, a thing of sublime simplicity, power, and grace. It would take the skills of France’s finest Art Deco posterist to capture the magnificence of the S.S. Normandie, widely known as the nautical zenith of Art Deco’s aspirations. Interiors were designed as extravagant fusions of French elegance and avant-garde art. The Grand Salon was famed for its Jean Dupas glass-panel murals. The First Class Dining Hall was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, and adorned similarly. The children’s dining room featured murals of Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff. This variant was created for the New York World’s Fair of 1939. Rare!
The classic design appeared with several variants of text at the bottom, this being the version with the ship’s name emblazoned over its ports of call, with the added reminder that these are “de luxe ships” in a class all their own—but we would have known that from Cassandre’s image alone.
This early work of Cassandre advertises the hotel and restaurant located in Honfleur in Normandie. It’s a busy array of resort symbols: the card pips that remind us of Deauville’s casino, the anchor to represent the port of Honfleur, the tennis racquet, glass, bottle, ship, etc.; the central motif of the arrow somehow holds it all together. This is the smallest format.