Brain Pickings

Celebrating Cassandre: Gorgeous Vintage Posters by One of History’s Greatest Graphic Designers

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“He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.”

French-Ukrainian painter, commercial artist, set designer, lithographer, and general visual savant Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, better-known as A. M. Cassandre, is celebrated as one of the most influential graphic designers in history. Though perhaps best-known for his iconic 1932 Dubonnet wine posters, highlighted in The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, Cassandre created an enormous corpus of graphically groundbreaking work, including travel posters, typefaces, and advertising. His sensibility was influenced by cubism, surrealism and the work of painters like Picasso and Ernst, yet his aesthetic was breathtakingly original. But Cassandre’s story is as tragic as his design is brilliant — after losing his advertising agency business at the onset of WWII and serving in the French army, Cassandre eventually returned to design and easel painting after the war but struggled with bouts of depression for many years, until he took his own life in 1968.

In 1985, Cassandre’s son Henri told the story of his father’s life and legacy in A. M. Cassandre (public library) — a beautiful volume published by Rizzoli, but sadly long out of print.

In Debbie Millman’s excellent How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer — which gave us Massimo Vignelli on intellectual elegance and Paula Scher on creativity — celebrated Swiss designer Steff Geissbühler extols Cassandre:

DM: Who is your favorite graphic designer?

SG: A.M. Cassandre.

DM: Why?

SG: A.M. Cassandre was the ultimate poster designer — he knew exactly how to use scale, perspective, focus, and color to express the essence of the message. He was one of the few painters who created and understood the power of the poster and, with that, created the profession we now call ‘graphic design.’ His formal ideas have never lost power and grab me to this day. He made typography an integral part of the image. He translated the essence of a thing — like a train, a ship, or a person — to the most ‘graphic’ expression.

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