A. M. Cassandre

Cassandre sliced a path for designers, with his innovative combinations of modern techniques and his view of the environment being part of the design. Cassandre was an artist who delved into a little bit of everything: advertising through poster design, typefaces, stage and costume design, and even logo design. He set an example for designers of how to learn from all sorts of seemingly unrelated fields and apply them to all their work.

Cassandre was born on January 24, 1901 in Kharkiv, Ukraine to French parents. Of course, he was not known as Cassandre then. He was named Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, and would not become known as his moniker until later in life. He spent his childhood going back and forth across Europe between France and then Russia, before his family settled in Paris in 1915, when he was fourteen years old. This big, bustling city is where he completed his education and found most of his influences. He attended Ecole des beaux-Arts for a time in 1918, an influential art school intent on passing on the idealized forms and ideas of antiquities. He soon joined an independent studio under Lucien Simon, an impressionist painter, and soon after enrolled in the private art school Académie Julian that specialized in encouraging artists to find their own path. By 1921, Mouron graduated uneventfully, and entered the working world. He turned to making posters for advertising, as they were very popular in Paris at the time. The first posters he made were caricatures, most likely influenced by styles he studied at the Académie Julian. He entered his first studio in Paris based on this work, and created his pseudonym Cassandre to put on his advertisements. Over the next few years he developed his iconic “synthetic” style, influenced by cubism and surrealism. The first piece he produced that demonstrated this was produced in 1923, and quickly made Cassandre famous. The poster was called “Au Bucheron”, and created a stir around Paris with its emphasis on strong lines, dynamic movement, and synthetic images and design. The poster itself was designed for a cabinet maker, but was as energetic as a modern movie poster. It also set into motion the wide-travelled and impressive career in design that Cassandre has become associated with. It won a first prize at an international art exposition in 1925, where Cassandre met Charles Peignot, a major promoter of innovation in typography, who would prove important in Cassandre’s later career. In that same year, Cassandre also agreed to exclusively publish his posters with Hachard and Cie, which would last until 1927. After working with this firm for two years, he quit and began designing for the L.Danel Lille firm. Around this time, he created his first typeface for Charles Peignot, a bold, capital, Bauhaus style type known as Bifur. The typeface showed off Cassandre’s synthetic style, and the dynamic and eye-guiding shapes evident in his poster designs. During this time period, he also began work to work internationally, creating designs for publishing companies as far as London, Derby, and Rotterdam. In 1930, Peignot commissioned another typeface from Cassandre, who focused this time on creating a sturdy, synthetic typeface constructed out of more basic shapes and lines, and more based on other types instead of the more extreme abstractions of Bifur. 1930 was a very important year for Cassandre, because Maurice Moyrand founded the Alliance Graphique, a publishing studio, and asked Cassandre to become the art director. Both his and other artists published many posters through the studio until 1935. This success did not stop Cassandre, who continued working for sources outside the studio as well, primarily working on layouts for commercial and prestige publications. He also began work as a designer and painter for the theater in 1933, and a teaching position at a graphic advertising studio. The studio he taught at closed two years later from lack of money, and Cassandre moved on to teach at a graphic arts school. He continued his work in poster design, creating for Draeger Freres, Sauberlin and Pfeiffer in Switzerland, and Officina Grafica Co in Italy. He created another typeface, Peignot in 1937, named after Charles Peignot. It was put on display at the World’s Fair in Paris. This type was not as successful as his previous creations, often ignored for use in text, but often used in decoration. Cassandre became known in the United States when the Museum of Modern Art in New York held an exhibition of his posters in 1936. This led to him contracting with Harper’s Bazaar to create their magazine covers, and he spent the winter in New York for the next two years. He created several designs, though few of them were published. He was not swayed by this lessened success, and took up easel painting as he did in school. This different path quickly spiraled with the onset of World War II, when he enlisted in the army to help defend France. He was demobilized in 1940 with the French surrender and returned to his painting, even getting an exhibition of his paintings in 1942 at the Galerie Rene Drouin. He kept painting as his primary activity through to the end of the war, with some set and costume design mixed in, which kept him in touch with his interest in architecture from his posters. After the war ended, Cassandre returned to graphic arts as his main business. In 1948, he spent six months in Italy, designing posters for Augusto Coen of Calcografia and Cartevalori using experimental techniques, while continuing his set design work. His work in the theater was so well known that he was approached to design the set and costumes for the inaugural production of the Archbishop’s theater in Aix-en-Provence for the International Music Festival. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor during this time, as well as was featured in an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs that showed his works over the last twenty five years. He continued his work in theater painting, graphic design, typography, painting, and even teaching until 1963. This year he tried to retire to the country and dream of founding an art school and designing his dream house, but moved back to the city after two years. He designed his final poster for a newspaper that went out of business before it began publishing, finished a single painting, and participated in several poster exhibitions over the next two years. He created his final typeface, Cassandre, for photo-composition but never published it before his suicide on June 17, 1968 in his apartment in Paris.