Classic and Collectible – All Cappiello, All the Time

Parapluie Revel (Dancing in the Rain, I’m singing in the rain…,) Being the unabashed snob that I am (there, I admitted to it, again), when the crowd goes on way, I generally head the other. It isn’t always intentional, but I tend to be a bit of an iconoclast in terms of taste. I’ve stopped apologizing for it, but when I was younger, it was a bit of a hard road to hoe… All this by way of saying that when I started collecting posters, I was informed that there were a few poster artists who stood head and shoulders above the rest, and at the top of the list  were two men: Jules Cheret and Leonetto Cappiello. I found Cheret’s Cherettes (his frothy, tutu-clad, soft-lensed society and theater ladies) a bit too saccharine for my tastes, but with Cappiello, BOOM, I was hooked.

In fact, the first large poster that I purchased was a Cappiello. Nitrolian is full of the colour and humour for which Cappiello is best known, and it also evinces his great marketing and advertising skill. Using a very limited colour palette, Cappiello nonetheless manages to get the viewers attention focused right where it should be – on the paint, and the paint can, and the painter who is using both. Cappiello was a trendsetting artist for many reasons – his bold use of color, his ability to create memorable posters – but he is best remembered for the fact that he literally changed the way posters were regarded.

As Jack Rennert wrote in the introduction to his book devoted to Cappiello (which we sell at L’Affichiste): “Cappiello occupies a unique niche in poster lore: He virtually invented the modern advertising poster. During his time, such posters were ubiquitously employed as the most effective weapon in any promotional arsenal. However, only the best posters managed to do what Cappiello accomplished routinely: They capture attention immediately, and associate themselves in our minds with an advertised product or service – even though that image may have little or nothing to do with the advertised item.”

One of the first commissions that Cappiello received was a request to produce a limited edition book of caricatures of Parisian actresses in the roles for which they were famous called Les Actrices. Despite the fact that he was only 24 when the book was published, the lush illustrations highlight a master’s skill: whether depicting Sarah  Bernhardt or lesser-known vedettes Cappiello manages to individualize each actress in some way. There is no excess in the designs – a few curved lines used to illustrate the female form, a hint of irony in the over-run margins, small winks and nods to a Parisian audience who would, no doubt, understand the nuances.

Clearly the #1 choice among ladies who leap, Aurore Shoes gets the classic Cappiello treatment in this wonderfully Deco poster… Moving on to the larger format of posters, ‘Cappiellos prodigious output is nothing less than staggering. Various sources estimate the number of designs at different levels, but always somewhere beyond a thousand.’ (A thousand? I think of that when I am struggling to come up with ideas for blog posts… Can you imagine the way that man’s mind worked? To be able to come up with thousands of ideas, visualize them, produce them, print them…. Humbling, I tell you, humbling. OK, back to the blog post)

Using some of the Cappiello’s in the L’Affichiste inventory as examples of his skill, let’s look first at Charbon Chimique Rubuado. Rennert describes it this way: “This poster, all is cozy warm colors, for economical Rubuado carbon briquettes, which were marketed as an improvement over natural coal for stoves and fireplaces, is a textbook example of a graphically rewarding manner of dealing with a visually drab product. To observe the lady of the house preferring to light the briquette herself rather than allowing the domestic help to handle the chore informs us instantly that the product is safe and a pleasure to work with. Their casual handling of the coal substitute in immaculate clothing attests to its cleanliness and the warm reds create a comply atmosphere that envelops the scene.”

Maurin Quina has been called the Green Devil, The Green Fairy and a couple of other names a little too risqué to print. Clearly the devil has taken over the drinker of the Maurin aperitif, made by the Maurin-Brenas company located in Le Puy. Cappiello wasn’t afraid to use black – here it provides the entire background, and a most effective means of silhouetting our sneaky drinker. This poster was so popular that it was printed in a variety of shapes and sizes – small, large, and oversize.

Le Nil is perhaps one of Cappiello’s best-known posters, for a bunch of reasons: it’s vibrant colors, it’s horizontal shape, and that very handsome elephant. “Although the slogan reads ‘I smoke only the Nil’, Nil isn’t actually a cigarette, but rather a brand of cigarette rolling paper. Nil claimed to be ‘tough as an elephant’s hide’ which is how the company’s spokespachyderm came to be. SO this was an easy marriage between product and posterist, seeing as the elephant was a favorite Cappiello attention-getter.    

If you want to see how a poster restorer can make an old poster look (kind of) new again, here is an interesting video  (Note: I have not used, nor am I suggesting you use this company… I just think it’s a very cool way of seeing how restorers do what they do…)

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