Leonetto Cappiello was the premier poster artist of his generation—
He developed a unique and revolutionary style,
…… and his work is as popular today as it was during the height of the Belle Epoque.
It’s very possible that you are already familiar with Leonetto Cappiello’s beautiful art,
……..and weren’t really aware of it.
His work is so synonymous with the whole advertising poster art revolution of the early 1900’s ,
….that he is called the “Father of Modern Advertising”.
And while the majority of his best work was indeed advertising and commercial art,
……….. it is not the sponsors or products that are best remembered.
No, it is the Cappiello style that is best remembered—
The style that changed the look of commercial art nouveau posters forever.
Before that time, advertising posters looked a lot like classical paintings, with carefully detailed backgrounds .
Cappiello’s posters had the focal point of the work standing out from a dark background, to better emphasize the theme.
The characters in his posters were usually quite animated ,
……. as if the subject was captured in the middle of some interesting activity.
The colors were lively and in definite, stark contrast with the backgrounds.
One of Cappiello’s favorite subjects were women,
……. and he drew them lovingly and sensually, explaining:
” Seduced by the indefinable and spiritual charm of Parisian women, I became passionate about transcribing this feeling through synthetic drawings. ”
And Cappiello didn’t just do advertising art ….
He made wonderful caricatures of the celebrities of the day—
The composer Giacomo Puccini , said to have been:
” the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi”.
The famous diva Sarah Bernhardt, :
” the most famous actress the world has ever known“.
His caricature of his fellow Tuscan Puccini, in fact, was the first work of Cappiello’s that got published.
In an interview with the Les Temps Newspaper in 1903, he described the chance encounter and subsequent lucky break:
” One day I bumped into Puccini. Exclamations of surprise, handshakes. Arm in arm, we go to the nearest café… It is the aperitif of my future success……. I come up with an idea which I expose to Puccini: it would be great to take advantage of his presence in Paris as well as the success ‘La vie de Bohème’ is having there to draw a caricature of him….. Puccini agrees with me, so I get to work and a few days later, I brought both caricatures to ‘Le Rire’….. I dropped off the drawings at the newspaper’s offices without talking to anyone and left. You can imagine my surprise when I saw them printed in the next edition”
Two of his best known caricatures were of the French actresses Jeanne Granier and Marthe Mellot.
Cappiello explained his approach to these two caricatures this way:
“I drew the eyes of the first one with a long line which, as sparkling with wit and vivacity as they may be, are in reality rather small; and those of the second one with a dot, which are beautifully big. You see that I have, that way, drawn the look more that the eye in itself and that I didn’t fail by doing so since people do recognize that the drawings look very much like their effigies.”
Cappiello had learned his art by doing portraits.
( his first was completed at age 11)…
He had learned to paint without formal instruction, and originally he preferred painting landscapes….
One of his paintings from this period was shown at an exhibition in Florence in 1892.
In his teens he turned mostly to portraits, and from there to his caricatures.
In his long career, from that first published Puccini sketch in 1896, to his death in 1942,
Leonetto applied his considerable talents to many media types, including music, book, and magazine covers…
Cappiello fully illustrated several books , including:
‘Faux Départ‘ by Alfred Capus (1902),
‘La Princesse de Babylone’ by Voltaire (1928),
and ‘Le Miroir à Deux Faces’ by Jacques Boulenger (1933).
The main reason Cappiello’s work in portraiture and illustration isn’t talked about more, is that those works,
….as beautiful as they are, are overshadowed by his extraordinary poster art.
He created over 500 commercial posters in his career, and one would be hard pressed to choose ” a top ten best “.
In putting together this post,
I can tell you it was very difficult choosing only a few of my favorites.
( and you can probably tell, too…. )
Thus, I had to leave out a number of wonderful works.
If it’s any consolation, however,
Cappiello was recognized as an innovator almost immediately upon the release of his first commercial poster,
But in 1903, his career took off —
with his brilliant design for ‘Chocolat Klaus’.
This poster was followed by more flashes of brilliance,
in works for ‘Nouilles Ferrari’ in 1904,
Posters for ‘Maurin Quina’ and his famous ‘Thermogene’ in 1905.
Cappiello had by now established his reputation as a premier poster artist –
And advertisers were literally bashing down his door to contract his work.
There had never had been a lack of demand for him, but now……
He had become so busy , in fact, that he abandoned his caricatures altogether,
….. having published his last group of them, ‘Les Contemporains Célèbres’, in 1904.
He continued with his portrait painting, however,
……………. and his famous one of Henri De Regnier was first exhibited in 1910.
1910 was also the year for another landmark poster — for ‘Cinzano’.
And he would complete a series of them for Cinzano over the years.
His most productive period, between 1910 and 1930, saw Cappiello produce original works for over 300 posters…..
The most inportant of these included:
the official poster for the Exposition Internationale de Lyon in 1914,
Works for Chocolat Poulain , Oxo, Villiod, Cigarettes Bastos, Cafe Martin, Bitter Campari, Ciro, Peugeot, Studebaker ……………
It’s amazing to me that the man could be so creative and so original–
………. when producing so many different pieces of art.
There is no way to assess just how much influence Cappiello had on contemporary graphic artists…
But if you could quantify it into a number, it would be an astronomical one.
Go into any furniture, or interior decor store today,
…………… and you’ll see his work.
You’ve probably seen dozens of his pieces already —
And the next time you see one,
……………………… you’ll know who did them.