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Leonetto Cappiello - Father of the Modern Poster

“I search for the arabesque; it occupies my days and nights.”

– Leonetto Cappiello

Leonetto Cappiello in his studio

Cappiello at Work

Whether you realize it or not, when you think of poster art you most likely conjure the art of famous artist Leonetto Cappiello. This one artist single-handedly revolutionized poster art, making it the advertising giant it still is today.

 

Livorno, hometown of Leonetto Cappiello

 

Born in the tiny Tuscan coastal town of Livorno in 1875, Leonetto Cappiello was lucky enough to live close to, and associate with, many famous Italian creatives such as painter Amedeo Modigliani and composer Giacomo Puccini. He began his artistic career not by heading down the traditional path of art academies and salons, but through drafting quick and accurate caricatures of daily life in his hometown.

These caricatures were gentle, thoughtful, and playful; much different than the mocking nature that is indicative of the craft. The works gained popularity quickly, and when Cappiello followed his older brother to Paris in 1898 they were the among the first of his works that he was able to sell.

Puccini and Ermete Novelli by Cappiello

Ermete Novelli & Giacomo Puccini, 1898. These are the first works Cappiello sold upon arriving in Paris. 

 

Cappiello went on to sell his caricature work to all the humor periodicals in Paris including Le Rire, Le Figaro, Le Frou Frou. This became the standard path for many fledgling artists in the Paris scene. It was upon this foundation that Cappiello slowly built a name for himself in the world of advertising.

During turn-of-the-century Paris, poster art started to become a serious money-making venture and print studios began to double as agencies for artists. Vercasson, one such studio, signed Cappiello and soon he began churning out posters that were nothing short of iconic.

Maurin Quina Green Devil Poster by Leonetto Cappiello

Maurin Quina by Cappiello, 1906.
Affectionately referred to as “The Green Devil” by many, this poster is one of the earlier pieces the artist did under Vercasson. Click on the image to learn more about this piece.

 

It is important to realize that the imagery and compositions Cappiello created were nothing short of revolutionary. Traditional turn-of-the-century posters featured elegant imagery and soft lighting, highlighting the romanticism of the Belle Epoque era. They were created by classically trained painters, much different from the advertising background of Leonetto.

Cappiello shattered this with his strong backgrounds and bolder, simplified subjects. In order to illustrate this point, simply compare his above Maurin Quina with the below poster by Pallandre from the same period. :

Versailles Trianon Original Vintage Poster

Versailles Trianon by Pallandre, circa 1910. 

 

Cappiello was not classically trained in painting, as many of his poster artist counterparts had been, and because of this he was able to fully realize posters for what they really were; advertising.

He recognized that the true purpose of the poster was to advertise a product, and that superfluous details were not efficient.

Life in Paris was changing fast during the turn-of-the-century, and Cappiello understood that it was necessary to flatten backgrounds, simplify images, and in doing so he changed the entire field of poster art forever.

Contratto Art Deco Poster by Cappiello

In this Contratto poster from 1922, Cappiello illustrates not only the elegant nature of champagne, but also those who drink it. A flat black background and large blocks of color keep the focus on the champagne. 

Cappiello’s career took off under the printing firm Vercasson, and he became a star in the poster art world. His style soon was adopted by artists such as A.M. Cassandre and Jean D’Ylen. After several years at Vercasson, Cappiello moved on to work with a different printer, with whom he had a financial interest, named Devambez. His work became only bolder as the years progressed, and his partial ownership allowed him the ultimate freedom in his designs.

We are so very proud to have many of Cappiello’s most iconic and rare posters as part of our collection here at The Ross Art Group.

Please peruse our entire collection by clicking here.

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