“I search for the arabesque; it occupies my days and nights.”
– Leonetto Cappiello
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.
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.
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.
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. :
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.
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.