History Buff: For the Love of Cappiello

For the second installment in our History Buff Series, we have chosen to focus on the life of one of the most beloved and infamous poster artists of them all, Leonetto Cappiello. We’ll delve into the history behind the man and his works.

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

– Leonetto Cappiello

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 Leonetto Cappiello. This one artist single-handedly revolutionized poster art, making it the advertising giant it still is today.

livorno

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 Modigliani and 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 caught on 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.

ERMETE NOVELLI

Ermete Novelli, 1898. Cappiello’s first piece sold in Paris: a caricature of Puccini printed in Le Rire. 

Cappiello went on to sell his caricature work to all the humor periodicals in Paris including Le Rire, Le FIgaro, Le Frou Frou,  and upon this foundation he slowly built a name for himself in the advertising world.

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 by Cappiello, 1906.  Affectionately referred to as

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.

Important to note is that the imagery and compositions Cappiello used were truly revolutionary. Traditional turn-of-the-century posters featured elegant imagery and soft lighting, highlighting the romanticism of  the Belle Epoque era. 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 Willette from the same period. :

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Cote D’Azur by Willette, circa 1898. 

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 from 1922.

In this Contratto poster from 1922, Cappiello illustrates not only the elegant nature of champagne, but of 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 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.

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: http://www.postergroup.com/category_search.asp?keyword=cappiello.

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About The Ross Art Group

Specializing in original vintage posters, The Ross Art Group opened its doors over 18 years ago, and founder Mickey Ross has been collecting original posters for over 25 years. What started out as a hobby, sparked a true passion and developed into a thriving business.
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