A graphic designer, an illustrator, and a poster maker. Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, who goes by the pseudonym Cassandre, was a Ukrainian-born artist whose career had flourished in France after the World War I. He was one of the earliest graphic artists of modern art history, creating illustrations for Normandie and for designing the timeless Yves Saint Laurent logo.
Cassandre was a world-renowned artist for his numerous awards by bagging home the grand prize of the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs of 1925. His style was influenced by Cubism and Surrealism but the decorative motifs of his works were perfect for advertising; hence, working for fashion houses, manufacturers, and travel agencies. His unique typography and graphic designs for posters earned him a wide pool of clientele such as Dubonnet Wine Company, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Harper’s Bazaar, among many others.
For Cassandre, Pablo Picasso and Max Ernst were northy of praise and adulation. He derived some Cubist techniques from the said artists in the hope to develop an innovative graphic designs for his posters, illustrations and magazine covers. While his work is different from the comic style of Brissaud, who prefaced comic book illustrations in Western art, his caricature style helped Art Deco come into full bloom by 1930’s.
Much of Cassandre’s success have been attributed to natural talent sharpened by his elite education. He was a product of different art school around Paris such as the Academie Julian, Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris, Atelier Libre, and the Academie la Grand Chaumiere. It is one of the reasons why at a young age he was able to make a living on his own by working as a designer for a cabinet maker in the city. The quick advent of advertising also helped him a lot in his career because publication companies and business enterprises sought his artistic talent and training to design posters for them.
Cassandre was the artist behind the finest posters of Bonal (1935), Angleterre (1934), Au Bucheron (1923), Air-Orient (1935), Celtique (1934), Cote D’Azur (1931), Chemin de fer nu Nord, Dubonnet (through 1930’s), Le Cuir (1934), La Roche Vasouy (1926), Wagons Lits (1930), etc. In typography, he also created the so-called BiFur alphabet, Le Metop, and the logo for Yves Saint Laurent brand in 1963 as well as a collection of drawings.
Cassandre was born Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron in January 24, 1901. He was raise in Kharkiv, Ukraine but his family moved to Paris in 1915 to continue his primary education there. He developed his interest in the arts at an early age and so by 1918 he decided to enter the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris albeit briefly. Probably a year later he moved out of the Ecole and enrolled Lucien Simon’s workshop.
Found himself wanting for an advanced formal education, Cassandre decided to go back to the academe by enrolling at the Academie Julian. In 1921 he would commit himself to an independent career as a poster maker. He adopted the caricature drawing style which was presumably an influence by a German school called Bahaus.
Fortunately at the time, advertising was a blossoming industry and it sought to employ graphic artists. Cassandre had found a lucrative opportunity in working for a printing house in Paris, where he would develop a style derived from the techniques of surrealism and cubism. Using this artistic approach he created Bucheron (Woodcutter) poster. He then submitted Bucheron to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, which he won the grand prize.
Three years before the Exposition, Cassandre established his first studio in Rue du Moulin-Vert in Montparnasse. It was during this period when he decided to adopt ‘Cassandre’ as his official signature pseudonym but refused to drop the Mouron surname in the next years to come. In 1923, he began working for a cabinet maker, Hachard et Cie. The cabinet maker had asked him to design Au Bucheron poster for the shop which was meant to be mechanically reproduced in various size formats. It was posted all over Paris and it became a popular poster that brought fame and success to Cassandre’s.
In 1925, the Exposition Internationale awarded him the top prize for his Au Bucheron poster and it marked another beginning for his career, only this time it’s one bar higher. During this period he met Madeleine Cauvet, a niece of Georges Richard an automobile maker. Cassandre married Cauvet in 1924 and the marriage would prove to be a worthwhile one for his professional and personal life. He met notable artists such as Charles Peignot and Auguste Perret, whom the latter he would hire as a designer of his house in Versailles.
By 1925, Cassandre’s Versailles home would have been finished. His former employer, Hachard et Cie, re-hired with an offer he could not say no to. He was offered an exclusive contract that’d allow the company to have exclusive rights to publish and reproduce Cassandre’s posters from 1925 to 1927. Apparently, the relationship did not last longer than the artist had originally thought because he met Maurice Moyrand along the way and offered him a designer position in the Lille firm.
Moyrand and Cassandre would become great colleagues throughout the years. Under Lille’s contract, he was given the creative freedom to develop his own unique graphic designs, especially typography. Thus, he was able to develop his advertising font style, Bifur, which was used by Deberny & Peignot in spring of 1929. Afterward, other publishing companies from London and Rotterdam sought the artist’s help in their advertising campaigns.
After Bifur, Cassandre continued developing different type faces for advertising. He created his second typeface in 1930 which featured sanserif Acier font in black and gray schemes. This style was particularly published by Deberny & Peignot. His success did not stop there because together with Moyrand, they established Alliance Graphique LC.
In 1931 Moyrand and Cassandre were to become the best advertising artists, receiving an exhibition invite from Galerie Pleyel in Paris. The following year the Ukrainian-born artist was promoted to Art Director position at the Alliance Graphique. The company gained momentum under his leadership as it received a large number of commissions by publishers all throughout Europe until 1935.
In 1933 Cassandre entered the theater industry as a painter with the help of Louis Jouvet. He was also appointed as an art teacher at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs and taught about graphic advertising primarily. However, his tenure with the said school was cut off short because of the lack of funds. He then transferred to Rue Ferou in 1934 and taught graphic arts there until 1935.
After a couple of teaching stints at different art schools, Cassandre found stability in Draeger Freres as an exclusive graphic artist. He was responsible for creating a series of posters in French edition from 1935 to 1936. Switzerland’s Sauberlin and Pfeiffer and Italy’s Officina Grafica Co also took notice of Cassandre’s capabilities as an artist so they commissioned him to do some posters. His varied work experiences gave him enough exposure to create an all-purpose typeface and it first debuted in an exhibition at the World’s Fair Paris of 1937.
Soon after the European advertisers had a fair share of Cassandre’s talent and experience, the Museum of Modern Art in New York did not pass on the opportunity to grab a portion of it, too. The said museum invited the artist to exhibit his posters in NY on January 1936. In that same year, he committed himself to an exclusive deal with Harper’s Bazaar as a graphic designer. Therefore, in the next two years of his life, he would have been in New York designing a series of posters and magazine covers. However, it is said that out of this large collection only a few were published.
Sometime in 1936 Cassandre met Balthus, a notable painter. Balthus might have influenced him to go back to easel painting. However, there is no painting made during this period has been found yet. After his contract with Harper’s Bazaar had expired, he moved back to Paris and then divorced his wife. When the Second World War broke out, he entered the army which resulted to having a dormant career for a while.
By 1940, Cassandre began painting again and this time, he produced a small number of paintings. These works were exhibited at the Galerie Rene Drouin in 1942. His comeback would prove to be successful as he received commissions by theater companies to design costumes and set props for them. It is said that Cassandre had always been a closet lover of architecture and working for theater companies allowed him to combine architecture and painting.
Cassandre’s designs would be seen in the Paris Opera, Monte Carlo Opera, and the Comedie des Champs-Elysees in Paris. After World War II, he resumed his graphic design projects with major publishers. Additionally, by 1947, he would have married Nadine Robinson, whom he met back in early 1940’s while working for Lucien Lelong as a costume designer.
Around 1961, Cassandre finally retired from his career and settled in his country home in Belley, Bugey region of Lyon, France. There he dreamt of establishing his own art institute with an international scope, designing his own house, and grow root crops and plants in Bugey. However, his two years in the countryside brought nothing but uncertainties for him, making him feel frustrated.
In 1965, he gave up his dreams about retiring in Bugey, Lyon and went back to Paris. In the city, he design few of his last important posters for a newspaper. He even finished up retrospective posters for an art show at Galerie Motte in Geneva, Switzerland in 1966. He also did some exhibitions at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and Galerie Janine Hao in Paris. Of his last work, he tried to paint the Buget landscape from his memory but unable to finish it through because he committed suicide on June 17, 1968 in his apartment at Paris.