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A. M. Cassandre
Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, known as A.M. Cassandre, was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, on January 24, 1901. His parents were French. After a childhood spent shuttling back and forth between Russia and France, he settled in Paris with his family in 1915 and completed his schooling there. In 1918, after attending the Ecole des Beaux-Arts very briefly, he enrolled in Lucien Simon’s independent studio and later at the Académie Julian.
Soon obliged to earn his own living, Mouron designed several posters, possibly as early as 1921; they were done in a caricatural style which was probably derived from the German School. Almost all of these early works have been lost. In 1922 he moved to his first studio in Paris, on the Rue du Moulin-Vert in Montparnasse. He decided to sign his advertising designs with the pseudonym Cassandre, which was sometimes combined (up to 1928) with the name Mouron.
In 1923, Cassandre completed the first poster work characterized by his synthetic style, Au Bûcheron. The poster, reproduced in a very large format on numerous locations throughout Paris, created a sensation and brought instant fame to its designer. It was awarded the first prize at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs in 1925; and it was on this occasion that Cassandre met Charles Peignot.
In 1924, Cassandre married his first wife, Madeleine Cauvet, who was the niece of Georges Richard, one of the pioneers of France’s automobile industry. He commissioned Auguste Perret to design a house for him in Versailles and settled there after its completion in 1925.
That same year, Cassandre signed an exclusive contract with Hachard & Cie, the firm which was to publish his posters up to 1927. After meeting Maurice Moyrand (in 1926), who was at that time the head agent for the printers L. Danel in Lille and who soon became a close friend, he quit Hachard and began to design for the Lille firm. Simultaneously, he designed his advertising typeface, Bifur, which was cast in the spring of 1929 by Deberny & Peignot.
Meanwhile, he also began work producing work for several foreign publishers: McCorquodale & Co. in London, Bemrose & Sons in Derby and, mainly, Nijgh en Van Ditmar in Rotterdam.
In 1930 his second typeface, the black-and-gray sanserif Acier display face, was published by Deberny & Peignot. That same year, Maurice Moyrand, who had already launched the Compagnie Artistique de Publicité, founded the Alliance Graphique L.C. (Loupot-Cassandre). In 1931 the two leading advertising artists were given a joint exhibition at the Galerie Pleyel in Paris; and the following year Cassandre became the art director at Alliance Graphique where, until 1935, a large number of his posters were to be published along with designs by other artists. As early as 1930, however, Cassandre began working on a contractual basis for the firm of Nicholas; he was responsible for the layout of that company’s many commercial and prestige publications.
Toward the end of 1933, he made his debut as a painter for the theater, thanks to Louis Jouvet who was first to put his gifts in this field to use. That same year, Cassandre was given a teaching position at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs; however, the graphic advertising studio he taught in soon had to close its doors for lack of funds. Between 1934 and 1935 he taught at a graphic arts school on the Rue Férou in Paris.
In 1935, Cassandre signed an exclusive contract with the firm of Draeger Fréres for the French editions of his posters. Between 1935 and 1936 he also produced work for Säuberlin & Pfeiffer S.A. in Vevey, Switzerland, and the Officina Grafica Coen in Milan, Italy. He also completed his first all-purpose typeface, Peignot, which was cast in time to be exhibited at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris.
After a retrospective exhibition of his posters at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in January 1936, Cassandre signed a contract with Harper’s Bazaar for the magazine’s covers. He spent the winters of 1936-37 and 1937-38 in New York. He designed several projects for posters, but only a few of them were actually published. But, stimulated by his meeting with the painter Balthus in 1936, he began to devote a good deal of his time and energy to easel painting. None of the paintings of this period are extant.
On his return from New York, Cassandre settled in Paris again. He divorced his first wife and, shortly afterward, joined the army when World War II was declared. He was demobilized in the fall of 1940, and resumed work on his painting. An exhibition of his easel paintings was held at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris in 1942. A year earlier, while working on several decorative panels in Lyon for the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Parisienne, he had met Nadine Robinson, a dress designer for Lucien Lelong, whom he was to marry in 1947.
Up to 1944, painting remained Cassandre’s main activity, though he devoted a good deal of time to designing sets and costumes for the theater, a creative field which allowed him to combine his interests in painting and architecture. His theater work included designs for the Paris Opera, the Comédie des Champs-Elysées in Paris and the Monte Carlo Opera. At the end of the war he resumed his activities as a graphic artist (advertisements, magazine covers, illustrations, playing cards, posters and layouts).
Cassandre spent six months in Italy in 1948; he designed several posters for his publisher in Milan, Augusto Coen (Calcografia & Cartevalori), and experimented with the technique of polychrome copperplate engraving used in printing bank notes. He continued his theatrical work, designed the maquettes for the sets for Monsieur de Pourceaugnac, which opened in Paris toward the end of the year.
After returning to Paris in the fall of 1948, Cassandre was approached by the organizers of the International Music Festival at Aix-en-Provence, who asked him to design an Italian-style open-air stage in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s palace in that town, as well as the décors and costumes for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which was to inaugurate the theater. This production was internationally successful. Cassandre, at the height of his reputation as a theater designer, was awarded the French Legion of Honor in the same year.
In 1950, a major retrospective exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs revealed to the public Cassandre’s richly diverse work in the graphic and plastic arts over the previous twenty-five years.
Cassandre divorced his second wife in 1954. After designing sets for the Comédie-Française, the May Festival de l’Œuvre du Xxe Siècle in Paris, among others, he rounded off his theatrical œuvre by designing the settings and costumes for Racine’s tragedies at the Comédie-Française in 1959. Time consuming as they were, however, these activities did not prevent him from carrying on his graphic, typographical and pictorial work; he designed several posters, logotypes, record jackets and typefaces for Olivetti typewriters.
In 1959-60, after declining André Malraux’s offer to appoint him director of the French arts academy at the Villa Medici in Rome, Cassandre gave up his apartment and studio on the Rue de Bellechasse, where he had lived for almost twenty years, and moved to a town house which had once belonged to Meissonier on the Place Malesherbes. He painted a series of “decorative” compositions there, and one of his last canvases, La Frontière. In 1962, he was promoted to officer of the Legion of Honor.
The following year, however, Cassandre decided to retire to the country, close to his friend Françoise Michel, near Belley in the Bugey region east of Lyon. He flirted with the idea of founding an internationational art institute, dreamed of building his own house (and actually designed plans for it) and tried to grow roots in the Bugey landscape. But the two years he spent there were filled with uncertainty for him and, discouraged, he returned to Paris in 1965. Back in the city, he designed his last poster, 24 Heures, for a newspaper which folded before it could even begin publishing, and prepared his work for a series of retrospective poster exhibitions at the Galerie Motte in Geneva (1966), the Galerie Janine Hao in Paris (1966) and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam (1967). He began work on several canvases, but, except for a last Bugey landscape painted from memory, never completed them.
Professionally, Cassandre’s final years were distinguished by the creation of his last typeface, Cassandre, specially designed for photo-composition, which was to remain unpublished until after his death and its epigraphic version, Metop.
After a first suicide attempt in 1967, Cassandre took his life in his apartment on the Avenue René-Coty in Paris on June 17, 1968