Leonetto Cappiello (1875–1942) is often called “the father of modern advertising” as a result of the revolutionary design aesthetic he brought to early 20th-century advertising posters. Although he was also recognized as an outstanding painter, illustrator, and caricaturist, Cappiello is most celebrated for his poster art.
Cappiello’s posters were markedly different from the previously dominant Art Nouveau style. In 1904, art critic Christian Brinton recognized the novel modern aesthetic and technique of Cappiello’s work. In Brinton’s view, Leonetto Cappiello possessed “a keener psychology and a crisper, more straightforward method than any of his colleagues.” Writing about his caricatures, Brinton said, “facial characteristics and conformation of figure are reduced to their slenderest terms; nothing superlative is admitted and nothing essential is omitted.”
This could equally describe Cappiello’s posters. He created vibrantly colored, dynamic images, often on black or monochromatic backgrounds that made the central image “pop.” Cappiello’s posters immediately grabbed the viewer’s attention. They were the perfect advertising and brand-building medium for the fast-paced society of the new century.
Cappiello produced hundreds of advertising posters between 1900 and his death in 1942, working on advertising campaigns for clients in France, Italy, and Spain. His posters promoted all types of products, including chocolate, cheese, cigarettes, shoes, tires, and alcoholic beverages from absinthe to vodka.
Naturally, he also designed posters for coffee and coffee-related products.
Take the Espresso Train
Promoting the company’s classic “La Victoria Arduino” machine, the poster features a man in a bright yellow coat, leaning from the door of a bright green train to fill bright red cups with caffé espresso from the Victoria Arduino.
The composition is bold and dynamic. The inclusion of steam above the machine and towards the front of the train is especially interesting; according to company lore, the idea for espresso coffee machines was inspired by steam locomotives.
La “Victoria Arduino” per Caffé Espresso is available at Amazon.com in several sizes and formats, framed or unframed.
Make a Wish for Coffee
Cappiello’s 1921 poster for the Café Martin coffee brand is another great example of the eye-catching design for which he’s famous.
The poster features an exuberant genie buoyed by a cloud of steam above a piping hot cup of coffee. The beautiful china cup is painted in gold, red, and black. The white-clad genie floating above it brandishes a silver coffee pot and several packages of Café Martin coffee.
This vibrant image is set against a muted background painted in shades of red. The copy, “Éviter les Contrefaçons,” can be translated as “Avoid Counterfeits.”
The Café Martin poster can be purchased at Amazon.com in a number of different sizes and with various framing options.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Cappiello’s early poster from around 1903 for another brand, Cafés Labrador, shows a monkey dressed as a French nobleman in a long blue coat, red leggings, and a plumed hat, set against a brown (or in some prints, black) background.
The monkey is holding a package of Labrador coffee, above copy that reads, “Exiger la Boîte Cachetée” (require the sealed box).
The Labrador coffee package held by the monkey shows an image of the monkey that’s identical to the image on the poster. This technique of a picture appearing recursively within itself—theoretically repeating infinitely in smaller and smaller sizes—became known as the “Droste effect,” named after the packaging introduced around the year 1900 on tins and boxes of Droste cocoa powder.
This poster, like the previous two, is available at Amazon.com in several sizes and with various paper and framing options.
When in Spain, Drink Cafe con Leche
Although Cappiello lived and worked in France for the last four decades of his life (he was received into the Legion of Honor in 1914 and became a French citizen in 1930), his clients were not limited to France and his native Italy.
In 1924 he created one of his most arresting images for Spain’s Iberia brand Cafe con Leche Condensada (coffee with condensed milk). This poster features a bulky gentleman dressed all in black, set against a bright orange background. The man is sitting at a black table drinking a cup of cafe con leche condensada with obvious enjoyment. His pinky finger is extended as he holds the cup. And he is looking from the corner of his eye straight at the viewer. It’s a very modern and memorable image.
The Iberia Cafe con Leche Condensada poster does not seem to be available for sale online, as of this writing.
Leonetto Cappiello’s vivid poster art has stood the test of time. His posters are both “vintage” and modern at the same time.
If you’re a coffee lover and you want to brighten up your home or office with some exceptional artwork, consider one of Leonetto Cappiello’s coffee posters. Their vibrant, dynamic designs won’t fail to brighten up your life, even before you have your morning coffee!
Brinton, Christian. “Sem, Cappiello, and Fornaro.” The Critic: an Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art, And Life. Vol. 45, No. 6, December 1904. Hathi Trust Digital Library. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/inu.32000000676967?urlappend=%3Bseq=553 (accessed March 23, 2016).
Encyclopedia of Visual Arts. “Leonetto Cappiello: Biography of Italian Functionalist Poster Artist & Designer.” http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-artists/leonetto-cappiello.htm (accessed March 24, 2016).
Vázquez, María. “Leonetto el Conquistador.” En Ojo en El Cielo. https://elojoenelcielo.com/2014/03/02/ (accessed March 23, 2016).
Wikipedia contributors, “Leonetto Cappiello.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Leonetto_Cappiello&oldid=709942200 (accessed March 24, 2016).
Victoria Arduino company website. http://www.victoriaarduino.com/ (accessed March 23, 2016).
All images in this post are in the public domain. The photo of Leonetto Cappiello in his studio was published in the article in The Critic cited above. Photo by Ellis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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