A. M. Cassandre was born Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron in Ukraine to French parents on 24 January 1901. Although his father’s business as a wine importer required him to remain in Russia, the young Adolphe was schooled in France. In 1915 the family moved to France, and after a brief spell attending the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris (he walked out after just one hour), he enrolled at the independent studio of Lucien Simon, and then the Académie Julian.
In Paris, the young Mouron fell under the influence of the avant-garde artists working in Paris, publicising through posters forthcoming cultural events, without concession to commercialism or popular taste of the time.
To finance his studies, Mouron took a job with the printing firm of Hachard et Compagnie, where he appears to have learned his craft, albeit through turning out fairly mediocre, routine work. In time he would produce some of his best loved work with Hachard, including ground-breaking designs for the French railway catering company, Wagons Lits.
In 1922 he set up his first studio in Montparnasse and began receiving poster commissions, for which he adopted the pseudonym, A. M. Cassandre. He quickly gained recognition, and with the poster ‘Au Bucheron’ (the lumberjack), created for a furniture store and designed to run in the Métro stations, he won first prize at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs.
His success enabled him, in 1930, to set up his own advertising agency, Alliance Graphique, with the poster illustrator Charles Loupot, and a young printer’s representative, Maurice Moyrand. Moyrand was influential and had many useful contacts, and through his dynamism the project prospered and soon picked up a number of high-profile clients. Sadly, in September 1934, Moyrand was killed in an automobile accident, and without his leadership, Alliance Graphique limped on for another year, and then closed. But this period saw the creation of what is widely acknowledged as some of his best poster work.
It was his audacious use of elements drawn from cubism and surrealism, two avant garde art movements yet to become fully accepted in the minds of the French public, that gave his best poster designs a startling visual impact, new to commercial art of the time. Always exploring and a readiness to experiment with juxtapositions of line and form that might put the viewer at some discomfort, or otherwise charm them with a subtle wit, gave his work an enduring appeal. A certain bravery was required by his clients in commissioning new designs, that’s for sure.
In 1929, after meeting the type founder Charles Peignot, Cassandre tried his hand at designing typefaces, beginning with the upper-case display face that he named Bifur. It never quite caught on, despite Piegnot’s promotional efforts, but undaunted, Cassandre pressed on the following year to design his next typeface, Acier. This met with the same response as Bifur. However, his third attempt, after many years of research and experimentation, produced Peignot, a commercial success as well as an enduring type design.
He made a number of trips to the United States between 1936, when the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition of his posters, and 1939. Whilst in the States he produced many covers for Harper’s Bazaar, as well as commissions from advertising agencies for the Ford Motor Company among others.
A short spell of military service followed his return to France, then he turned his creative resources to easel painting (with limited success) and stage design.
His final years were spent in relative poverty complicated by bouts of depression, until, on June 17 1968 in his apartment on the Avenue Rene-Coty in Paris, he took his own life.