Leonetto Cappiello was born in Leghorn in 1875. Right from his youth he was a self-taught artist, his earliest known works dating to 1889, his early drawings, presented at the Promotrice di Firenze of 1891 unfortunately are lost. In the same year Diego Martelli introduced the young Cappiello to the group of Leghorn artists and his work as an artist ranges from subject matters that includes portraits, interiors with figures, and landscapes and he worked on these themes until the end of the century.
In 1898 he joined his brother who was working in Paris and almost immediately decided to settle there. In 1896 he had already published an album of caricatures in Leghorn called the “Lanterna Magica” (The Magic Lantern) and it was with this work as advertising and commercial artist that he made his career in Paris. As a caricaturist he worked on numerous French magazines and was very successful because of his extremely innovative language. In 1900 he signed a contract as commercial artist with the editor Vercasson. He worked for sixteen years producing hundreds of posters, bills and affiches.
In 1903 Leonetto Cappiello produced a poster for Choccolat Klaus that was a great success because of the innovative boldness he brought to the language of advertising. In this product and in later contracts the images or the characters he uses are not only related to the product that was to be advertised but also exist independently as a ‘brand’ so becoming unique and recognisable creations irrespective of what they are advertising.
From 1912 he also worked as an interior decorator, various rooms in the Galeries Lafayette in Paris and at Villa Dreyfus at Saint Germani en Laye are evidence of this and in 1914 he was decorated with the Legion of Honour.
During the First World War he returned to Italy to do military service and when the war ended went back to France and entered into a contract with the editor Devambez working for him until 1936. It was Devambez himself who organised a retrospective exhibition of Cappiello’s work in Paris. In 1923 he worked on the decoration of several Parisian stores and in 1937 for the advertising stand at the Esposizione Universale di Parigi, for which he was also Vice President.
During WWII he moved to the south of France to Grasse. Leonetto Cappiello died in Cannes in 1942.
Written by: Cecilia Iacopetti – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
© Studio d’Arte dell’800