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Leonetto Cappiello’s Coffee Advertising Posters

by | February 22, 2024 | Visual Arts

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.”

Leonetto Cappiello

Leonetto Cappiello in his studio. (Published in The Critic, December 1904. Photo by Ellis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

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.

In this article, I focus on several of his posters advertising coffee and coffee-related products.

Take the Espresso Train

La Victoria Arduino Espresso Machine (1922)

Victoria Arduino poster 1922

Leonetto Cappiello's 1922 poster for La Victoria Arduino espresso coffee machine. (Leonetto Cappiello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Among Cappiello’s most famous works is La “Victoria Arduino” per Caffé Espresso, the poster he designed for Italy’s espresso coffee machine manufacturer Victoria Arduino in 1922.

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.

Make a Wish for Coffee

Café Martin Coffee (1921)

Café Martin coffee

Leonetto Cappiello's 1921 poster Café Martin's coffee. (Leonetto Cappiello, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cappiello’s 1921 poster for Café Martin brand coffee 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 and dynamic image is set against a muted background painted in shades of red. The copy, “Éviter les Contrefaçons,” can be translated as “Avoid Counterfeits.” The design was extremely popular when it was first released and it remains so today.

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Cafés Labrador (c. 1903)

Cafés Labrador advertising poster

Leonetto Cappiello's advertising poster for Cafés Labrador, c. 1903. (Public domain)

Cappiello’s early advertising poster from around 1903 for another coffee brand, Cafés Labrador of Le Havre, has a playful (and maybe political?) design. It features 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 poster also touts the company’s electric factory.

The Labrador coffee package held by the monkey shows an image of the monkey that’s identical to the monkey who’s looking at it. This technique of a picture appearing recursively within itself—theoretically repeating infinitely in smaller and smaller sizes—became known as the “Droste effect.” It took its name from a 1904 Droste cocoa powder package design by Jan Misset. Did Cappiello’s 1903 poster inspire Misset’s design?

Dress in Black, But Drink Your Coffee with Milk

Iberia Café con Leche Condensada (1924)

Iberia Cafe con Leche poster

Leonetto Cappiell's advertising poster for Iberia Café con Leche Condensada, 1924. (Public domain)

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 Cappiello 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 café con leche condensada with obvious enjoyment. His pinky finger is extended as he holds the cup.

There’s some ambiguity in the image. Is the man’s eye closed as he enjoys the aroma of his coffee? Is he looking down at his cup? Or is he looking at the viewer out of the corner of his eye? This ambiguity adds to the very modern feel of the poster. It’s a memorable image.

Leonetto Cappiello's Art Still Looks Modern Today

Leonetto Cappiello revolutionized the art of the poster, especially the advertising poster. He created over 500 advertising posters in his career. Close to 250 of them, covering a great variety of subjects, are available for viewing on the Gallica website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

And Capiello’s vivid poster art has stood the test of time. His posters are both “vintage” and modern at the same time. They represent commercial art at its best.

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, February 21, 2024).

Cappiello, Julien. Leonetto Cappiello: Affichiste – Caricaturiste. http://cappiello.fr/ (accessed March 23-24, 2016, February 22, 2024). (Also available in English at http://cappiello.fr/en/).

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, February 22, 2024).

Vázquez, María. “Leonetto el Conquistador.” En Ojo en El Cielo. https://elojoenelcielo.com/2014/03/02/ (available in Spanish and English, accessed March 23, 2016, February 22, 2024).

Wikipedia contributors, “Leonetto Cappiello.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonetto_Cappiello (accessed March 24, 2016, February 22, 2024).

Victoria Arduino company website. http://www.victoriaarduino.com/ (accessed March 23, 2016, February 21, 2024).

Copyright © Brian Lokker 2016, 2024. An earlier version of this article was published on CoffeeCrossroads.com.

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