In 1924, a young artist was commissioned a label for Château Mouton Rothschild wine:
Baron Philippe de Rothschild, an extravagant Jazz Age playboy, thought not only of car races, beautiful actresses and night clubs. Exactly like the more conservative members of the family he was very keen on promoting his "discriminated" (i.e. exluded from Grand Cru status) Mouton; feeling the commercial potential of avant-garde, he envisioned a trendy designer label, totally unlike the long-in-tooth traditional art. And the artist chosen for the task, Jean Carlu, created a spectacular label single-handedly - in the real sense of the word.
Born in Bonnières, France, Jean Carlu (1900-1989) came from a family of architects and studied to enter that profession. After an accident at the age of eighteen in which he lost his right arm, Carlu turned to graphic design (Jacques Carlu, Jean's elder brother, carried the family banner on and evolved into a prominent architect and interior designer). His early work reveals a fascination with the angular forms and spatial nuances of Cubism.
The wise men of Chelm... oh, sorry, of Gotham... I beg the pardon, of Wikipedia claim that "the fame of Carlu rests mainly on two posters: for Monsavon and for the Théâtre Pigalle. " OK, the Monsavon character (above) is cheerful, a bit demonic and easily recognizable.
As Carlu's work evolved over the next two decades, it continued to show a concern with the geometric shapes of Cubism, but this was manifested in very different ways. Carlu sought to create a symbolic language in which color, line, and content would represent emotional values. His work thus achieved a distinctive, streamlined economy of form, rarely incorporating narrative or illustrative elements.
In 1937, he was chairman of the Graphic Publicity Section of the Paris International Exhibition. He came to the United States to organize an exhibition at the New York World’s Fair, for the French Information Service. He remained here when Paris was captured by the Germans.
Carlu spent the years of World War II in the United States, where he executed a number of important poster designs for the government's war effort. Characterized by the same scientific precision of form as his other work, these designs were well suited to the promotion of industrial efficiency.
It was during his time in the US the he designed one of his most famous posters - “America’s Answer! Production” This poster won him a New York Art Directors medal as well as being voted poster of the year. He also designed work for Container Corporation of America and Pan American Airways.
Both American and international design traditions continue to reflect his influence.
Sources: Dr. Leslie Project; Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)