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Jean Carlu
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Bonnières-sur-Seine, France
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Nogent-sur-Marne, France
French graphic designer and illustrator Jean Carlu is known for his many striking poster designs created for commercial advertising over nearly six decades and political and propaganda posters created during the 1930s and World War II. Many of his designs reflected his interest in Cubism. Jean Georges Leon Carlu was born in Bonnières-sur-Seine, a small town on the Seine River about forty miles northwest of Paris. He was educated at the College of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and then studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, following the career path of his older brother Jacques Carlu (1890-1976). He was already interested in graphic design, and in 1918 Carlu was named “Designer of the Year” and designed a poster for Glycodont toothpaste that won a prize. That year he was run over by a Parisian tram and lost his right arm. He recovered, decided to focus on graphic art, taught himself to draw with his left hand and worked as an independent graphic designer in Paris. Carlu worked for the Sirven printing firm in Toulouse during 1919 and 1920. Over the next two decades Carlu became one of the leading French poster designers. He began designing in the Art Deco style, such as the poster for Charlie Chaplin’s (1889-1977) movie “The Kid” (1921). He was also associated with advertising agencies, including Avenir Publicité in Paris (1921-1923) and W. S. Crawford in London (1929-1931). The Baron Philippe de Rothschild (1902-1988) hired Carlu to design the label for the 1924 vintage of Bordeaux wine produced by Chateau Mouton Rothschild. His posters for Monsavon shaving cream (1925 and 1926) and the Théâtre Pigalle (1930) became famous. Carlu exhibited his work at the Exposition des Arts Decoratifs in 1925. Along with Cassandre (1901-1968) and Paul Colin (1892-1985), Carlu was a founder of the Union des Artistes Moderne also in 1925, and exhibited with that group in an exhibition at the Louvre Museum in 1931. Disturbed by the rise of Fascism, in 1932 Carlu founded the Office of Propaganda for Peace and designed a poster in support, “Pour le Désarmement des Nations” (1932). He was in charge of graphics for the 1937 Paris Exposition Universelle and helped design the Art et Technique pavilion. Sent to New York City in 1939 by the French Information Service to organize the exhibition “France at War” at the New York World’s Fair, Carlu stayed in the United States after the German occupation of Paris in 1940. He designed posters for the U.S. Office of War Information during World War II, and is credited with designing the first defense poster for that office, “Stop Hitler Now” in 1940. His 1941 poster, “America’s Answer! Production,” won a gold medal from the New York Art Directors Club and was named poster of the year. It simply showed a glove holding a wrench turing the first “o” in the word “Production” as if it were a bolt. Another 1941 poster, “Give ‘Em Both Barrels,” showed a soldier with a machine gun and a worker with a rivet gun. While in America Carlu did commercial work for the Container Corporation of America and Pan American Airways, among other companies. He returned to France in 1953 and continued his graphic design practice. Carlu created advertising designs for Air France, Cinzano, Firestone Tires and Perrier, designed illustrations for several periodicals, worked with the Lorousse publishing firm and consulted with advertising agencies in Brussels. Carlu was made an Officer of the French Legion of Honor and an honorary fellow of London’s Royal College of Art. He retired in 1974 and died in 1997 in Nogent-sur-Marne, an eastern suburb of Paris. (TNB 10/2018) Selected bibliography: Gale, Contemporary Designers, “Jean (Georges Leon) Carlu,” Jan. 1, 1997, in Gale, Biography in Context, Livingston, Alan and Isabella. The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers. 3rd ed., p. 49. London and New York: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Sagner-Düchting, Karin. “Carlu, Jean,” in Saur, Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon. Vol. 16, p. 466. Munich and Leipzig: K. G. Saur, 1997.