From spritzes to sprites: Campari’s advertising legacy

Some of Italy’s foremost designers made work for Campari, creating hand-painted belle epoque posters and surreal images of bright red bottles with legs. A new exhibition celebrates the brand’s visual heritage

Bitter Campari (Lo Spiritello), Leonetto Cappiello, 1921

Six decades of advertising and ephemera is brought together at The Art of Campari exhibition, which is hosted by London’s Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. The work – which is drawn from Campari’s own extensive archive of 3,000 pieces – reflects the stylistic influence of each era.

Early posters depict elegant drinkers enjoying an aperitif or carefully poised arrangements of hand-painted bottles and glasses, but these quickly gave way to more striking imagery in the 1920s such as the Campari clown (or sprite, as it’s officially known.)

Bitter Campari, Adolf Hohenstein, 1901

The 1921 jester surrounded by swirling orange peel is perhaps one of the brand’s better known posters – a quick search on eBay shows reproductions are rife – but more than the appeal of its bright colours, it reflects the demands on advertising of the time.

“Milan changed very much in the beginning of the 20th century,” says curator Roberta Cremoncini. “There was electricity and trams, and advertising had to be very quickly recognisable. It had to have impact, so speeding buses could see the image.”

Campari, Leonetto Cappiello, 1921
Campari l’aperitivo, Marcello Nizzoli, 1925

Campari’s changing image was also the result of its collaborations with some of the Italian ad industry’s leading names, including Leonetta Cappiello, Marcello Dudovich, and Futurist Fortunato Depero – who saw advertising as the only way forward for many artists that wanted to make a living.

“Everything had the idea of strong branding, but it was also very of the time – Cubist, Futurist…,” says Cremonicini. “There’s that tension between fun and playfulness, and how much the brand achieved, in a sense.” Depero’s work with Campari still feels fresh, particularly a series of crisp monochromatic adverts created by him in the 1920s, featuring overlaid geometric illustrations.

Distrattemente mise il Bitter Campari in testa, Fortunato Depero, 1928
Con in occhio vidi un Cordial con un altro un Bitter Campari, Fortunato Depero, 1928

In the 60s, Campari worked with Franz Marangolo, an Italian illustrator who also created pieces for Fiat and Martini & Rossi. His bright green poster showing one of the brand’s trademark conical bottles – only ever available in Italy – with a disembodied eye, and a pair of dashing legs is surprisingly bizarre. Marangolo also tipped his hat to the brand’s 1920s advertising and the elegant lifestyle it associated with the aperitif, designing a set of posters displaying pen and ink women lounging about while, of course, enjoying a Campari.

Another standout piece from the show is a huge typographic mural designed by Bruno Munari, featuring dozens of different versions of the Campari logo which have been sliced, diced, and put back together. It was apparently the result of years of research into legibility and reconstructed images, and hung in Milan’s Linea Rossa stations on the day of opening in 1964.

Campari Soda e sempre giovane!, Franz Marangolo, 1960s
Bitter Campari, Franz Marangolo, 1960s

As well as posters and ads, the exhibition features a few extra pieces of charming ephemera – a clock shaped like a giant drinks cap, some well-worn drinks crates, and enamel signs.

The Art of Campari is open from July 4 until 16 September at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art;