Herbert Matter

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World War II poster by Herbert Matter

Herbert Matter (April 25, 1907 – May 8, 1984) was a Swiss-born American photographer and graphic designer known for his pioneering use of photomontage in commercial art. Matter's innovative and experimental work helped shape the vocabulary of 20th-century graphic design.


Born in Engelberg, Switzerland, Matter studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Geneva [fr] and at the Académie Moderne in Paris under the tutalge of Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. He worked with Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, Le Corbusier and Deberny & Peignot. In 1932, he returned to Zurich, where he designed posters for the Swiss National Tourist Office and Swiss resorts. The travel posters won instant international acclaim for his pioneering use of photomontage combined with typeface.[1]

He went to the United States in 1936 and was hired by legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch. Work for Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and other magazines followed. In the 1940s, photographers, including Irving Penn, at Vogue's studios at 480 Lexington Avenue often used them for shooting the advertising work commissioned by outside clients. The practice was at first tolerated, but by 1950 it was banned on the grounds that it "has interfered with our own interests and has been a severe handicap to our editorial operations".[2] In response Matter and three other Condé Nast photographers Serge Balkin, Constantin Joffé and Geoffrey Baker left to establish Studio Enterprises Inc. in the former House & Garden studio on 37th Street (Penn stayed on but also left in 1952).[3]

From 1946 to 1966 Matter was design consultant with Knoll Associates. He worked closely with Charles and Ray Eames. From 1952 to 1976 he was professor of photography at Yale University and from 1958 to 1968 he served as design consultant to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. He was elected to the New York Art Director's Club Hall of Fame in 1977, received a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography in 1980 and the AIGA medal in 1983.[1]

As a photographer, Matter won acclaim for his purely visual approach. A master technician, he used every method available to achieve his vision of light, form and texture. Manipulation of the negative, retouching, cropping, enlarging and light drawing are some of the techniques he used to achieve the fresh form he sought in his still lifes, landscapes, nudes and portraits. As a filmmaker, he directed two films on his friend Alexander Calder: "Sculptures and Constructions" in 1944 and "Works of Calder" (with music by John Cage) for the Museum of Modern Art in 1950.[4][5]

Close friends of Matter and his wife Mercedes were the painters Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, fellow Swiss photographer Robert Frank and Alberto Giacometti. Matter's wife Mercedes was the daughter of the American modernist painter Arthur Beecher Carles, and was herself the chief founder of the New York Studio School.

"The absence of pomposity was characteristic of this guy", said another designer, Paul Rand, about Matter. His creative life was devoted to narrowing the gap between so-called fine and applied arts. Matter died on May 8, 1984, in Southampton, New York.[6]



  1. ^ a b "1983 AIGA Medalist: Herbert Matter". AIGA | the professional association for design. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  2. ^ In-house magazine Condé Nast Ink, August 1950, p. 3
  3. ^ Penn, Irving; Maria Morris Hambourg and Jeff Rosenheim and Alexandra Dennett (writers of supplementary textual content); Grand Palais, Paris (host institution). Irving Penn : Centennial. Metropolitan Museum of Art (2017), p. 324, ISBN 978-1-58839-618-1
  4. ^ Works of Calder at IMDb
  5. ^ "Historic Films – Calder Foundation". Retrieved 2017-05-30.
  6. ^ The Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz gives Springs, East Hampton, New York, as his place of death.
  7. ^ The Visual Language of Herbert Matter at IMDb

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