Jan Tschichold and New Typography

Graphic design and typography have gone through a tremendous journey since Guttenberg. Movement after artistic movement have come and gone, some reacting against and others attempting to improve on previous ones. Top among design movements that bear revisiting is New Typography, not only because of the professional manner in which its designers went about business, but for its influence on modern day print industry. One name to which much credit goes in this regard is Jan Tschichold.

With the onset of WWI, typography took a new turn. Focus was riveted on war propaganda and it’s easy to see how and why professional conventions of graphic design often took a backseat. Artists didn’t always adhere to professional code, but employed sensational imagery to sway masses for political expediency. Nowhere was that more apparent than in Germany where blackletter type had for so long been a national political instrument. It’s thus paradoxical that Jan Tschichod, a German emigrant calligrapher, would play a significant role in typography. What’s more, his views on type became the basis of his personal safety forcing this arts educator to flee to Switzerland. This serves to demonstrate how typography, as a melting pot for divergent ideas, has evolved over time.

Tschichold is important because, like his changing views, the evolution of typography reflects a wavering aesthetic value of letterforms. Tschichold’s about-turn on New Typography later in life speaks to the instability of ideas in the face of political threat. Unlike some of his compatriots at Bauhaus, Tschichold had sense enough to discern the inevitability of change. But change is a shift from an established position, and Tschichold is the man credited with codifying of modernist rules of design. He instituted non-centered, flash left designs; he taught effective use of different sizes and weights of type for easy conveyance of information, and his influence led to standardization of paper sizes for all printed materials.

In a 1924 advertisement, Tschichold listed principles of New Typography in a how-to instruction manual approach. He wanted designers to use vertical and horizontal grid, rule bars and boxes, white spaces as elements of design, etc. all of which constituted what he termed ‘dynamic force of designs’. To achieve such required contrasting design elements and specific placements of text and images on a page. Beside these rules, Tschichold rejected the use of embellishments and decoration of type, insisting on san serif. He also rejected symmetry, and had asymmetry in its place. Ironically, while insisting on san serif, Tschichold was opposed to the geometric Architype Bayer which was a favorite of many Bauhaus designers. Thus, in creating rules for typography, rather than suggestions, Tschichold reenacted the unyielding intolerance of most artistic movements.

New Typography was an outgrowth of the Bauhaus, a school designed to marge fine and applied arts to achieve architectural prowess. A conglomeration of ideas, including Russian constructivism, dada, expressionism, De Stijl and other movements informed the Bauhaus. Tschichold, a constant guest at the school, and, himself a significant influence in Bauhaus ideals, was acquainted with the progressive nature of art, but he still created stringent rules for New Typography, which designers were not free to break. Before long, a new movement, the International Style arose and begun to dismantle the rules of New Typography as every movement had done to the one before it.

Standards are great, they provide starting points. Standardized paper sizes and typographic hierarchy help maintain consistency. But rules that cannot be broken are the surest way to kill creativity and prevent advancement, and Tschichold gave us both.

Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was born in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, a small town in northern France. Matisse studied law in Paris and was arranged by his father to become a law office clerk once he finished school. However, while recovering from appendicitis in 1889, he discovered his passion for painting. His mother brought him art supplies during this time of recuperation. She was a painter as well and it is apparent that Matisse learned from his mother and looked to her for inspiration. In 1891, Henri Matisse began his formal art education at the Académie Julian, but left due to their limited teaching structure. He later attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris after submitting multiple applications. Matisse had a difficult time finding his place in the art world and stood out as a sort of outcast amongst other artists. A critical turning point for his art came in 1904, after a trip to Saint-Tropez. His paintings shifted from a traditional Flemish style to Fauvism. He introduces bright colors, strong brush strokes and distorted images into his work. His paintings become more emotionally driven rather than searching to depict the world accurately and realistically. Some of Henri Matisse’s most well-know works come from this time period.


The Open Window, Collioure, Oil on canvas , 1905

Viewers are less exposed to Matisse’s art that follows in 1914 during World War I. During this time he traded the bright hues for layers of dark color and dense pigment. Matisse wanted to enlist in the war, but was rejected due to a heart condition. Many of his friends were fighting in the war and he felt helpless. His reactions can be seen through his work. Matisse began to create paintings labeled as “more ancient and more modern” (Lifson). Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg is one of Matisse’s wartime paintings. Throughout this painting, he uses muted, dark colors. He also scratches the surface with the end of his paintbrush to create lines around the figure.


Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914

Henri Matisse’s work changed with his environment. His responses to places and events are clear in his work. His career as an artist was long-lasting and we are left with six decades of influential work. Matisse produced art through the final years of his life and proves to be one of the most prominent and instrumental artists in directing modern art.


Biography.com Editors. “Henri Matisse – Painter, Sculptor – Biography.com.” Henri Matisse Biography. A&E Television Networks, 8 July 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

“Biography of Henri Matisse.” Henri Matisse. N.p., 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2016.

Lifson, Edward. “A Wartime Matisse Full Of Pain And Beauty : NPR.” A Wartime Matisse Full of Pain and Beauty. N.p., 13 June 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Sternau, Susan A. Henri Matisse. Ed. Elizabeth Loonan. New York: Todtri Production Limited, 1997. Print.