Herbert Matter (American/Swiss, 1984)

Herbert Matter’s (American/Swiss, 1907–1984) graphic career took off after he moved to Paris in 1925, and attended the Academie Moderne under the guidance of Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant. He joined the team of the legendary Deberny and Peignot in 1929, where he mastered the intricacies of typography and assisted A.M. Cassandre and Le Corbusier. In 1932, he returned to Switzerland after being deported from France for not having proper papers. A few years later, in 1936, Matter settled in New York, where he started out taking photographs for Harper's Bazaar and Saks Fifth Avenue. He then became affiliated with a photographic studio. During World War II, Matter made striking posters for Container Corporation of America.

In 1944, Matter became the design consultant at Knoll, molding its graphic identity for over 12 years. In 1952, he was asked by Alvin Eisenman, head of the design department at Yale, to join the Yale faculty as a professor of photography and graphic design. In 1954, he was commissioned to create the corporate identity for the New Haven Railroad. The ubiquitous "NH" logo, with its elongated serifs, was one of the most identifiable symbols in America.

In 1944, Matter undertook his first attempt at film, when he was asked by the Museum of Modern Art to direct a movie on the sculpture of his intimate friend and neighbor, Alexander Calder. From 1958 to 1968, he was the design consultant for the Guggenheim Museum, applying his well-designed typographic style to its posters and catalogues, many of which are still in print. The artist was well-known in the New York art scene, and in 1960, he began to photograph the sculptures of his friend Alberto Giacometti. He worked on this project for 25 years, and the comprehensive book was published posthumously.

The first major retrospective of the artist’s work was an exhibition in 1978 at Yale University. In that same year, the Kunsthaus in Zurich honored Matter with an exhibition of his work from the 1930s. In 1980, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Photography. He was named Honorary Royal Designer for Industry from the members of the Royal Designers in England in 1982. In addition, The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) awarded Matter its Gold Medal in 1983. The artist died on May 8, 1984, in Long Island, NY.

Timeline

1907
Born in Engelberg, Switzerland
1925–1927
Attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Geneva
1928–1929
Studied under Fernand Léger and Amédée Ozenfant at Academie Moderne, Paris
1929–1932
Hired as a designer and photographer for Deberny and Piegnot, assisted A.M. Cassandre and Le Corbusier
1936
Moved to the United States
1936–1938
Freelance photographer for Harper's Bazaar and Saks Fifth Avenue, and produced covers and spreads for Vogue
1944
Became the design consultant at Knoll
1952
Became professor of photography and graphic design at Yale
1958–1968
Was the design consultant for the Guggenheim Museum
1978
Received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for photography in 1980
1984
Died on May 8 in Southampton, Long Island, NY

Exhibitions

1995
Herber Matter - Foto Grafiker. Sehformen der Zeit, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (solo)
1991
The Graphic Designs of Herbert Matter, Museum of Modern Art, NY (solo)
1978
Herbert Matter, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (solo)
1954
Four American Graphic Designers, Museum of Modern Art, NY
1950
Color Photography, Museum of Modern Art, NY
1943
Action Photography, Museum of Modern Art, NY
1937
Photography 1839-1937, Museum of Modern Art, NY