László/Ladislav Csáder, Design for a poster

Artwork of the Month, November 2022: Design for an Advertising Poster for Piešťany by Ladislav Csáder (1932–36)

When studying the history of the avant-garde movement during the interwar period, the Slovak avant-garde remains relatively unexplored and in need of further investigation. Omitted from international works and under-represented in its own country, this key moment in Slovak modernity has recently become a priority area of research at the Slovak Design Museum in Bratislava. [1] A key resource in this context has been the archives of Iva Mojžišová (1939–2014), an art historian who devoted much time and energy to studying, collecting and preserving materials relating the School of Design in Bratislava (ŠUR, Škola umeleckých remesiel). [2]  The school, around which the Slovak avant-garde was structured, no longer exists, and it is thanks to Mojžišová that documentation related to many of the designers who worked there are now to be found in the Slovak Design Museum. Other archives have also recently been opened to researchers, such as that of Ladislav (László) Csáder (1909–1975), a graphic designer whose rich oeuvre has yet to be fully discovered. Images like the one we will study more closely here testify to the merit of granting him a place in the international avant-garde movement.

László/Ladislav Csáder, Design for a poster

Ladislav Csáder: Design for an Advertising Poster for Piešťany, 1932–36 – photo courtesy of Csáder’s Estate

Local contexts  

The image in question is a draft for an advertisement project. It was possibly meant to be a promotional poster for the spa town of Piešťany. As Ľubomír Longauer points out, this sublime image and others from the same series remain shrouded in mystery. [3] It is assumed that they were large-format advertisements created for Redopa, a kind of communication agency for promoting the tourism in the country which was founded by Antonin Hořejš (1901–1967). The work of Redopa has not yet been properly studied, but this agency played an important and original role in the promotion of the modern image of Slovakia.

Hořejš was a key figure of Slovak modernism: he was one of the founders and administrators of the ŠUR where he taught the history of art and taste. The school opened in Bratislava in 1928 and, directed by Czech artist and ethnographer Josef Vydra (1884–1959), became a veritable showcase of Slovak modernity in the 1930s. When the school was created, Vydra had the privilege of being able to put together his own teaching staff, as there was no art academy in Bratislava whose teachers he might have felt obliged to employ. This was a very advantageous situation compared to the one Walter Gropius had to manage in Weimar, for example. Vydra surrounded himself with young artists, Slovak and Czech, whose orientation was clearly supportive of the avant-garde. The school attracted many who identified with the modernity and cosmopolitanism that the ŠUR represented through its teaching staff, the personalities it invited and the students who attended the school. As a result, Bratislava became the most important city in Slovakia in terms of size and cultural influence.[4]

The ŠUR trained professionals in various fields of craft and industrial design, placing an emphasis on the functionality of objects and their accessibility to the mass market. If we focus our gaze more specifically to the graphic design that interests us here, its teaching was provided from 1931 onwards by Zdeněk Rossmann (1905–1984), a Czech architect and graphic designer who forged links with progressive artists and designers internationally.[5]  Rossmann was a true champion of the New Typography, as it was developed in Germany in the 1920s by Jan Tschichold (1902–1974), author of Die Neue Typographie (1928), a seminal work for all modern graphic designers. Rossmann invited Tschichold to give lectures at the ŠUR and organised an exhibition of his poster collection there. Rossmann, who was close to Hořejš, took part in the Redopa agency venture, for which he designed posters and other printed matter. In addition, he oversaw its art direction.

Ladislav Csáder also worked for Redopa. He probably attended Rossmann’s classes (Rossmann called him his best pupil), although his name is not recorded in the ŠUR’s student register. Thanks to his knowledge of Hungarian, which he spoke fluently, he was able to study in Budapest between 1928 and 1931, before returning to Slovakia in 1932.[6] His inclination towards modernism naturally led him to frequent ŠUR circles. He also maintained links with Hungarians, in particular with Lajos Kassák (1887–1967) and his Munka Circle, which advocated a committed approach to photography. In Bratislava he met the communist photographer Irena Blühová (1904–1991), who had trained at the Bauhaus. Thanks to her recommendation he was approached and hired by the Dutch communication agency Co-op2. He then moved to Amsterdam in 1936. These chronological markers in Csáder’s life make it possible to date his advertisement for Piešťany to the years 1932–36, i. e., during his activity in Slovakia.

This work is captivating because of the elegance of its composition and choice of colours. For the background of the picture, Csáder opted for a light, bright blue: it is suggestive of the sky but also of thermal water, the benefits of which are precisely the attraction of the spa town of Piešťany. A photograph of a woman in a bathing costume is placed in the centre of the composition, against a background of two superimposed circles – orange-red and white. She is radiant with happiness and her dynamic pose is that of a synchronised swimmer or an artistic gymnast. She embodies health and fitness, which is the main objective of the stay offered in Piešťany, the town being promoted. Moreover, a photograph of a car is stuck on the white arc of a circle, symbolising the road to this health and fitness destination. The name of the town is written in large transparent letters as the only word on the poster, without any further textual explanation.

Piešťany is still a popular spa town. Its microclimate (it is the sunniest town in Slovakia) and its almost miraculous hot springs have always been the town’s assets. In the interwar period, Piešťany attracted thousands of tourists, among whom were prestigious personalities from all over the world. The town was equipped with modern infrastructure and various functionalist villas were built.[7] Csáder’s poster is part of the same drive to promote the modern image of the spa town. The way he conceives this poster is therefore not without some modernist references. It is in fact very emblematic of the New Typography movement, the principles of which were set out in the 1920s, particularly in Germany, in circles close to the Bauhaus.

International context – New Typography

Firstly, it is an image in which writing and photography are combined, following the example of the typo-photo advocated by László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). This Hungarian artist, who taught at the Bauhaus, visited Bratislava several times, notably in March 1931, when he gave a series of lectures at the ŠUR. [8]  His theories were therefore very well-known there. The idea of the typo-photo was to combine two expressions of modern communication (typographic text and photographic image) in one medium to increase the efficiency in the transmission of ideas:

Today, attempts are being made to exploit the expressive potential of typography; that which is used to intervene in the layout only as an object, is now promoted to the rank of subject. Typographic materials themselves are powerful optical symbolic forms and thus have the power to represent the content of information in an immediately visual way, without calling exclusively on the mediation of the intellect. Photography as typographic material is most effective. It can accompany the text or illustrate it, or it can replace the words and, as a ‘phototext,’ constitute a specific type of representation whose objectivity excludes any subjective interpretation. [9]

Csáder’s poster design shows his thorough knowledge of Moholy-Nagy’s work; in particular, the motif of the car on the white curve seems to be inspired by a similar motif on the Hungarian artist’s Pneumatik poster design.

Lászlo Moholy-Nagy: Pneumatik, advertisement design, 1924

László Moholy-Nagy: Pneumatik, 1924, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek

The car also recalls the fascination of avant-garde artists with the world of machinery in general and with means of transport in particular (cars, trains, transatlantic ships, aeroplanes). These modern means of locomotion made it possible to shorten distances between people. Avant-garde artists were practitioners of mobility: they moved from one city to another, met and exchanged ideas. The private car, at that time still a luxury object, had a bright future. Its speed and noise became a leitmotif of poetic and artistic creation, starting with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism (1909), which for the first time sang of the beauty of the speed of the machine. In Czechoslovakia, a beautiful poster by František Zelenka (1904–1944) for the car brand Aero (1932), worthy of a picture-poem, shows that the car was a prominent part of the imagination of the avant-garde.[10]

Csáder’s poster design involved another iconic motif of interwar modernity: the athletic, sporting body. Physical culture was the focus of attention in modernist circles after the debacle of the First World War. The damaged bodies of war veterans, caricatured by the German Dadaists (Georg Grosz, John Heartfield, Otto Dix), gave way to those of the New Man, tanned and muscular, and the New Woman, also constructed through reference to sport. She was active in every sense of the word, as recalled in particular by the superb catalogue for the exhibition Civilised Woman, staged in Brno in 1929, the layout of which was overseen by Rossmann.

Frantisek Zelenka: Aero, design for a poster, 1932

Frantisek Zelenka: Aero, design for a poster, 1932, National Gallery, Prague

The exaltation of the healthy body can be seen in a multitude of modern images immortalising dancers or water sports enthusiasts doing somersaults. Given the speed of the moment, these images were often not paintings, but photographs that could eventually serve as inspiration for painters. For example, Gret Palucca’s (1902–1993) improvisations at the Bauhaus were basic documents for Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) in his reflection on the representation of pure (abstract) movement.

Gustav Klutsis: Spartakiade, postcard, 1928

Gustav Klutsis: Spartakiade, postcard, 1928

In addition to the modern dance that fascinated artistic circles, the postcards of the Moscow Spartakiads (1928) designed by the Soviet photomontage artist Gustav Klutsis (Latvian: Gustavs Klucis, 1895–1938) show a range of sports practised equally by men and women: the most beautiful of them all is the one dedicated to water sports with a cascade of saltos. This type of performer appears regularly in the photomontages of the international avant-garde. The tightly-fitting swimming costume allowed the healthy, physically fit body to be displayed. The female figure in a swimming costume replaced the now unfashionable figure of the prim woman, stuffed into frilly, flouncy dresses. It also represented a modern alternative to the languid sensual nude. Female beauty was synonymous with physical exercise, as suggested by the poster design for Nivea by Charlotte Voepel (1909–1987).

Csáder was aware of the symbolism of the female athletic body, and it is thus not by chance that this meaningful modern figure appears in a poster design promoting a healthy lifestyle. He highlights it by placing it on two perfectly positioned circles (white for the clothed part of the body, red for the bare legs).

Charlotte Voepel, Nivea, design for a poster, 1928

Charlotte Voepel, Nivea, design for a poster, 1928, Bauhaus Archiv, Berlin

This lively photomontage does not include long explanatory comments, which would be difficult to manage for the international clientele that the poster was aimed at. The only written information, in a very legible way, is the name of the city. Csáder used the linear Akzidenz-Grotesk typeface that was very popular in the New Typography movement. Csáder himself was interested in the question of letter construction, as can be seen from several dozen sketches of scripts and logotypes on graph paper in his archive. These types are reminiscent of those developed by Herbert Bayer (1900–1985) at the Bauhaus: a script constructed with elementary geometric forms, reduced in number. Some letters could become others by simply changing their position (e. g., ʻn’ could become ʻu’ by simple inversion). The simplification of fonts had a particular meaning in Germany between the wars: for these artists involved in the international avant-garde movement, it was a matter of simplifying writing in order to find a universal language that would guarantee understanding between the peoples of the world. [11] Bayer, in particular, believed that writing could do without capital letters because in spoken language there is no distinction between upper and lower case.[12] Bayer developed a number of typefaces in lower case only. The best known of all of them is, perhaps, ‘Universal,’ which he designed in 1925. A number of notable avant-garde figures in the avant-garde in Czechoslovakia responded positively to it, including Karel Teige (1900–1951), one of the most ardent champions of the New Typography, and Rossmann. In his typographic work Rossmann took up Bayer’s argument about the uselessness of capital letters, proving in particular the better legibility of lower-case letters.

Csáder does not use only lower-case letters (the letter P is drawn in upper case), nor does he use the most radical forms of letters (it is clear that the letter ‘e’ is not a simple inversion of the letter ‘a’); this may have perhaps reflected a ‘decorative’ concern that could be seen in the image as a whole. Curves and counter-curves create a pleasant composition that is pleasing to the eye. The transparency of the writing is accentuated by the dot on the letter ‘i’ which is drawn as a small circle changing colour according to the background (black on white, white on black).


The poster for Piešťany is an early work by Ladislav Csáder. It illustrates how in Bratislava in the 1930s young talent could be involved in the project of building what was sometimes referred to as the ‘new Slovakia.’[13] The modernist approaches promoted by the ŠUR and the economic aims well understood by Redopa intersect here. It was in this very stimulating environment that Csáder embarked on his career, later developing in other interesting directions. His oeuvre is very rich, nourished by various international engagements and of great aesthetic quality, yet little attention has been devoted to him so far.[14] It can only be hoped that, in the future, more scholars will undertake research on his work and present it to the public.

Sonia de Puineuf

Sonia de Puineuf is an art historian who lives and works in Brest, France, where she teaches at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale.

[1] See the newest publication which summarizes the extensive research of a multidisciplinary team on that topic: Klára Prešnajderová, Simona Bérešová, Sonia de Puineuf, eds, ŠUR. Škola umeleckých remesiel v Bratislave 1928–1939, [ŠUR. The School of Applied Arts in Bratislava 1928–1939] (Bratislava, 2021).

[2] Iva Mojžišová, Škola moderného videnia. Bratislavská ŠUR 1928–1939 [A School of Modern Vision: The ŠUR in Bratislava 1928–1939] (Bratislava 2013).

[3] Ľubomír Longauer, Graphic Design in Slovakia after 1918. Vol. 3: Moderate Progress (Bratislava 2020) p. 59.

[4] In the 1920s, another Slovak town was bustling with artistic activity: Košice (Eastern Slovakia). This is a special phenomenon in the history of Slovak art: the group of artists who lived and worked there was overwhelmingly Hungarian. The cosmopolitanism and Czechoslovakianism of the avant-garde in Bratislava was of a quite different nature. Read more about Košice modernism in Zuzana Bartošová, Lena Lešková, Košicka moderna a jej presahy  [The modernism in Košice and its connections] (Košice 2013).

[5] Sonia de Puineuf, ʻZdeněk Rossmann: Nový človek v diagrame európskej avantgardy,’ in Zdeněk Rossmann: Horizonty modernismu, eds. Marta Sylvestrová, Jindřich Toman (Brno 2015) pp. 50–60.

[6] As for Csáder’s national feeling, it is difficult to assess. His own children are divided on this point. Csáder was born in a village where Hungarian was the daily language, as it was the case of many villages in South Slovakia area at that time, but he was also fluent in Slovak, Czech and German. His cosmopolitan profile matched well with that of Bratislava, the city he chose to settle in 1932 and to which he returned in 1940 after his stay in Amsterdam (where he learned Dutch).

[7] Matúš Dulla and Henrieta Moravčíková, Architektúra Slovenska v 20. Storočí [Slovak Architecture in the twentieth century] (Bratislava 2002) pp. 133–134.

[8] Iva Mojžišová, Škola moderného videnia: Bratislavská ŠUR 1928–1939, pp. 125–137.

[9] László Moholy-Nagy, ‘Typophoto,’ in Malerei, Fotografie, Film. Bauhaus Bücher 8 (Munich, 1925).

[10] The picture-poem (obrazová báseň) was a special kind of artwork ‘invented’ by Karel Teige. It mixed pictures and texts (not necessarily poetical) in one image. It could be a painting, but more often it was a collage.

[11] Sonia de Puineuf, ‘Au commencement était l’Alphabet : L’avant-garde internationale en quête de la langue universelle, 1909–1939,’ Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, Winter 2007/2008, No 102, pp. 36–63.

[12] A key text in this context was Walter Porstmann, Sprache und Schrift (Berlin, 1920).

[13] In 1931–32 a modernist magazine was published in Bratislava with the title, in lower-case letters, nová bratislava / die neue bratislava / la nouvelle bratislava, subtitled ‘a magazine for the new Slovakia.’ On the topic of the new Slovakia, see also Aurel Hrabušický, ed., New Slovakia: (Difficult) Birth of the Modern Lifestyle (1918–1949) (Bratislava, 2011).

[14] There is just one small study, published on the occasion of the exhibition presented in the Gallery of the Slovak Art Union (Slovenská vytvarná únia) in Bratislava: Ľubomír Longauer and Monika Mikušová, Ladislav Csáder: Zabudnutý bratislavský modernista / A Forgotten Modernist of Bratislava (Bratislava, 2009).

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