It is really difficult in a few paragraphs to define the work and the Maximilien Vox’s rich and complex career. His name sounds familiar among graphic designers and typographers, not as familiar to a largest public. A typographic classification bears his name, the Vox-ATypI classification. As well as a Parisian high school specializing in graphic arts. Maximilien Vox was born as Samuel William Théodore Monod on 1894, December 16th, in Condé-sur-Noireau, France. His genealogy features many French personalities: Nobel Prizes, several French governments members, a film maker, and his brother Theodore Monod, a french deserts specialist. He began his career as a cartoonist for l’Humanité (1913), his paintings and etchings work is exhibited in various shows, including the Salon d’Automne. He cuts many book illustrations before becoming artistic director of the publishing houses Grasset, Plon, Horizons of France, and create le Masque et la plume logotype. He has received the Florence Blumenthal award in 1926 (Gerard Blanchard, another Chancellor of the Rencontres de Lure received in 1954). And has illustrated the initials of Grand Larousse using writing and printing history.
Maximilien Vox and Flavien Monod (tbc), one of his son, posing as a joke: As this road sign can be understood as “Les sales cons”, (“asshole”, in English)
Deberny et Peignot, Divertissements Typographiques
Maximilen Vox works with Charles Peignot and launches Divertissements Typographiques for Deberny and Peignot foundry. He is the art director and typographic consultant for the luxury railways company PLM, designing posters. For PLM he sets up a range of recommended typefaces, including a bespoke typeface, mixing capitals and lower cases, in a geometric sans serif style associated with a geometric slab serif. Lectures in English at New York University in 1928 and collaborate to the Paul Iribe’s publication Témoin. He creates luxury catalogs for Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Hermès. In 1932, he launches the literary magazine Micromégas. He is also involved into the Charles Peignot’s publication Arts et Métiers Graphiques in which he wrote in 1935: “The age of the printing press coming to an end, […] then the paper will have little lasting.” He also is the designer of the typographic standard for the ne national railways SNCF launched in 1938 (a corporate identity manual before hour). He publish Correspondance de Napoléon (600 working letters) at the NRF in 1943; and also extensively publishes books for the Union Bibliophile de France.
Following the war, he uses his talents for various French ministries, streamlining the use of typography (1945-1947). He also becomes the art director of Air France revue in 1948, and founds the magazine Caractères, and Caractères Noël. For this magazine, he writes a plea for an “International typography” in which he refers to his colleague and close friend Stanley Morison as an undisputed master of typeforms in Europe. He publishes other key texts as Pour une graphie Latine (for “a latine” typographic style), and Défense du vocabulaire (in the defense of the vocabulary) in which he puts into perspective the wealth of western typography as a whole. Later, in 1949, he becomes Denoël administrator and creates the Advertising oscar in 1951.
Rencontres Internationale de Lure
In 1952, he starts up the Compagnons de Lure (first name of the association) with Jean Garcia, Jean Giono, Lucien Jacques, Robert Ranc. The idea was to bring together by a sponsoring by two companions, graphic designers, printers, journalists, photographers, teachers, publishers, artists who want to discuss about the future of publication, and typography. The seven pillars of the rencontres de Lure meetings are:
1. The spirit of the place or le coup de bleu.
2. The utopian dream: a community.
3. The backbone: typography.
4. A philosophy: the “latine” typography.
5. A predilection: the death of Gutenberg.
6. A program of action: we must evangelize the robots.
7. An obvious, not so obvious as that: eye phonetic.
The Rencontres de Lure will be formalized in 1957, in parallel to ATypI created by Charles Peignot, as if to better point the differences: indeed, Maximilien Vox was convinced that it was better to discuss about craftsmanship rather than talking business, which was the reason of the ATypI launch. The future will prove him right, because today, the vocation of ATypI is fully consistent with this craftsmanship idea mentioned by Vox: “You will succeed because you’re talking craftsmanship.”
Défense et Illustration de la lettre, by Maximilien Vox is one of the first presentation of his classification, circa end of 50s.
These Lure meetings will host in a unique place eversince many figures from the world of graphic design and French and international typography, as at the time (not in order): Charles Peignot, José Mendoza, Excoffon, Marcel Olive, René Ponot, Georges Mathieu, Raymond Savignac, Bernard Villemot Robert Massin, Eugene Ionesco, Raymond Gid, Abraham moles, Fernand Baudin, Albert Hollenstein, Peter Knapp, Gérard Blanchard, Kurt Weidmann, Hermann Zapf, Adrian Wilson, FHK Henrion, François Richaudeau, John Dreyfus, Nicolas Barker, Josef Müller-Brockmann, G. Willem Ovink Michel Olyff, Carl Dair, Aldo Novarese, Aaron Burns, Olaf Leu, Ladislas Mandel, etc.
Maximilien Vox can’t imagine to design a single typeface specimen book without adding unique content. On this typeface catalog, he wrote a novel giving a role to each typeface, depending its style. A wonderful way to understand typefaces connotations. He also added, at the end of the specimen, few pages about the shapes of typefaces and their differences (before his classification.) Livret Typographique L. Danel, designed by Maximilien Vox.
Referring to the launch of the new Vox classification developed as part of the Rencontres de Lure, Maximilien Vox discusses typeface classifications. in May 1954, in Stockholm; Then, he referred to the Alfred Thibaudeau classification just as a starting point, because too limited an no more suitable than Anglo-Saxon classifications, based on a historical thread that leads to total confusion. He refers to the morphology and biology as to better understand the new concepts of the time. “All knowledge of the letter shapes is based on the study of the evolution of its forms in the past to classify them in the present.” He is convinced of the impossibility of a rational catalog. The Vox classification should mostly be understood as a vocabulary for describing lettershapes. It’s also why his classification is proposed as a circle. Maximilien Vox liked to explain that each typefaces have two parents, as to affirm the idea of an open vocabulary rather than infinitely small boxes and sub-chambers.
The Vox classification should mostly be understood as a vocabulary for describing lettershapes. It’s also why his classification is proposed as a circle.
In the ABC de l’alphabet the transcription of his classes at the Beaux Arts in Paris, 1958, he proposed and defined many elements of typography and design, “This abstract art universally used is called writing.” “A letterform (glyph) we will never affirm enough, is a mere convention.” “The letterform is a living thing that has continually evolved throughout history to be.” “The taste is precisely what a the human being, the artist brings to his work the most personal and at the same time makes it easily communicable to the greatest number.”
At the fringe of the alphabet. This is where the alphabet inventors more or less enlightened, excuse the expression, to “break their face,” as some of my young Lettristes comrades because, even if the decision is made and accepted by some people that the sound a will not be represented by a classic A, but a small flower – you can not see where is the progress on the contrary, since an abstraction adopted and understood by all the world, we substitute another abstraction that is not understood by anyone.
— Maximilien Vox, 1958.
Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox. Cover. About 100 best Monotype alphabets.
Inside, among the 100 best Monotype alphabets to help to undertand typography. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
Example of typical spread, featuring description of typefaces along large display of some typefaces, as here Spectrum Italic by Jan van Krimpen. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
In some cases, the typeface samples are associated with piece of art, here Paul Klee with Placard. It’s a typical method used a lot by Vox during his career. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
Beautiful mix of borders and arabesques. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
Figures examples on the left, first page of a great collection of quotations about typography. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
Presentation of the Vox classification, just adopted by ATypI the year before. Faisons le point, by Maximilien Vox.
The English typographic excellence
In 1959, he publishes a biography of Napoleon by Editions du Seuil. and in 1963, the immaculated “Faisons le point” for Monotype. Will follow with Conversations avec Bonaparte and his work on his memoirs. In 1965, invited by his friend John Dreyfus, he gave a lecture to the Wynkyn de Worde Society in London : Maximilien Vox, who has translated GK Chesterton into French, regarded England as his second spiritual home.
It’s not surprising if the whole world thinks that England is a leader in typography, today as yesterday, and with bright future. [...] Almost all typefaces currently in use around the world have more or less an Anglo-Saxon origin or interpretation. The best type designer remains a translator, an interpreter. The Anglo-Saxons have excelled on this domain.
— Maximilien Vox, July 15, 1965.
Alphagrammes, designed by Maximilien Vox for Montgolfier papers. For each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, Vox selected quotes as basis of his layouts mixed with various kind of papers.
According to John Dreyfus citing Vox, this was due to three causes: his birth in one of the largest Protestant French family, his artistic training; and typographic training. At the conference, he congratulated the Brits for their typographic excellence: The Times, the Encyclopedia Britannica, the University Press of Cambridge and Oxford, Penguin Books, and the typefaces of Eric Gill and Stanley Morison.
“Thank you for your patient attention and send you Le Grand Salut de Lure!”
He died in 1974, December 18th, in Lurs en Provence.
Jean François Porchez
all rights reserved, August 2014. Photos from the Typofonderie archives.