written by:
May 5, 2011
Originally published in The Photo Issue

Considering his cache of bold-faced employers, the Swiss-born graphic designer and photographer Herbert Matter (1907–1984) should loom larger in the mid-century design canon than he does. His clients included Knoll (he was a design consultant on their ads, logos, and catalogs from 1946 to 1966) the Eames Office, Le Corbusier, and Yale University, where he taught photography and graphic design. His friends, luminaries of the art world, often became subjects of his work.  He photographed Jackson Pollock on Long Island weekends, shot a film for MoMA about Alexander Calder, and made a decades-long pictoral study of fellow Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti.

In the mid-1930s Matter made a quick name for himself as a graphic designer with a set of bold, avant-garde-inspired travel posters for the Swiss National Tourist Office. His deft use of angular photography and collage presaged what would become a life-long fascination with the camera. His interdisciplinary 50-year career included magazine covers for Condé Nast, communication design for the U.S. government, and the graphic identity for the New Haven Railroad. Herbert Matter warrants a second look—here’s ours.

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Herbert Matter Bertoia Diamond chair
Herbert Matter’s artistic direction for Knoll’s catalogs and collateral was dominated by a grid-bound sense of scale and proportion.
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1960 Proposed logo for Westinghouse by Herbert Matter
This proposed logo for Westinghouse from 1960 shows a penchant for graphic layers.
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1934 Swiss National Tourist Office holiday posters by Herbert Matter
These striking holiday posters for the Swiss National Tourist Office date from 1934 to 1936.
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Herbert Matter ski posters for Engelberg, Switzerland
Matter’s early ski posters for his hometown of Engelberg, Switzerland, owe a debt to punchy Russian constructivism. Layered images and shifting depths were hallmarks of his visual style.
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1955 Eero Saarinen Womb chair for Knoll poster by Herbert Miller
The famed chimney sweep ad for Eero Saarinen’s Womb chair for Knoll is from 1955.
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Group shot of Warren Platner’s Wire Series for Knoll
Matter’s love of strict lines and overlapping layers is evident in this group shot of Warren Platner’s Wire Series for Knoll.
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Herbert Matter light drawing 1943
Though Matter’s sense of order reigned throughout much of his work, both graphic and photographic, this light drawing from 1943 shows a more ­expressionistic side.
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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1965 portrait by Herbert Matter
His 1965 portrait of legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is a study in high contrast and sheer gravitas.
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Alberto Giacometti portrait by Herbert Miller
One of Matter’s longest-lasting photographic projects was a 20-year study of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti. A book of these photos, Alberto Giacometti, was published posthumously in 1986.
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Scores of stacked Eames Child’s chairs portrait by HM
Scores of stacked Eames Child’s chairs make abstractions out of icons.
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Arts & Architecture 1945 issue designed by Herbert Matter
Matter designed several covers and layouts for the seminal magazine Arts & Architecture, including this issue from 1945.
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New Haven Railroad logo designed by Herbert Matter
One of Matter’s most impressive graphic design projects, and one that went through dozens of iterations, was the logo for the New Haven Railroad, a project he consulted on from 1952 to 1955.
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Alexander Calder Spider sculpture photo by Herbert Miller
As avid a photographer of art as of artists, Matter shows Alexander Calder’s sculpture the Spider as a winsome abstraction.
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Jackson Pollack photo series by Herbert Miller
His series of photos of his friend, the painter Jackson Pollock, exhibits the playful side of highly framed ­repetition.

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Vintage photo of Herbert Matter

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