Saturday, 28 April 2018

Andorra 1944 - Definitives (Part 2)

It was built in 1580 by the Busquet family in Andorra la Vella, the capital of Andorra. The "House of the Valley", or in Catalan, which happens to be the official language of Andorra, La Casade la Vall. Constructed in a rectangular fashion, the building includes a dovecote, which served as a defense tower and gives the complex the appearance of a small fortress.

In 1702 the house was acquired by the Consell de la Terra "Council of the Earth", which is an assembly comprising representatives of all the valleys. Once acquired, several areas of the house were converted to suit its new purpose more adequately. For example, the first floor became the new council chamber, in which was placed the "cabinet with seven keys". It takes this name "because it has seven locks each of whose keys is the property of the parishes of Andorra, and contain historical documents of the principality like the Manual Digest" (Wikipedia).


Between 1944 and 1947 Andorra issued a stunning set of twenty definitive stamps. The set includes four different designs, all engraved by Achille Ouvré. In this blog we shall study the second design in this set, depicting the House of the Valley. To study the first design, click HERE. It was designed and engraved by Achille Ouvré. This design was printed in five values, each with its own unique colour. All but one value, the 2,50f, which was issued in 1946, were issued in 1944. So let's now turn to the stamps. And I have to say,  I love this composition. There are so many areas of interest. The cottage and perimeter wall at the bottom right. The tiny minaret-like structure jutting from the corner of the building at the centre of the stamp. And in the background we are given a glimpse of the tower, behind which looms a stunning mountain range. 


Above I listed some of the key features I admire in this design. In fact, I believe each aspect deserves its very own close-up. For the purpose of these close-ups I have chosen to use the 3f brown-black, which is think showcases the details best.

Until next  time...

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Andorra 1944 - Definitives (Part 1)

Constructed in the 11th century or possibly as late as the 12th century, the church of Saint Joan de Caselles (L’église Sant Joean de Caselles) is a stunning example of Andorran Romanesque art. The church is located in Canillo in the North-East of Andorra.

Upon entering the church one will immediately note its Romanesque church style: from the rectangular nave with wooden roof to the semicircular apse and Lombard style bell tower. And if you love to study interior decoration, this church won't disappoint on that front either. Perhaps one  of the most important pieces is the remains of a 12th century stucco depicting Christ. Around the stucco is a beautiful mural scene depicting the crucifixion with Longinus (the name given to the soldier who pierced Christ in his side with a spear) and Stefaton (the name given to the soldier who offered Christ a wine-soaked sponge), accompanied by the sun and the moon. If one were to venture beyond the gate behind the altar, you would be delighted to discover a magnificent altarpiece, depicting the life and martyrdom of Saint John, author of the Apocalypse (Revelations) and patron saint of the church. This altarpiece was influenced by the Italian and German Renaissance. 


Between 1944 and 1947 Andorra issued a stunning set of twenty definitive stamps. The set includes four different designs, all engraved by Achille Ouvré. In this blog we shall study the first design in this set, depicting the church of Saint Joan de Caselles. It was designed and engraved by Achille Ouvré. This design was printed in four values, each with its own unique colour. And all four values were issued in 1944.

I love the composition of this design. Ouvré has chosen an excellent angle to showcase the ruined church nestled in the surrounding mountains. In the foreground stands a person, perhaps a caretaker and a weary traveller. dominating the left of the design is the church's striking bell tower. Beautiful. I can't wait to explore the rest of Ouvré's work on this series. Stay tuned!

Until next time...

Monday, 16 April 2018

France 1951 - Modern Poets (Part 3)

"I'm now making myself as scummy as I can. Why? I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault." (Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud, 1871. Wikipedia)
Some people turn to writing and expressing their deepest emotions with the power of words later in life, their copious experiences their thesaurus. In others, the spark is lit early in life, burns bright, then is snuffed out. 

Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud, born 20 October 1854, started writing from a very young age, and it was quickly obvious he was a gifted poet. He was an excellent student, but perhaps stymied in the world of academia, he ran away to Paris as a teenager during the Franco-Prussian War. It was during this time that the words poured from his soul and he wrote many works of poetry, a lot of which was assembled in the book titled, Illuminations. Then inextricably, he completely stopped writing at the age of 21. He spent the rest of his brief life exploring several continents as a merchant. Tragically, he died of cancer just after his 37th birthday on 10 November 1891.   .

Rimbaud was known as quite a restless soul who loved hard and played harder. In 1871 Rimbaud had a torrid love affair with fellow poet Paul Verlaine (see Part 2 of this series for information on Verlaine). The next few years was a wild ride for the pair, spiced with absinthe, opium and hashish. Yet during this time Rimbaud still churned out the poetry, including one of his major works, A Season in Hell. Rimbaud is best known for his work with Symbolism and helping to ignite the flame of Surrealism. 


On 27 October 1951, France issued a set of three stamps celebrating modern French poets. The 15f value of the set depicts Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud. This stamp was designed by Paul-Pierre Lemagny and engraved by Gabriel-Antoine Barlangue. It is worth mentioning that the portrait of Rimbaud used in this stamp was based on a portrait by Henri Fantin Latour.. 

The turbulent nature of this composition seems to mirror the wild life of Rimbaud. In the foreground we are faced with a youthful Rimbaud. His sits pensive, with hand on chin, perhaps ruminating over his next masterpiece. At the back left of the composition waterspouts (tornadoes on land) abound. Adrift in the churning maelstrom, a direct reflection of the poet's life, is a hapless ship, adrift, in dire need of respite. Behind the poet's shoulder to the right we see towering, snow-capped mountains and some butterfly-like creatures gamboling to some poetic tune only they can hear. In conclusion, what an awesome stamp!

Until next time...

Sunday, 8 April 2018

France 1951 - Modern Poets (Part 2)

It can ignite our deepest passions. It can awaken such emotional beasts as sadness and despair. It enables us to live vicariously through the magical use of words, whether in metre or rhyme. This is Poetry.


Paul-Marie Verlaine, born 30 March 1844, was a French poet whose work is associated with the Decadent movement. The Decadent movement was, at the time of Verlaine, a shattering new style with lurid themes such as self-disgust, general skepticism, delight in perversion, crude humor, and a belief in the superiority of human creativity over logic and the natural world. Indeed, this movement was considered the fin de siècle or turn of the century movement.

Verlaine considered himself, along with a host of contemporary poets such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, Aloysius Bertrand, Comte de Lautréamont, and Alice de Chambrier, to be a poète maudit "cursed poet". He and the other poets mentioned were scorned by critics for their new, brash style of poetry. But in 1886, just two years after calling himself a cursed poet, opinions were to change based on the publication of Jean Moréas' Symbolist Manifesto. This book introduced the idea of symbolism, and suddenly Decadent poetry and all its subtleties began to make some sense. Now Verlaine and other poets were being termed "Symbolists". Verlaine's work studied the notions of human will, fatality. the power of unconscious forces, and - quite radically - the theme of sex in various forms, including with prostitutes. Themes associated with delirium triggered by narcotics and alcohol were also to be found.

Despite the use of such strong themes, Verlaine pointed out the need for subtle suggestion as opposed to brutal statement. His purpose was "to evoke moods and feelings through the magic of words..." (Wikipedia). Verlaine actually described his style - this "turn  of the century" style - in great detail in his poem Art Poétique. He stresses the importance of musicality and elusiveness. Further, he stresses:
"Keep away from the murderous Sharp Saying, Cruel Wit, and Impure Laugh." 
As was the case with so many artistic minds of this era, Paul Verlaine was addicted to drugs and alcohol. In his later years he lived in the slums of Paris and public hospitals. He was often seen in cafes drowning his sorrows with copious glasses of absinthe. His drug and alcohol abuse finally got the better of him. He died in Paris at the age of 51 on 8 January 1896. 


On 27 October 1951, France issued a set of three stamps celebrating modern French poets. The 12f value of the set depicts Paul-Marie Verlaine. This stamp was designed by Paul-Pierre Lemagny and engraved by Charles-Paul Dufresne. You will note that  the stamp featured in Part 1 of this series was also designed by Paul-Pierre Lemagny. An immensely talented designer. It is worth mentioning that the portrait of Verlaine used in this stamp was based on a portrait by Eugène Carrière.

The composition of this stamp is fantastic.I love the way Verlaine stares directly at us, the viewer, as if ruminating on a new piece of poetic elusive symbolism. The design is also packed with stunning minute detail. Dufresne has done a masterful job in rendering the abundant flora to the left of the stamp. I particularly like, being a fan of engraved beards, the copious beard and moustache of Verlaine. In all, a brilliant composition. See below for a couple of close-ups.


Until next time...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

France 1951 - Modern Poets (Part 1)

Poetry can capture the mind, ensnare the soul, and grip the heart. It is the language of love and sorrow, the artistic expression of our deepest emotions. 


Charles Baudelaire, born 9 April 1821, was a French poet who possessed an original style of what can be considered prose-poetry. For the 19th century it was a radical, almost brutal, new style. Indeed, he himself is said to have coined the phrase "modernity". He uses this phrase to illustrate the fleeting nature of life in an ever-growing urban metropolis, in this instance Paris. He points out that it is the responsibility of the poet to capture this experience through the beauty of words. This theme is most evident in what can be considered his most famous collection of poems, entitled Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil). According to one commentator at the time, his work was:
"immense, prodigious, unexpected, mingled with admiration and with some indefinable anxious fear". (Wikipedia)
If nothing else, Baudrlaire's work was bold. Indeed, in a poem entitled Au lecteur (To the Reader), which he uses as a preface to the collection, he actually goes so far as to accuse his readers of hypocrisy and of being as guilty of sins and lies as he himself. Pretty audacious!
... If rape or arson, poison or the knife
Has wove no pleasing patterns in the stuff
Of this drab canvas we accept as life—
It is because we are not bold enough! (Wikipedia)
Baudelaire was not only a poet. He was a skilled essayist and art critic. He was also a fan of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and he spent quite a deal of his time translating his work into French. Baudelaire's unique style and honest approach to the modern lifestyle in his work has inspired a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé to name just a few.

Baudelaire's addiction to laudanum, opium, and excessive drinking finally took  its toll on his body. In 1866 he suffered a massive stroke. He lived a further year in a semi-paralysed state. He died in Paris on 31 August 1867, aged just 46. Most of his poetry we are now familiar with was published posthumously by his mother to help recover some of the substantial debts he incurred due to his life  of "excesses".


On 27 October 1951, France issued a set of three stamps celebrating modern French poets. The 8f, and lowest, value of the set depicts Charles Baudelaire. This stamp was designed by Paul-Pierre Lemagny and engraved by Jean Pheulpin. I believe this is the first time I have featured a stamp engraved by Pheulpin in this blog. What a dreadful oversight. This engraver oozes talent, as you can see in the gorgeous stamp below.

The surreal, dreamlike quality of this design is truly breathtaking. There is detail in every nook and cranny. From the rather poignant depiction of a pensive Baudelaire to the owls off the right. And from the tall ship powering toward the left border of the stamp to the feral, somewhat demonic creature floating at the top left of the composition. Wow! Below I have included a few detail pictures, simply because I think this amazing design deserves some close-ups. Enjoy.

Until next time...

Thursday, 29 March 2018

France 1935 - Unemployed Intellectuals Stamps

It would become known as Black Tuesday. The stock market crash on October 29, 1929, had devastating ramifications, plunging the globe into The Great Depression. In France, the Depression didn't take root until 1931, but between 1931 and 1935, as its effects assumed a tighter stranglehold on the country, there was a marked increase in unemployment levels. Struck particularly hard were those previously employed in intellectual and artistic pursuits. In fact, jobs for intellectuals and artists had been on the decline since the conclusion of World War I. Indeed, a body known as the CTI (Confederation of Professional Workers) was created in 1919 in an attempt to aid intellectuals in re-injecting themselves into the workforce. So what exactly was the definition of an intellectual? According to the CIT:
"An intellectual worker is one who derives his livelihood from a work in which the effort of the mind, with what it entails, initiative and personality, usually prevails over physical effort " (Chariot, 2006) 
But however noble the cause of the CIT, it was not all that successful. Then on 6 February 1933, a body known as Help for Intellectual Workers (ETI) was created. This body and its president, Paul Grunebaum-Ballin, seemed to have far more insight than the CIT regarding potential schemes for the establishment of work for intellectuals and how to raise money to implement these schemes. One such scheme used as  its model an idea implemented in the US. Basically the idea was to provide jobs for intellectuals in public libraries performing such tasks as the "classification of books and the establishment of directories and catalogs." (Chariot, 2006)  But how does one raise funds to implement such an initiative? Simple. Surtax postage stamps!
"Surcharge stamps are "special stamps": the stamp has franking value only for its face value without the surcharge. It is not used to pay for a postal service. It is usually paid to a charity (In this case, intellectual aid)." (Chariot, 2006)

On 9 December 1935, France issued a set of two stamps, printed in recess, for the benefit of unemployed intellectuals. Master engraver, Achille Ouvré, was commissioned to design and engrave one stamp. The other stamp in the set was designed by René Grégoire and engraved by Omer Désiré Bouchery. Interestingly, this is the one and only stamp Omer Désiré Bouchery engraved for France. He was known primarily for his illustrations. A bit of a shame he didn't engrave more stamps; he certainly had a talent for it.

The stamp designed by René Grégoire and engraved by Omer Désiré Bouchery had a value of 50c with a surcharge of 10c to aid those unemployed intellectuals we spoke of earlier. This stamp features France, personified as a woman, lending aid to an intellectual. Interestingly, the setting of this stamp lends itself to the environment of a library.


The stamp designed and engraved by Achille Ouvré, and a favourite of mine, had a value of 50c with a surcharge of 2f, a much higher surcharge than the previous stamp. Perhaps a surcharge that was too steep, but we'll get to that in a moment. In this stamp we see a beautiful young woman representing the arts, holding a small lyre. Truly stunning.


Then on 14 October 1936, a little under a year later, this stamp was reissued with a brand new overprinted surcharge of 20c. Was 2f simply too much money to expect the average citizen to pay? Maybe. Maybe not. But it certainly makes for an interesting addition to any Ouvré collection.

Until next time...

Monday, 19 March 2018

I Muse...On Another Engraver to Study

I'm fairly certain that I'm not alone in thinking that over the years the French Post has had many, many incredibly talented artists on their payroll engraving stamps. So many in fact that it can be rather overwhelming trying to collect all of their amazing work. My strategy to date has been to choose a particular engraver, and then spent some time getting to know their work and their style. And along the way start putting together the bones of a collection.


Most recently I've become intrigued by the work of Jules Piel. I haven't looked at much of his work yet, but what I have seen really impresses me. His first engraving, which was part of a definitive set for Andorra in 1932 is a true thing of beauty. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the design, which was printed in six values, just yet. But I did find the below image. 

Between 1932 and 1966 Jules Piel was a prolific engraver for both France and her various colonies. For a full bio, check out this blog post HERE. Indeed, many iconic French stamps were the work of this master engraver. Perhaps the most important of these was a set depicting Marshall Pétain, issued in 1941. 

Commencing in 1950, France began issuing a set of stamps on an annual basis with a surcharge to go to the Red Cross. Jules Piel engraved this first set of Red Cross stamps. In fact, he contributed to every set until his retirement from the French postal authority in 1966. And I was delighted to discover that not only did Jules Piel rack up an extensive array of stamps, but he also engraved quite a few banknotes! I must say, I'm really looking forward to delving more deeply into the work of this prolific artist.

Until next time...

Friday, 19 January 2018

France 1936 - Louis Blériot

What do truck headlights and astounding feats of aviation have in common? Louis Blériot, aviator, inventor, and engineer.


Louis Blériot, born 1 July 1872 in Cambrai, France, was drawn to engineering and design from at young age. Indeed, while attending the Institut Notre Dame in Cambrai, he won many class prizes for his engineering drawings. He then attended the prestigious École Centrale in Paris, after having spent a year gaining special tuition in order to pass the rigorous entrance exam. He graduated École Centrale around the middle of his class, which considering the high level of competition was a pretty decent result.

His first job was at an electrical engineering company in Paris, called Baguès. It was during this time that he came up with an invention, which would eventually bankroll his other passion, aviation. He designed and created the first ever practical headlamp (headlight) for automobiles. His new headlamp used a compact integral acetylene generator. In 1897, he decided to leave the company he had been working for and opened his own showroom in Paris, selling his headlamps. Turns out, this was an excellent business decision, for he quickly gained contracts with two of the foremost automobile manufacturers of the time, Renault and Panhard-Levassor.

Ever since his school days, Blériot had had an interest in aviation, but it wasn't until his visit to the 1900 Exposition Uniiverselle that he thought seriously about aircraft experimentation. It was seeing Clément Ader's Avion III, an experimental steam-powered aircraft, that seemed to really get his creative juices flowing. I can understand why. This 'plane' must have, at the time, seemed quite extraordinary. Check the Avion III out HERE

As I mentioned earlier, Blériot's headlamp business was going great guns so he could afford to splash about a bit of cash with some aviation experiments of his own. His initial experiments were with ornithopters, which are craft propelled by flapping wings, in the fashion of a bird. Many of these were powered by men with the wings strapped to their arms. Then they set about flapping like crazy in an attempt to achieve flight. Ornithopters have always been a bit hit and miss, and Blériot's attempts fell into the 'miss' column.

Then in 1905, he met a fellow aviation enthusiast, a man who would also later become his business partner, Gabriel Voisin. At the time Voisin was working for a fellow named, Ernest Archdeacon, on experimental gliders. Blériot, also an avid photographer, filmed Voisin the during the trials of a floatplane glider Voisin had built. Witnessing this event sparked Blériot into commissioning Voisin to build a similar plane for him. This plane, another glider, was called the Blériot II. Although this plane crashed and Voisin, who was flying it, nearly drowned, the two men were not deterred. Indeed, they soon established their own company, Ateliers d' Aviation Edouard Surcouf, Blériot et Voisin.

The partnership lasted until the end of 1906. During which time the pair built the Blériot III and IV, two powered aircraft that both proved unsuccessful. Their lack of success coupled with the success of rival aviator of Alberto Santos Dumont, who flew his 14-bis a distance of 220 m (720 ft), winning the Aéro Club de France prize for the first flight of over 100 metres, saw the dissolution of the pafrtnership.

After the partnership with Voisin, Louis Blériot established his own business, Recherches Aéronautiques Louis Blériot, This business was primarily funded by Blériot, who employed his own engineers and designers. Over the next couple of years Blériot developed a whole series of aircraft, bearing his name, each one slightly better than the rest. This aircraft research culminated in the construction of the Blériot XI.

At 4:41 am on the 25 July 1909 Blériot made history in his Type XI by setting off from Calais, France in an attempt to cross the English Channel. "Flying at approximately 45 mph (72 km/h) and an altitude of about 250 ft (76 m), he set off across the Channel. Not having a compass, Blériot took his course from the Escopette, which was heading for Dover, but he soon overtook the ship." (Wikipedia)

During the crossing, visibility rapidly deteriorated. In fact, Blériot later said, “for more than 10 minutes I was alone, isolated, lost in the midst of the immense sea, and I did not see anything on the horizon or a single ship”.

Thankfully, a short time later, Blériot spotted the English coast. Unfortunately for Blériot, he had not previously visited Dover to find a good spot to land, so he had to wing it. After spotting Charles Fontaine, the correspondent from Le Matin waving a large Tricolour as a signal, Blériot "circled twice to lose height, and cut his engine at an altitude of about 20 m (66 ft), making a heavy 'pancake' landing due to the gusty wind conditions; the undercarriage was damaged and one blade of the propeller was shattered, but Blériot was unhurt. The flight had taken 36 minutes and 30 seconds." (Wikipedia) Thus history was made!


On 21 November 1934, France issued a stamp celebrating the 25th anniversary of Louis Blériot's English Channel crossing. The stamp was designed and engraved by Achille Ouvré. It is a stunning design featuring a map of the English Channel overlaid by Blériot's Type XI aircraft.

Until next time...