Thursday, 17 August 2017

I Muse... On a Few Improvements

I'm always on the look-out for ways of improving my blogs and making it easier for my readers to navigate the through the blog and find what they are after. One issue I've been working to sort out is a practical way of letting everyone know when I have made additions or edits to previously published posts. The other day I had an idea that may offer a reasonable solution.

I have now added a "What's New" tab to the Pages bar on my blog (the highlighted circle labelled "1." in the diagram below). The Pages Bar can be found just below the blog's title.  When you click on the tab it will take you to the page as seen below. My plan is to use this page as a kind of message board with information on changes/editions to the blog. At the top of the message I will provide the date of the message (the highlighted circle labelled "2.").


I have already added my first message to the"What's New" tab, so by all means have an explore and see what additions I am making this week. If you have any further suggestions for improvements to this blog, drop me a message :-) 

Until next time... 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

France 1956 - Battle of Verdun

Human history has been witness to some of the most brutal acts of violence. Violence on a scale incomprehensible to imagine. Perhaps one of the most blood-soaked periods of our history was World War I, a war that claimed over 41 million souls. Staggering! And the worst of the battles in this time of mass slaughter was the Battle of Verdun.

World War I was the embodiment of a new age of warfare. New weapons of war such as the howitzer, the mightiest of these being Big Bertha, which could reign destruction on a enemy target up to 9 km away. It was also the dawn of the flying aces of aerial warfare. Who hasn't heard of the legendary Red Baron? Destruction also now came from underwater in the form of submarines, such as the classic German U-boats. And although chemical warfare had been around for a very long time, World War I saw the first mass use of such diabolical weaponry. Chemical agents such as tear gas, and more lethal agents like phosgene, chlorine, and mustard gas were being employed in an attempt to smoke enemies from entrenched areas.

Which leads us to the birth of an horrendous age, the age of Trench Warfare. The most famous arena for Trench Warfare in World War I was the Western Front, a vast area of land riddled with complex networks of trenches, an area where millions of French and Germany soldiers died for little or no gain in territory. Soldiers lived in appalling conditions, before, like lambs to the slaughter, they went 'over the top' of the trench to be mowed down by enemy artillery. It was a ludicrous method of warfare where soldiers died seemingly at the whim of their commanding officers, who, for want of anything better to do, ordered charge after charge. The British public referred to their soldiers as "lions led by donkeys". Indeed, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the British lost 60,000 men - a death toll difficult to comprehend.

The longest battle in the trenches was the Battle of Verdun from 21 February to 18 December 1916. I shall not belittle the sheer horror and complexity of this battle by trying to summarise it here. Instead, I will throw a few statistics your way. The Battle of Verdun was fought between French and German soldiers. It raged for 303 brutal days, and is considered one of the most costly battles in human history. It is currently believed that the total number of casualties in the battle amounted to 714,231. 377,231 of these were French and 337,000 German. Averaging out these staggering numbers we get roughly 70,000 casualties a month or over 2,300 a day! I can't even begin to imagine! For an in-depth analysis of the battle click HERE

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On 5 March 1956 France issued a stamp commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Battle of Verdun. Albert Decaris was given the honour of designing and engraving this important stamp. I think he did a beautiful job with this difficult task.


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Over time, quite naturally, French Post have issued stamps commemorating this battle, all of which have been beautifully rendered. In fact, I believe there to be an interesting blog on that subject on the horizon. But for now, take a look at this page to peruse more Battle of Verdun stamps, click HERE

Until next time...


Friday, 4 August 2017

France 1961 - Aristide Maillol

A master tapestry designer, painter, and sculptor, Aristide Maillol was a man of many talents. Born 8 December 1861 in Banyuls-sur-Mer, Roussillon, France, Malliol apparently aspired from a young age to be a painter. In 1881 at the age of 20 he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. Unfortunately things didn't work out as well as he had hoped. He applied to the art school several times and received rejection after rejection. By the time the school finally did accept his application in 1885, Malliol had been living for some time in poverty. I've been unable to find anything about he his studies went, but it would probably not be a stretch to say he did very well.

Mallol's early paintings were heavily influenced by contemporary greats Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin. In fact, Gauguin took an interest in Malliol's work, particularly his decorative art. Gauguin was so impressed that he encouraged Malliol in this direction, which led him to try his hand at tapestry design. Malliol excelled in this art form, and even opened his own tapestry workshop. Malliol gained critical acclaim for the work produced in his workshop. His work sparked a new wave of interest for tapestry design in France. 

But Malliol was keen to broaden his artistic horizons by experimenting in other mediums. In 1895 he began making sculptures in terracotta. Within a few short years Malliol was totally hooked on the art of sculpture. So much so that he completely abandoned his work with tapestry art. Indeed, Malliol is now probably most remembered by his beautiful sculptures celebrating the nude female form. One such sculpture was titled Woman aka The Mediterranean circa 1905. 


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On 20 February 1961 France issued a stamp celebrating the work of Aristide Malliol. The stamp was issued just under one hundred years after his birth. It was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris. The subject of the stamp was the statue The Mediterranean as mentioned above.



I find this piece of work fascinating. It is the work of one artist, Albert Decaris, utilising his own artistic style to replicate a famous sculpture. I know what your probably saying: stamp engravers have reproduced thousands of pieces of art! That is very true. But within this stamp in particular I can discern the caricature-like style of Decaris blended with the unique talents of Malliol. An impressive piece of stamp art indeed!

Until next time... 


Wednesday, 26 July 2017

I Study... Aspects of an Airmail Design

Sometimes it is difficult admire the beauty of a lone tree amid a vast forest. This can also be the case when viewing a beautifully engraved stamp vignette with an elaborate border. It is true, of course, that the border should compliment the vignette, but I find it a bit of fun and quite interesting to separate the relative parts. I do this with the use of basic editing software. There are loads of editing software packages out there, and different people have their own preferences. I personally use Paint.net.  But enough of that. On with the show, as it were!

A great specimen to use for an exercise such as this is the France 1950 1,000f airmail stamp. Not only does it have a stunning vignette and lovely decorative border, each aspect of the design had a different engraver. This enables us to single out the vision of each engraver. It is true that I have already written a blog studying this stamp and the other stamps in this series - click HERE. But by employing the method mentioned above, hopefully we will see this stamp in a whole different light. And if not, it was a bit of fun.

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First, let's take a look at the entire stamp.


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Now let's manipulate the image a bit so we can focus solely on the vignette (central grey portion). This part of the stamp was designed and engraved by Albert Decaris.


There is instantly a different feel to the image. A smoky, dark presence yet an alluring quality that beckons us down into the design. To roam the narrow streets of Île de la Cité. To traverse the gorgeous, uniquely-styled bridges. To explore the stunning Cathedral of Notre Dame. Vraiment superbe!

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It was actually only recently that I realised that the border of this stamp was not designed and engraved by Decaris. This magnificent border was entrusted to Jacques Combet. Let's take a look at it with the vignette removed.


The fine details sculpted into this border are quite amazing!  The feathered wings down each side of the border. The intricate scrollwork. I particularly like the sailing vessels to be found at each corner! This border is a stunning piece of art in and of itself.

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Incidentally, this was not the only time these two engravers collaborated. In 1956 their talents were again combined to produce the 500f airmail stamp for St. Pierre et Miquelon, depicting a Douglas DC-3 over St Pierre Port. 


I believe Decaris was responsible for most of the work in this stamp and Combet engraved the lettering. Many thanks to Adrian at Stamp Engravers for his blog on this issue. To take a look at his blog post click HERE. It's well worth the read.

Anywho, enough from me for now. I hope you enjoyed this little exercise! What's the point of computers and all this fangled software if we can't play around with it from time to time?

Until next time...