BIOGRAPHY: Claude Durrens

Claude Robert Ernest Durrens was born on August 22, 1921 in Cenon, a suburb of Bordeaux, France. He studied engraving in Toulouse where he received a first prize in 1939. He was there until the Second World War. After the war, Durrens continued his studies in Bordeaux, where he also received first prize, in 1946. This was followed by his study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, where he was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1952. He was to stay at the Villa Medici for three years, from 1953 to 1956.

Durrens received the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique several times for stamps he both designed and engraved: in 1961 for his stamp portraying father Lacordaire, in 1965 for his Joux Castle stamp and in 1966 for his rendition of De La Tour’s New-Born Child. Durrens also received the prize for two stamps he engraved but did not design: in 1971 for the Barque Antoinette stamp, and in 1972 for the Grand Banks Fishing Barquentine Côte d’Emeraude.

Durrens’ 1966 De La Tour stamp was used on a souvenir sheetlet produced for the French Postal Museum. The sheetlet showed the various printing stages of a multi-coloured recess-printed stamp, with prints of the two dies that need to be engraved for such stamps. One die for the actual design, printed in recess, and the other for the background colours, printed in indirect recess. The difference being that with direct recess, the printing cylinder gets inked and will transfer that ink straight onto the paper, whereas with indirect recess, the inked printing cylinder will transfer the ink to a maximum of three colour cylinders who in their turn transfer the ink to the stamp paper.

In 1967, the French Post chose a new Marianne design. The actual design was not new but submitted by Henry Cheffer in 1954. At the time the design was not adopted but the new minister liked it very much and reintroduced it. However, Cheffer had passed away by then so Durrens was asked to engrave the design. During this stage he did also submit some ten designs of his own, which however never reached the engraving state. Cheffer/Durrens’ Marianne proved so popular that it received the Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique in 1967; the only time a small format definitive has won that prize.

In 1968, Durrens engraved his first banknote for France: the portrait of Blaise Pascal. His second was issued in 1981 and portrayed Montesquieu.

In 1975, Durrens again submitted a design for a Marianne definitive. Proof printings were made in May 1975 but the project was later abandoned. One sheet of 100 stamps ended up in private hands but that has since been split up and the stamp appear in auctions every now and then.

In 1976, Durrens was once again involved in the production of the new Marianne. The design by Roger Excoffon was chosen and Durrens was asked to engrave the design. He did so on strict guidelines by the designer. A die proof turned out alright but when the stamp went into production, it turned out that the engraving was too fine and the plates would wear within a day. So a deeper engraved die was made but this led to a worse printing quality and the superb finesse of the portrait was lost. The French printers had to give up and a different design was chosen instead, this being Gandon’s Sabine, engraved by the designer himself.

In 1989, Durrens submitted yet another Marianne essay which did get engraved but was not adopted.

When interviewed for Philexfrance 99, Durrens was quoted saying he thought that the French post too often uses engravers as a means to reproduce art rather than have them create their own. He also said that what had attracted him to art was that the hand is the tool of the mind, and that holds true for whatever material you’re working with.

Claude Durrens passed away on 20 December 2002, in Bordeaux, France.

You will find Claude Durrens' database HERE.