Bétemps does Doré

The French engraver Georges Bétemps is the author of many engraved stamps, hundreds in fact, and among those are quite a few art stamps, issued in countries such as France and Monaco. There is one art stamp in particular, which is quite stunning, and it deservedly won Bétemps the Grand Prix de l'Art Philatélique. I'm talking about the 1983 French stamp depicting Gustave Doré's Bluebeard.

The engraving shows Bluebeard giving the keys to his new wife. For those who do not know the story: Bleabeard tells his wife she is allowed to use all keys opening all doors to his silver and gold and money cabinets, but there's one key to a small room which she must never ever use and never enter. Of course she eventually gives in to her burning curiosity, only to find herself (like many a wife before her) in real fear of death. Better read the story yourself if you want to know how it ends....

Ever since the 1970s, France accompanied a number of their stamp issues with philatelic documents; A4-size folders with loads of extra information and, more importantly for us, extra illustrations. The philatelic document for Bétemps' stamp included a blueprint of the engraved stamp. Normally, these monochrome printings highlight the engraving much better than the stamps themselves, but what with the Doré stamp buing basically printed in monochrome as well, and what's more: in black, which many regard as the best colour for printing engravings, this particular blueprint is jolly nice but that's it.

Doré's original

Looking at the original by Gustave Doré, which was also an engraving, it is stunning to see how closely the stamp engraving follows the original. It truly is a mark of masterly expertise to be able to faithfully represent a large work of art on such a small format.

The philatelic doument includes yet another engraving of a Gustave Doré work, also by Georges Bétemps. It is his self portrait which is thought to date from around 1872. As you can see, the style is different here, but that makes sense for the original was not an engraving but a painting. Translating a painting to a small-format engraving obviously needs a different technique, but again, the similarities are stunning!

Doré's original