BIOGRAPHY: René Quillivic

René Marie Quillivic was born into a family of artists in Carpentras in the French Vaucluse on 30 April 1925. His mother was a painter and his father, also called René, was a sculptor, official painter to the navy, a potter at the Henriot pottery in Quimper, and an engraver. No wonder then that René junior would also choose the arts for his career. After all, he had been engraving himself ever since he was twelve years old.

Quillivic entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris where he received his training in the workshop of the stamp engraver Robert Cami. There, two teachers were responsible for moulding the budding artist, albeit in two almost opposite ways. Robert Cami taught Quillivic the precise and rigorous composition needed when engraving the more sensual of materials. The other teacher at the engraving workshop which would leave his mark on Quillivic was Galani, who taught him poetic licence when it came to woodcuts. Quillivic also studied painting, sculpture and medal making.

In 1950, Quillivic won the Prix de Rome. But instead of going to Rome to submit himself to its artistic influences, Quillivic accepted the advice by engraver Albert Decaris to go to the Casa de Velazquez in Madrid. Decaris, having seen Quillivic’s work, considered Rome to be too classical an influence on Quillivic, and figured a more modern environment would be more conducive to Quillivic’s development as an artist.

Quillivic stayed in Spain from 1952 to 1954, and on his return to France soon made a career in engraving medals and monumental buildings, while also holding a job as a professor in the Ville de Paris. Quillivic’s preference at that time lay very much with the art of engraving in architecture. He felt the art form is perfectly suited for enriching monumental buildings, making use of a diversity of material, such as metal, marble and concrete, and he loved working on a grand scale.

But still, it is his work as illustrator and medal engraver which earned him his fine reputation, and when, due to the economic crisis of the late 1960s, early 1970s, commissions in the field of architecture became few and far between, Quillivic was more or less forced to forego his love of monumental engravings and start to concentrate on works on a much smaller scale.

In 1969, Quillivic contacted the French postal authorities. It seemed a logical step, what with some of his former teachers being involved in stamp production and he himself having collected stamps as a child. Finding small-scale engravings still rather daunting, Quillivic hoped to find employ as a designer of stamps, rather than an engraver. But it is as an engraver that he started working for the French post. Quillivic was asked to engrave an essay portraying Chagall within a month, which was a difficult task for him, but he managed it and the result led to him being taken on as an engraver.

Becoming acquainted with the engravers of the French Post’s atelier was very helpful to Quillivic, still finding his feet in this world of miniature. The engraver Jean Miermont, especially, took Quillivic under his wing and taught him everything, even the very basic stuff, such as how to sharpen the tip of one’s burin in such a way it won’t break off as easily.

Quillivic’s first engraved stamp was the 1970 issue of Monaco, celebrating the new UPU Headquarters Building. Quillivic had just won the Prix Jean Goujon, which opened the door to many requests for stamp engravings for the French overseas territories. Within years, in 1973 to be precise, Quillivic received a Grand Prix de l’Art Philatélique for his work for those territories.

As is so often the case, it takes French engravers a good few years before they are allowed to work on French stamps. For René Quillivic, his breakthrough came in 1974, when his first French stamp was issued: a value in the Tourism series, depicting the Basilica of St. Nicolas de-Port.

Being used to working on a grander scale, Quillivic felt maybe more than other engravers the restraints of working on a tiny format, and the restraints of having to work on other artists’ designs. Throughout philatelic history, engravers have grappled with these issues, all trying to stamp their own personality or authority on their work.

For Quillivic, the solution was twofold. Firstly, he made a point of only engraving his own designs, stating he could only express his art through the combination of the two mediums. Secondly, he fell back on what Cami had told him about precise and rigorous design.

During his long career, Quillivic engraved some 250 stamps for France and her territories. Of those, Quillivic was especially fond of those stamps which honoured other artists, such as the French actor Charles Dullin, which appeared on a stamp in 1985, and the cartoonist Raymond Peynet, whose naive kiosk illustration Quillivic successfully translated into stamp format in 2000. So successfully, that it earned him the ‘Cérès de la Philatélie’.

Another stamp Quillivic is rather proud of is the 1995 stamp to mark the bicentenary of the Institut de France, the protectors of art, literature, and science, in which Quillivic  chairs one of the departments.
In the 21st century, Quillivic’s philatelic output ground to a halt but he’ remained an active engraver, illustrating his books of self-written poetry.

Of all Quillivic’s stamps, the two French Europa stamps of 1977 stand out in that they allowed Quillivic to come full circle. The Breton port shown on the 1f40 value of that set harks back nicely to the Breton roots of his father which were an important part of his work.

René Quillivic passed away on 20 July 2016.

You will find René Quillivic's database HERE.