Pierre Gandon: An artist outwith fashion (final part)

(If you want to start reading from the beginning, click HERE.)

When musing on the attractiveness of his philatelic work and the esteem it evokes, Gandon used to explain that he never tried to follow any trends in art. As an engraver, he said, you’ve got to live outside this world of fads and fashions. His favourite quote was that modern art was like an exaggerated smile; it will only lead to more wrinkles. And so he was happy to just capture the beauty of images, both in his stamp work and in his private art as well.
In one glorious instance, his private art spilled over into his stamp art. In the late 1960s, he found a cast of Beethoven’s face and after further studies engraved a portrait of the composer based on that cast. A copy of his work ended up in the hands of Monaco’s Prince Rainier, who liked it so much that he asked Gandon to turn it into a stamp. This stamp was duly issued in 1970.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Gandon’s fame mainly rested on his two definitive sets for France. In 1977, his ‘Sabine’ was the design chosen by President Giscard d’Estaing. The French President was not easily pleased, though, and sent back several die essays Gandon had engraved. The first one because it saw Sabine raising her left arm, which, being a rightwing president (though a liberal one), Giscard d’Estaing found unacceptable. Subsequent die essays were rejected for being too plump, but eventually it was one of the plump engravings which was considered the best die to be used.
The actual stamp showed neither left nor right arm being raised, but a more complete picture of Sabine, with both arms raised, was engraved by Gandon for the philatelic document which accompanied the stamp issue. These documents were introduced in 1973, and are interesting from an engraving point of view in that they include monochrome printings of the stamps, and an extra hand-engraved illustration, often, though not exclusively, created by the actual stamp engraver. Gandon did not engrave too many of these document illustrations but they form a nice sideline to a collection of his later stamp work.
In 1982, Gandon’s Liberty definitive was chosen by François Mitterrand. By that time, Gandon was so self-assured in his art that even though the French Post had supplied him with four blank blocks of steel to use for the engraving, he used only one and returned the other three as immaculate as they had arrived. Clearly, even though by then his eightieth birthday had come and gone, his hands were still as steady as ever.
Pierre Gandon remained active as a stamp engraver until well into his eighties, also serving as President of the Association DEL.SC. for a while. In 1983, Gandon engraved his final stamp for France: the stamp day issue depicting a work by Rembrandt. His final ever stamp issue would be a set marking the 450th anniversary of the first edition of François Rabelais’ Gargantua, issued in Monaco in 1984.
Pierre Gandon passed away in Lorrez le Bocage, France, on 23 July 1990, leaving behind a timeless legacy of beautiful engravings, which are still enjoyed to this very day.

This article was first published in Gibbons Stamp Monthly in September and October 2020 and is reproduced here with their kind permission.