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.