Tag Archives: Bastille Day

New stamp polarises French political landscape

Joanna Espin discusses the latest incarnation of Marianne.

A newly unveiled stamp, issued to mark the presidency of François Hollande, has unleashed a political storm. The stamp, selected from a shortlist compiled by students and unveiled on Bastille Day, was intended to mark the President’s commitment to the country’s youth. Designed by Olivier Ciappa and David Kawena, the stamp depicts Marianne: a symbol of the French Republic who is often depicted in French Revolution imagery as a bare breasted, militant woman striving for liberty.

The controversial Marianne stamp.

The controversial Marianne stamp.

Olivier Ciappa subsequently took to Twitter to explain that the inspiration for this incarnation of Marianne was Inna Shevchenko. Shevchenko, co-founder of feminist group FEMEN, has recently been granted asylum in France. FEMEN lists its aims as combatting patriarchy in religion, dictatorship and sexual exploitation. The controversial protests made by the group, which have included topless demonstrations and cutting down a Christian statue, have received much press coverage and have divided opinion.

A host of responses for and against the representation of Inna Shevchenko as Marianne have been made across France, including calls for a boycott of the stamp from the political right. Supporters of the stamp argue that Shevchenko, and her fight for equality, embodies the qualities of Marianne. The stamp has become a battleground of opposing political opinion in France and, due to widespread coverage on the internet, internationally.

A stamp for the Anglo-French Alliance

In celebration of Bastille Day, we take a look at an Anglo-French joint stamp issue that never was.

In the early days of World War 2 Britain and France co-operated militarily, politically and economically as never before. This alliance led to calls from the public and in the press, on both sides of the Channel, for a joint stamp issue.

Correspondence on the proposal began between the Postmaster General Major G.C. Tryon and M. Jules Julien, the French Minister of Posts, in January 1940. By mid-February the idea had been put to King George VI, who gave his approval.

The GPO’s preference was for a design common to both countries, depicting the King and President Lebrun, which would be distributed as widely as possible in values suitable for both inland and overseas use. M. Julien agreed to this.

Both the GPO and the PTT (French postal administration) contacted designers. The GPO’s preference was for French-born designer Edmund Dulac, who had worked on a number of stamp issues including George VI’s Coronation stamp and the Centenary of the First Adhesive Postage Stamp issue. The PTT commissioned Henry Cheffer, an artist-engraver and examiner at the École des Beaux Arts, who had designed a number of French stamps.

Bromide No. 190 by Harrison & Sons Ltd produced from Henry Cheffer's original design

Bromide No. 190 by Harrison & Sons Ltd produced from Henry Cheffer's original design

Cheffer’s design, showing the Heads of State and various national symbols of both countries, was accepted on the proviso that Dulac be allowed to re-draw the design for printing using the photogravure method. (Photogravure was the method used by the GPO’s stamp printers Harrison & Sons, whilst in France stamps were letterpress or recess printed.) Dulac was reluctant to re-draw another artist’s work, and did not like Cheffer’s design, but eventually agreed to make small changes to it.

Final essay in blue for the proposed Anglo-French issue

Final essay in blue for the proposed Anglo-French issue

By May 1940 the re-drawn design was complete, and final approval was sought from the GPO, PTT, George VI and President Lebrun, with a view to issuing the stamps on 2nd September 1940.

At this time the Germans were advancing through Europe and France was looking increasingly vulnerable, but work continued on preparing the stamps until the afternoon of 17th June, when it was announced that the French government had sued for an armistice with the Germans. The joint stamp issue was abandoned.

Find out more about this proposed joint stamp issue on our website and catalogue.