Saturday, 2 September 2017

BIOGRAPHY: Robert Cami

Robert Cami was born in Bordeaux, France, on 1 January 1900. He started out taking evening lessons at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux until 1918. When that school gave him a study grant he could go to the School of Fine Arts in Paris, where he started to specialise in graphic arts. His design teacher was Lucien Simon and his engraver teacher was Waltner.

In 1926, he won the Blumenthal award and in 1928 the best prize of all: the Prix de Rome. From then on, he would leave etching behind and become engrossed in engraving only.

From 1932 to 1942, he taught at the School of Fine Arts in Bordeaux. It was he who founded the engraving studio at that school.

At the same time he held many high profile exhibitions of his work, which consisted mainly of landscapes, city views and nudes. His work can still be seen in the modern art museums of France, but also abroad, for example in Chicago in the United States. Cami also became renowned for the engravings he made for various books, among which a popular edition of Shakespeare’s Othello.

From 1945, Cami was Professor of Engraving at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. There, he headed the intaglio workshop. One of his pupils who went on to become a stamp engraver himself, was René Quillivic. Together with another teacher, Galani, who specialised in woodcuts, Cami left a lasting impression on Quillivic's work, teaching him the precise and rigorous composition needed when engraving the more sensual of materials.

Robert Cami only began working on stamps in the early 1950s, for the French postal authorities. His first engraved stamp issued was the 18f Hernani de Victor Hugo stamp of the 1953 National Industries and Literary Figures set. Although he did design and engrave separate issues, most of his work can be found in long-running sets which were made by a whole team of famous French engravers. 

One of the first series he became involved in was the 'Heroes of the Resistance' series which was introduced in 1957. Furthermore he cooperated in engraving various Red Cross stamps and, from 1962 onwards, a number of annual Stamp Day issues.

But the best known series Cami worked on is without doubt the Tourist Publicity series. France has always been proud to show off its country on its stamps and Cami, having often featured land and cityscapes in his other work, was the perfect candidate for the series. His first stamp on the theme was the 1957 25f stamp depicting the Château de Valençay. The progressive die proofs which can be found on the market, show how he built up the design. Cami remained involved in this series for a whole decade, with the 1960 Laon Cathedral being a very popular highlight, with over 30 million copies printed. 

Cami remained active until his very last breath, and in his later years often produced the annual Nature Conservation sets, with the 1975 70c, showing little egrets, being his final work. It was issued just weeks after his death in January 1975. 

Engravers working for the French postal authorities usually worked on stamps for the French territories as well, and so did Cami. His work for these territories was mainly done in the 1950s. Apart from the odd issue or stamp in a larger set, Cami designed and engraved two stamps which form mini omnibus series. The first is the 1958 issue marking the Tenth Anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, which was issued in nine countries, and the second the 1960 issue to mark the Tenth Anniversary of the African Technical Co-operation Commission, which was issued in twelve countries.

Cami was never was given the chance to work on France’s definitive sets, but did contribute the odd design and engraving for various definitive stamps in the French territories. The 1956 air mail stamp design for the French Southern and Antarctic Territories is among the most outstanding of those.

But it was a country outside the direct French sphere of influence that gave Cami the great honour of engraving a whole definitive set. In April 1965, Luxembourg introduced a definitive set depicting the Grand Duke Jean. The stamp was designed by E. Kutter jnr, but engraved by Robert Cami. New values were added to the set with any regularity, with the final ones not being issued until 1991, making this set a long-lasting tribute to Cami’s engraving talents.

Robert Cami passed away on 12 January 1975. From December 1978 to January 1979 there was a large Cami Retrospective exposition held in his hometown of Bordeaux. It was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, listing over 350 of his works, among which are private engravings, book illustrations, stamps of course, and ex libris bookplates, his favourite art form.

You will find Robert Cami's database HERE.

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