Light and Color in French Morocco

Color gradations artfully employed by stamp designers always attract my attention. Think of Great Britain’s long-running Machin series or Israel’s Twelve Tribes definitives from the 1950s. But the five stamps of French Morocco shown here, from the Townscapes series of the late 1940s, are perhaps my absolute favorite. The stamps were designed by Camille Paul Jooso (1902-1986) and engraved by Pierre Gandon (1899-1996, see an earlier post about Gandon’s Sarah Bernhardt stamp).

When I see these stamps, the acclaimed French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1964) comes to mind as does his lifelong quest for, as he told the art critic Pierre Courthion (1902-1988), “the clarity of light.”Matisse travelled often, including two stays in French Morocco in 1912-1913, not to see different places but “to see light, to restore, through a change of its quality, the freshness it lost as a result of being seen day after day.”To me, these stamps powerfully convey that clarity of light through their sensitive  design, exquisite engraving, brilliant color selection, and masterful printing. They are a marvel!

The other quality within these stamps that brings Matisse to mind, is the complex patterning of the terraced townscape. Matisse’s paintings, beginning in the early 1900s, abound with the patterns of textiles, with the objects they cover being visually flattened and converted to an overall decorative image. The Terraces stamps convey that same flattened decorative quality. Kudos again to the stamp designer and engraver for achieving such complex and enticing imagery.

Forgive my dream, but I can easily imagine Matisse looking out his hotel window in French Morocco at the scene we experience viewing these stamps…and being delighted just as I am.

1 & 2. Schneider, Pierre, et al. Matisse in Morocco, Exhibition Catalog, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1990, page 31.

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