It wasn’t the sunniest Trouville day when we we to match a postcard of the casino, but it worked out rather well.
Dodging into the tourist info office to get out of a downpour we saw something colourful and familiar. An exhibition of the marvellous Savignac’s original and printed posters!
Sauvignac was incapable of painting anything other than joy and this show includes some of the famous Trouville series, the Bic Billy, the original Monsavon cow (amazing!!) and a lot of oh so Savignac humour. Our spirit lifted, we didn’t even notice the rain as we left.
Who is Savignac?
”I was born at the age of 41 from the udder of the Monsavon cow,” begin the memoirs of Raymond Savignac…
Life started comfortably enough for Raymond on 6 November 1907 in Paris, where his family ran a working men’s café. His childhood is not marked by any major trauma . His early years are scarred only by boredom, for Raymond suffered only from creativity.
Perfectly practical parents
Raymond’s parents were eminently practical so when Raymond announced at 15 he wanted to be a designer, he was encouraged to join the Paris Transport Company drawing office. What more could a sensible young man want?
Probably nothing but Raymond had a strong streak of something and it was not remotely sensible. A man who goes on to become famous because of udders is not sensible at all.
Unsurprisingly Raymond did not enjoy life as a draftsman-calqueu in the Paris Transport Company drawing office at all. Colouring bus maps offered very little in the way of reward both professionally and financially.
Tedium and (probably) tears
We imagine that as a cool Parisienne teenager Raymond drooped around the office with some style, sighing and generally being unappreciated. 15yr olds can do that very well. A fan of Charlie Chaplin perhaps he tried out a few pratfalls between the silent drawing boards, just to break the tedium.
We do know that by 1925 he left a Raymond shaped hole in the Paris Transport Company drawing office and found a job that was rather a better fit. Robert Lortac ran a cartoon studio on Montrouge, making advertising films. Here Raymond animated hand drawn figures for advertisements. The transition from still life to animation enthralled the young creative.
A risk, well taken
Then again in 1933 unemployment. Unappreciated, suicidally desperate, Raymond makes an unscheduled visit to the studio of his hero, the eminent ‘Cassandre’s’. Joy and happiness! He secured a small commission (a poster and a leaflet) and a world of possibilities. He soon became Cassandre’s full time apprentice. Cassandre, famous still for his luxuriously sleek posters that stand out against all other adverts even today.
Raymond made creative leaps forward as he soaked up ideas and fresh design philosophies like a Parisienne sponge. His well placed admiration for Cassandre only grew. Raymond later said that his mentor’s Dubonnet ad put an end to the ”all-pervasive Cubism” dominating poster design (you can have a look here). Significantly, Raymond learned the importance of the human element in design.
Set backs as the world changes
Unfortunately their association halted in 1938 when Casandre left for America. Raymond, who had been able to stretch his creative wings, took a job at printers Draeger Frères. Raymond said of his time at Draeger ‘Là, c’était l’horreur…’ It was the Paris City Transport drawing office all over again.
A horror interrupted by another – the war. Soon demobbed from Dijon and unemployed in Paris, Raymond took up a colleagues suggestion to hold an exhibition. Robert Guérin, art director of the Consortium Général de la Publicité founded by Eugene Schueller, was impressed and Raymond is again employed. Increasingly he has freedom to add his own humorous quirks to his charming posters and stays for 7 years.
The Monsavon Cow
By now rather a good designer and confident of his own vision, Raymond leaves to partner fellow poster artist Bernard Villemot and they holds a joint exhibition at the Maison des Beaux-Arts.
His old employer M. Schueller politely attends. M. Schueller is amazed. He is astounded and more importantly he is willing to pay. For M. Schueller has discovered the ‘Monsavon Cow’. Upside down, its udders emptying themselves into a bar of Monsavon soap, the poster is a ‘visual scandal’ … and a roaring success.
At last, aged 41, with a set of udders and some soap ‘Savignac’ is born.
A brilliant future
His philosophy is simple ‘The reading of the poster must be instantaneous, in a fraction of a second’ and very effective.
Fame and a long line of distinctions follow the Monsavon cow, including the Grad Prix de l’Affiche. Savignac designs for Bic, Air France, Cinzano, Gitanes, Dunlop, Pepsi… for 20 years his humour enhances daily life from the Paris métro Metro to New York.
Savignac’s gently mocking humour can be a little startling. Cheerful animals smile rather disconcertingly as they are sliced for dinner, a traveller is cut in half to illustration a half price rail offer … But also charming and amusing, like the kissing seagulls of Trouville. He never patronised the viewer but often poked fun at the seller. His characters are no fools – a reflection of himself perhaps. As he once said ‘I am a cheerful pessimist!’.
Although his designs are timeless, Savignac was not. Still busy and highly regarded at 72 he decided to quietly move out of hectic Paris and with his wife Marcelle – Mimi – chose delightful Trouville-sur-Mer for their new home. Of course.
Trouville is possibly a Savignac poster come to life (not one of the more gruesome ones!). The contrast of the vivid blue sky and yellow sands, the curve of the bay, the cheerful villas climbing up the hill, Trouville has been a holidaymaker destination for centuries and radiates their happiness.
A heavenly match
Trouville was indeed a heavenly match that inspired years of creativity for Savignac. Always generous he continued to lend his talent to environmental and humanitarian causes. He also donated original artwork to the local, delighted, museum, who awarded Savignac a dedicated room. However Savignac never aspired to be anything more than a commercial artist, drawing designs for Asprin, Bic and Dunlop. As he said, he would never have made advertising posters if he had known people would revere them as high art. To his horror they often do.
During his time in Trouville Savignac was made an officer of the Légion d’honneur, exhibited his work around the world and designed the official poster for the World Cup held in France in 1998
In 2001 happily he was able to attend a ceremony to rename the seafront boardwalk ‘Promenade Savignac’ in tribute to his art and support of the town.
With emotion he said ‘I am very flattered and excited to receive this gift. I ‘ve spent my life on the street and the street is undoubtedly the area of the poster. So what better than a walk!’. His posters advertising Trouville will always be displayed all along the boardwalk.
Raymond Savignac, creative genius, died on 30 October 2002, age 94, in Trouville-sur-Mer.
- See a lovely exhibition of his work now at the Musee Montabello on Rue General Leclerc, Trouville-sur-Mer
- Walk the Savignac walk with this handy map of the Savignac posters and murals about town
Lets let Savignac speak for himself:
‘Reading a poster must be instantaneous. In a fraction of a second, the man in the street must be able to understand it. Poster art is the creation of a fleeting image which people will not forget.’
”A poster creates the illusion if not of happiness, then at least of comfort and ease’. ‘It is optimism at its most absurd – no more indigestion, no more floating kidneys, no more unrequited love.’
‘The poster’s provocative violence’, he said, ‘transcends the limit of bad taste, and actually gives it a certain style. Moreover, there is something worse than bad taste, and that is good taste. There are 900,000 Parisians stuffed with good taste.’
‘The less you show, the more you say’ (insert Gallic shrug here)
When asked by Le Monde what he thought of today’s advertising, Savignac recalled a bon mot by Jean Cocteau: ”The first man to compare a woman to a rose was a genius, the second an imbecile.’ He said today’s ad men fall into the second category.
‘An old brontosaurus who does a job that no longer exists for a species that’s well on its way to extinction.’
‘If I express myself with gags, puns, and graphic clowning, it is first of all because I like that, and secondly because the man on the street is so bored with his daily routine that I believe advertising has the duty to entertain him.’
Thank you Savignac, we are still entertained!