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Subject: Raymond Savignac, French Poster Artist

Dies at 94
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Date Posted: November 03, 2002 2:39:22 EDT

Raymond Savignac, the celebrated French poster artist who combined pure images in cheery colors with engaging humor to advertise products ranging from cars to aspirin to shampoo, died on Monday at his home in Trouville-sur-Mer, France. He was 94.

Mr. Savignanc defined poster art as "the creation of a fleeting image which people will not forget."

His poster for the pain reliever Aspro was a splendid example. It showed a line of traffic coursing through the sufferer's head. His poster for Dunlop tires showed a motorist driving, not a car, but four tires and a spare.

His poster for Bic pens depicted a schoolboy whose head was a shiny ballpoint. To advertise half-price railway tickets, he drew half a person.

His most unforgettable image is almost surely his drawing of a bar of soap directly under the udder of a cow. The milk appears to flow into the soap, underlining the point of the ad: the soap, Monsavon, was milk-based.

"I was born at the age of 41 from the udder of the Monsavon cow," he began his memoirs.

His art reflects the special place cleverly drawn posters have occupied in France from the time of Toulouse-Lautrec.

He apprenticed with the great A. M. Cassandre, who portrayed sleek luxury in advertisements for Dubonnet and the French liner the Normandie. But instead of glorifying the merchandise, as Cassandre did, Mr. Savignac made gentle fun of what was being sold.

He said his intellectual inspiration was Charlie Chaplin and the other slapstick comedians, and he came to criticize present-day advertising for its lack of humor. Photography not to mention today's bewildering proliferation of media and messages seemed to have overwhelmed the sharp artistic vision he shared with contemporary French poster artists like Bernard Villemot, who died in 1989.

In an interview with Le Monde in 1986, Mr. Savignac called himself "an old brontosaurus who does a job that no longer exists for a species that's well on its way to extinction."

But his own position was assured by the transmogrification of his commercial work into art objects, as signified by his many museum exhibitions a development he called "nonsensical." He told Le Monde he would never have made advertising posters if he had known people would revere them as high art.

Jack Rennert, a dealer and president of Posters International and author of several books on posters, suggested that they deserve their exalted position and called Mr. Savignac the premier postwar poster artist.

"There was a certain sparkle about everything he did," Mr. Rennert said. "It was always just right."

Mr. Savignac was born on Nov. 6, 1907, in Paris, where his parents ran a workingman's restaurant.

His dream of becoming a champion cyclist evaporated the day he first rode with a professional cyclist, and he didn't want to become a restaurateur.

So he went to work as a draftsman at 15, coloring bus maps. He next found himself working on animated film commercials.

He told Le Monde that he was unemployed and feeling suicidal when he approached Cassandre for a job. The master commissioned him to do a poster and a leaflet.

He learned many lessons from Cassandre, including the need for a human element in his work.

Mr. Savignac said his mentor's Dubonnet ad put an end to the "all-pervasive Cubism" that then dominated posters.

Mr. Savignac said in an interview with The International Herald Tribune last year that he needed 10 years to develop his own unique style. Part of this style involved grabbing the viewer's attention with bold strokes and visual surprises.

Another element was the creation of dreams. "A poster creates the illusion if not of happiness, then at least of comfort and ease," he said in the Tribune interview. "It is optimism at its most absurd no more indigestion, no more floating kidneys, no more unrequited love."

Mr. Savignac was the complete Parisian artist with his cloth hat and goatee, but in recent years he lived in Normandy, which he excused by pointing out that the area has two racetracks and three casinos.

His survivors were not reported by newspapers or news agencies, and his family could not be reached.

When asked by Le Monde what he thought of today's advertising, Mr. 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 admen fall into the second category.

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