Obituary: Raymond Peynet

Andre Renaudo
Saturday 23 January 1999 00:02

PEYNET'S LOVERS - "Les Amoureux de Peynet" - were known throughout France and beyond in the 1950s and 1960s. Created by the artist and designer Raymond Peynet, the two charming, whimsical characters - the little poet, immaculately dressed, adorned with a bowler hat and accompanied by his lady friend - had a simple way of amusing, and communicating with, everyone. They conveyed love and peace as well as a sweet kind-hearted and romantic message; above all they were very French.

Peynet was born in Paris in 1908 and attended a local school before studying at the Ecole des Arts Appliques. He started his career as an advertising designer in Paris in the 1930s in partnership with his wife Denise. When war broke out, the Peynets closed their agency and moved with their young daughter to the Auvergne in the unoccupied region of France, where Peynet worked as a war correspondent for Max Favalelli, the editor of the review Ric et Rac.

While on a visit to Valence in the Rhone valley in 1942, Peynet was inspired by the beautiful bandstand in the town. In the early hours of a clear spring morning he sat on a bench and began to draw. Letting his imagination go, he created a romantic vision of a lone violinist playing in the bandstand with a young lady listening. These were the characters he later developed into "Les Amoureux de Peynet". Named by Max Favalelli, the first drawing appeared in Ric et Rac just at the end of the war.

Returning to Paris in October 1945, Peynet resumed his work as an illustrator and designer, and began to develop and promote his new characters. During the 1950s the lovers grew in popularity and appeared everywhere, featuring regularly in newspapers, in magazines such as Elle and Paris Match and on posters advertising Air France, Galeries Lafayette and various film studios, as well as on record covers, postcards, wine and champagne labels, silk scarves, postage stamps and jewellery. The prestigious German porcelain manufacturers Rosenthal worked with Peynet and created a series of his designs on porcelain and glass.

Inspired by his interest in designing stage sets and costumes for the theatre, Peynet produced a series of over 200 dolls of the lovers in a variety of costumes. These sold in millions all over the world. When the Queen made her first official visit to France in 1957, she was presented with a set of Peynet dolls as a gift for the young Princess Anne.

"Les Amoureux" were so well known they inspired Georges Brassens and Marcel Amont, fashionable French singers in the 1950s, to include them in their songs, and an animated film, Around the World with Peynet's Lovers (1975), was made in Italy with music by Ennio Morricone. The popularity of Peynet's lovers crossed French borders. Anthologies of his drawings were translated into 10 languages and and published in 13 countries. His work was first published in England in the 1950s by Perpetua, run by Kaye Webb, then wife of the artist and humorist Ronald Searle, who both became friends of Peynet. Later Penguin published his work.

In Japan, the interest in Peynet's lovers is such that in 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in the East, a life-size bronze statue of them was inaugurated at Hiroshima; the theme was Love and Peace. There are two museums in France - one in Antibes and the other in the Auvergne - as well as one in Japan, dedicated to Peynet and his work.

From the 1970s Peynet and his family shared their time between Paris and the South of France, where they acquired a property near Antibes. Peynet turned to painting and produced a series of over 100 lithographs which were published in limited editions. He ceased working in 1994. Two years later, after the death of his wife Denise, his lifelong companion and inspiration, Peynet went into a slow decline. Now the poet has been reunited with his muse.

Over the past few years there has been a renewal of interest in the work of Peynet and it has become collectable world-wide. Last year major exhibitions took place in London and Paris and a book entitled Peynet Collections (1998, by Andre Renaudo) was published in England by Richard Dennis Publications. Coincidentally there will be an exhibition of lithographs at the Bell Street Gallery in Shaftesbury, Dorset, in February.

In a career which spanned 60 years, Raymond Peynet established the lovers as one of the icons of modern France, held in huge affection. As one Peynet fan said, "My vision of France in the 1950s is Brigitte Bardot and Les Amoureux de Peynet".

Raymond Peynet, artist and designer: born Paris 16 November 1908; married 1930 Denise Damour (died 1996; one daughter); died Mougins, France 14 January 1999.

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