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Faithful Marianne

March 2011
Drawing and engraving: Y. Beaujard © La Poste 2011

She incarnates the values of the Republic and is a fixture of daily life in France. She is the face that has adorned French postage stamps since 1935. Her visage has been rendered by renowned artists: Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau and, more recently, cartoonist Enki Bilal. Not bad for a peasant girl! Especially one who never existed. The exhibit Marianne, Symbol of Liberty in France, invites us to trace the history of this grande dame of French philately.

Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.

What are the origins of the mysterious Marianne? The first depictions of a woman wearing a Phrygian cap date back to the French Revolution. Mediterranean sailors and galley slaves sported a bonnet similar to that worn by freed slaves in the Roman Empire. Revolutionaries from southern France brought their bonnets with them to Paris, creating the emblem of a popular movement that ushered in the First Republic.

At the time, Marianne was a very popular name…though it was considered vulgar by aristocrats. As the revolution swelled, this peasant name became inextricably associated with the image of the life-sustaining mother, protector of the children of the Republic. She was then coiffed in a Phrygian cap, a symbol of freedom.

Marianne has faced numerous ups and downs throughout the ages. She has taken quite a few licks in her 75 years of appearing on postage stamps, but she has always managed to emerge triumphant. Her bust graces City Halls across France…and the women who modeled for these sculptures include major celebrities: Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve and Laetitia Casta. The humble Marianne keeps impressive company, indeed!

Marianne’s stamp on the world

This French icon will make her appearance on March 18, 2011, at the Canadian Postal Museum. The exhibit, which boasts nearly 175 postage stamps bearing Marianne’s likeness, will be presented in the Collector’s Corner, a space dedicated to exhibits created by private collectors working in collaboration with Museum staff.

This unique look at the many faces of Marianne is the brainchild of devoted philatelist and dedicated Canadian Postal Museum volunteer, Paul Gray. After a successful career in the department of Foreign Affairs, Gray had settled into an active retirement in Kemptville. When his wife decided to volunteer at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, he accompanied her to an orientation meeting – and ended up signing on, himself. Fifteen years later, he actively continues to share his passion for stamps. This is his 15th exhibit in the Collector’s Corner, an ideal place to showcase selections from his impressive personal stamp collection.

Through a series postage stamps dating from 1935 to the present day, Paul invites us to follow the evolution of Marianne and admire her numerous incarnations: Marianne fighting against disease, commemorating the bicentennial of the French Revolution, formal figurative depictions, whimsical portrayals and abstract representations. These various manifestations paint the portrait of an enduring icon that has managed to embody the quintessential values of a nation – while somehow remaining malleable to the forces of various artistic currents.

Marianne, Symbol of Liberty in France, at the Canadian Postal Museum’s Collectors’ Corner, on display from March 18 to July 31, 2011.

Mon, Tue, Wed & Fri: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thur: 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sat & Sun: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Canadian Museum of History
100 Laurier Street
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0M8
Tel: 1-800-555-5621