French Polynesia

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The only stamp Pierre Albuisson has engraved for French Polynesia is this one from 1996, that was issued for Stamp Day 1996. The photographer is Henri Lemasson, of whom little is known, except that he established a photographic studio in Polynesia. Do you have a feeling of having seen this portrait before? At a first glance the stamp looks very much like a painting by the French painter Paul Gauguin -- please read on.  

The exploration of the Pacific by the end of the 18th century nurtured an imagination in the western world, which reflected both their dreams and desires for liberty. 

With the invention of photography, Tahiti came to play an important role of preservation; the image of "Modern Man" is reflected in the mirror of a society at the time considered archaic, with regard to finding his original roots. 

The Maori becomes "the negative" of the West, and the concept of the island, an isolated and closed world, strongly symbolic, amplifies this perception. 

Travellers in Polynesia often witness a feeling of perfection, a state of merger with the environment; the perfection of a primitive life in complete communion with nature, returning to the origins, will in itself constitute enough elements for finding the lost happiness of childhood. 

The first photographic proofs from Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands are extremely rare. Located away from the beaten maritime routes and communication, this media of expression came late to Polynesia. 

French Polynesia 1996. Stamp Day. Engraving by Pierre Albuisson after a photograph by Henri Lemasson.

  • French Polynesia 1996. Stamp Day. Photograph by Henri Lemasson. Scan from Cérès Catalogue 2001. 

French Polynesia 2006. Paul Gauguin commemorated.

As colonial life little by little became organized, western photographers, including Henri Lemasson,  established their studios to be visited by both the western establishment and the original islanders, and the local women often got a "career" as models. 

The French painter Paul Gauguin was inspired by one of these proofs, and met finally Henri Lemasson, whose photographs often became the models for the painter. 

  • French Polynesia 2006. Paul Gauguin commemorated. Scan by courtesy of Pierre Albuisson. 

During the 20th century, it was among others Henri Matisse, who was inspired by such photographs. 

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Published June 2005. Revised 10-feb-2007
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