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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

Back to School

Updated: May 6

Visual culture in France is one reason I live here. Its everywhere from Chateaux gardens to Rodin to Godard films and more. It's so particular to France it's visible in pretty much every product of French culture. It's even in French education.

Needless to say French educational posters have a strong following and we see quite a few at markets. They ranging from the clean almost austere lines of 1950s Rossignol posters with their elegant sans serif fonts:

to these late 1960s posters published by Fernand Nathan where the focus seems to be on the complexities of social order and activity:

or funky charm of the 1970s.

We've always been taken by science posters and especially these:

They are designed for legibility, drawn on black coated paper or fabric. Lettering is by hand, and the mixture of the figurative and the explanatory is beautiful to me. There is a clear aesthetic and sense of design behind each poster and as an ex-scientist it's especially pleasing.

The lettering at the bottom of course tells us most of what we need to know. The illustration is by Paul Sougy, a curator of natural history at the science museum of the French city of Orléans who in the 1940s was commissioned to create them. The designs are distinctive and strange depictions of our world. They are also remarkably efficient pieces of art- note just how much information is crammed into every single one. Sougy's visuals were all over textbooks, classroom walls in the late 1940s and 1950s. Most of his collection is at Artois University and there is a tiny street named after him in Orleans.

The publisher was Auzoux, who for a long time were the worlds pre-emeininent science educational organisations. The company as named after Dr. Louis Thomas Jérôme Auzoux (1797-1880) who in the 1820s established a workshop in Normandy making detailed and accurate medical models. The process he invented consisted of a mix of paper pulp, glue and cork powder, pressed in paper-lined molds, like papier-maché.

As education of the new sciences of zoology and anatomy grew, his models became more popular in universities. The models became larger and more articulated, with working joints and connections. By the 1860s over eighty people were employed making models to be shipped across France and worldwide.

They became essential in teaching aids as he also worked on larger animals, including famously, a horse. The museum

of Natural History in Paris notably has a papier-mâché gorilla.

The company branched out into drawings and other means of communication, but the development of plastics led to the Auzoux company's eventual demise by 2000.

Of course students of anatomy and children will have books and even on the internet there is a sense of graphic design and visual flair in the best educational work. But I can't but feel but these clear and beautiful designs would have informed the visual education of children in France growing up in the late 40s and 50s- the same generation which would be involved in international modernism and the psychedelia of the late 60s and 70s.

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