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Le Matelot Blanc - Paul Perraudin, 1942

Exhibited: Exposition de Vichy, 1942
Society Nationale des Beaux Arts Salon, 1942
Salon de la Marine, Musée de la Marine, Paris, 1944

Gouache on paper. A Second World War study of a French sailor. Titled ‘Matelot blanc’ in pencil and signed circa 1943 in gouache ‘Perraudin’ with the post-nominal anchor symbol of the official artist to the French Navy. Art shipper’s label of Robinot Freres, Paris, 1942, verso. 1944 exhibition label verso. Sheet size: (25in) x (19in). Framed and glazed.

Paul Perraudin (1907-1990) was appointed Peintre de la Marine by the Vichy government of Marshal Petain in 1943, and thus became the official artist to the French Navy. It was incumbent on the official artist to usefully serve the French Navy and record maritime history. The honour, which originated under the July Monarchy in 1830, permitted the artist to sign his works with an anchor after his name, and further afforded the holder the opportunity to go to sea and observe the navy firsthand. However with the  extension of the German occupation of northern and western France to include the Vichy controlled ‘Zone Libre’ in November 1942, Perraudin’s opportunities to fulfil this aspect of his official role must have been limited. Moreover his appointment was set against a backdrop of dramatic naval events.

In North Africa the Vichy Secretary of the Navy, Admiral François Darlan, defected to the Allies, who were gaining increasing support from French servicemen and civilians. His replacement, Admiral Gabriel Auphan, guessed correctly that the Germans were aiming to seize the large Vichy fleet at Toulon, and ordered it to be scuttled. The Germans responded with Operation Anton but the French naval crews used deceit to delay them until the scuttling was complete. Anton was judged a failure, with the capture of 39 small ships, while the French destroyed 77 vessels; several submarines escaped to French North Africa. It marked the end of Vichy France as a credible naval power.

Post Liberation Perraudin undertook cruises in the hydrographic vessel Beautemps-Baupré, the Free French corvette Lobelia (on loan from the Royal Navy 1941-47), the battleship Richelieu, and the Le Normand-class frigate Le Savoyard among others. Perraudin’s preferred medium was gouache watercolour, not least because it is quick drying and easily transported. He also worked as an illustrator and art teacher.

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