ANDRE FRANCOIS (1915-2005)

André François was a highly original artist, whose sharp satires of the human comedy influenced a generation of illustrators and cartoonists and, as such, paralleled the work of Ronald Searle and Saul Steinberg.

André François was born

André François was a highly original artist, whose sharp satires of the human comedy influenced a generation of illustrators and cartoonists and, as such, paralleled the work of Ronald Searle and Saul Steinberg.
André François was born André Farkas in Temesvár, Austro-Hungary, on 9 November 1915. His father was a Jewish Hungarian businessman, and his mother was Viennese. (As the result of border changes in 1920, Temesvár became part of Romania, and its name changed to Timișoara.)
François said that ‘he became an artist because he was poor at school’ (‘Obituary’, The Times, 30 April 2005). In 1932, he moved to Budapest to stay with a cousin who was studying medicine, and enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts. However, he found the teaching stuffy, and left after a year. In 1934, he moved to Paris to work with the famous poster artist, Adolphe Cassandre. It was on Cassandre’s recommendation that he received a commission to design posters for the department store, Galeries Lafayette. Then, in 1937, he produced graphic works for the Paris Exposition Internationale. During the same period, he began to contribute cartoons to Parisian newspapers and magazines under the name ‘André François’. When he became a French citizen in 1939, this became his official surname.
During the Second World War, François and his English wife, Margaret, moved to Marseilles, to work for the newspapers that had moved out of occupied Paris. But, because of the threat of the Vichy government rounding up Jews, he obtained false papers and moved his family to the Haute-Savoie. There he created hundreds of cartoons for the leftist newspapers, Action and Les Lettres Françaises. After the liberation, he returned to Paris, and eventually settled with his family in Grisy-les-Plâtres, in the Val-d’Oise, working from a studio in his garden.
Having illustrated his first children’s book – Pitounet et Fiocco, by Auguste Bailly – in 1942, François subsequently developed into a master of the form. He also illustrated such classics as Diderot’s Jacques le Fataliste (1947), Balzac’s Contes Drôlatiques (1957) and Jarry’s Ubu-Roi (1958), while, in 1957, he collaborated with Jacques Prévert on Lettre des Iles Baladar. He contributed to a wide range of French periodicals, including Le Rire, and produced artwork for numerous advertising campaigns. His first exhibition was held at Galerie La Hune, Paris, in 1955.
At the same time, François gained an equally high reputation in Britain and the United States, through his work on such periodicals as Punch, Lilliput (both from 1949) and The New Yorker (first cover in 1963). He became a close friend of Ronald Searle, who provided the introduction for the collection, The Biting Eye of André François (1960).
For a brief period, from the late 1950s, François also worked as a designer of sets and costumes. Projects included Roland Petit’s Valentin, ou Le vélo magique for his Ballets de Paris, with music by Michel Legrand (1957); Peter Hall’s productions of The Merry Wives of Windsor for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and of George Tabori’s Brouhaha at the Aldwych (both 1958); Gene Kelly’s Pas des dieux for the Paris Opera, to music by George Gershwin (1960); and Peter Darrell’s Lysistrata for the Western Ballet Theatre at the Bath Festival, with music by Johnny Dankworth (1964).
Concentrating mainly on painting, sculpture and collage from 1960, François held major retrospectives at the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris (1986) and five museums across Tokyo (1995).
In December 2002, a fire in his studio destroyed much of François’ oeuvre, including most of his sculptures. It was fortunate that the photographer, Sarah Moon, had made a short film about the artist in his studio not long before the conflagration. And the disaster did not deter him from returning to work. Within a few months he had produced a sufficient number of new images to contribute to two solo shows in Paris: ‘André François. Affiches et Graphisme’ at the Bibliothèque Forney (2003) and ‘L’épreuve du feu’ at the Centre Pompidou (2004).
His honours and awards included the Gold Medal of The Art Directors Club, USA (1962), the Legion d’honneur (1975), Prix Honoré Daumier (1979), and the Grand Prix National des Art Graphiques (1980). He was a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale.
François died at home on 11 April 2005. Of his two children, Pierre became an architect.
His work is represented in numerous public collections, including the Musée Tomi Ungerer (Strasbourg).

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