Roger Chapelet (1903-1995) was born in Versailles and studied art in Paris. Chapelet was one of the three great French maritime painters of the twentieth-century, alongside Marin-Marie Paul Emmanuel Durand Couppel de Saint-Front and Albert Brenet. He discovered his maritime passion boarding a ship named the Rollo in 1927, where his brother was a radio operator in the port of Marseilles. He set sail for the first time in 1929, beginning his career painting at sea, and made a series of paintings of the various ports he travelled to: Le Havre, Antwerp, and Rotterdam.
Already noted for his skills in his thirties became the official peintre de la Marine for the French Navy in 1936, a position he held until his death in 1995. He sailed in every sea in the world including the coastal waters of Greenland and Newfoundland, areas he travelled to as a young man simply to paint their local fishermen. As a painter for the services he recorded as diverse conflicts as the Second World War, the North Sea and North Atlantic Convoys, the French-Algerian War and the Indo-China War; from each he created a record that will ultimately prove to be of great historical value. His role as an official visual archivist, his time as a seaman and his global experiences greatly contributed to his nearly-unequalled knowledge of ships throughout his diverse oevre. His work is particularly highly regarded in France where he was made a knight of the Legion D’Honneur in 1960, and subsequently decorated as a Chevalier des Palmes Academique, Chancellor of Cap Horner and given the Order of Maritime Merit, and had a street named after him and his son (a famous organist) in his hometown.
Chapelet’s global focus is further evidenced in his work as a stamp designer. The artist created imagery for a variety of French territories in the last years of its empire. That these stamps represent the final iteration of French colonial imagery will be of great interest to collectors, an encapsulation of the more regionalised nature of French central administration. Chapelet’s works create a distinct visual and historical identity for each of the sister republics during a period of great transition. These stamps were very well received, and he was awarded the Grand Prix for design. That the Frenchman also went on to be the poster designer for Compagnie Mixte, Paquet, Générale Transatlantique and Fraissinet is testament to his multifaceted skillbase. His work can be found in museums on both sides of the Atlantic, and the quality of his work is perhaps best attested by the fact that in 1974 he became President of the Marine Academy in France.