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Charles Morel – Grains de Beauté/Beauty marks


On the occasion of their third anniversary, Editions Montsalvens are launching a new collection of beautiful books whose first work is entitled Grains de Beauté (Beauty Marks). It traces the extraordinary adventure of Charles Morel, son of a Vaud flour merchant who settled in Gruyère. A bookseller and paper-maker, he has become one of the emblematic photographers of the canton of Friborg. In a book richly illustrated with vintage photos, his grandson René Morel tells the story of this family. There are more than 330 vintage postcard reproductions illustrating the towns and villages of the district as well as various themes. The Charles Morel fonds, which includes 2,500 postcard subjects, was donated to the Gruyère Museum by the Society of Friends in 2002.

Charles Morel is the fifth child of Jean, baker, of Marnand in the Broye. He was born in Bulle, where his parents had just settled, January 3, 1862, in a small house in the street of Vevey where he almost died in the flames when he was a few months old.

From the age of 20, Charles collaborated in the flour trade operated by his father and sisters Emma, ​​Lina and Caroline at the rue de Gruyères, next to the Café du Moléson. That same year, 1882, he was appointed manager of the “La Gruyère” newspaper printing house, which had just been founded, where he remained for five years.

In 1887, Charles Morel, 25 years old, opened a business where he remained active until 1947. His bookstore, stationery, bookbinding, framing and photography stand at the rue de Gruyères, at the current No 21.

In 1906, he transferred his business of bookstore, stationery and photography in the building he acquired, with an entrance to the Place des Alpes and the other to the Rue de Vevey. In the center of the store, he set up a dark room to develop his photographic plates and printed his postcards.

Seconded by Roger, one of his four sons, who took over the business in 1947, he can indulge in his many sports activities, especially in the mountains with the CAS, but also in the practice of singing: for 65 years, he was a member of the Bubble Choir. Active member of the Reformed Parish of Gruyère, he chaired it for many years.

Charles Morel died on May 3, 1955, in the hospital for the blind in Lausanne, because he had lost his sight because of cataract. “Fate’s practical joke” for a picture man!

Before discovering photography, Charles Morel practiced drawing as an informed amateur. Proof of this are the sketchbooks and some paintings that have come down to us, dated from 1886 to 1900, with a constant progression in the precision of lines and perspectives, not to mention the particularly detailed rendering of trees.

At the age of 24, my grandfather sought to represent his environment, sometimes with color images of various formats, but especially through pencil drawings, in notebooks of 22 x 17.5 cm or 28 x 22.5 cm. His subjects are mostly from Gruyère, with a few exceptions, notably around Lake Geneva.

During his favorite mountain races, he uses postcards already printed with a small tourist subject, on which he adds in pencil the representation of a summit or a mountain range, which gives them an original appearance.

When he decided to started publishing postcards in 1898, he bought his first photographic subjects from some publishers. At the same time, he chooses to create his own subjects. For this purpose, he draws with the pen and ink of China or pencil a dozen subjects in the format 9 x 14 cm, seven of which are printed immediately to 1000 copies each.

In September 1905, he filed a batch of 125 drawings with the Federal Office of Intellectual Property in Bern to protect them, probably with a view to making subsequent prints. I unfortunately did not find these documents, but only a certificate of deposit.


Charles Morel – Grains de Beauté

Éditions Montsalvens / September 2019

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