Henri Dargent contributed to the long and glorious history of CitroŽn Styling.
A talented model maker, he had the privilege of being Flaminio Bertoni's closest working partner between 1957 and 1964
Forty years on, Henri Dargent talks to "Double Chevron"
Double Chevron: When did you join CitroŽn?
Dargent: My father was a foreman at the Epinettes stamping workshop in
Paris and decided I was going to work for CitroŽn. I joined the company
in 1945 as part of the Andrť CitroŽn professional training programme
D.C.: When did you meet Flaminio Bertoni?
The first time was at the Grande ChaumiŤre academy in Paris, where we
were working on drawing and sculpture from models. We were introduced
for the first time in 1949, at an exhibition organised by the
Association of CitroŽn Artists. After spending some time in central
tooling, I started work at the design office on the Rue du Thť‚tre in
the 15th arrondissement in Paris in 1953. 1 began working with Mr.
Bertoni in 1957, at his request.
D.C.: That must have been a major event for you?
Yes, it was really a major event. I was going to work with a master.
When 1 arrived he told me, 'This is a sculptors' studio. You don't need
your drawing board.'
D.C.: Why do you think he chose you?
While 1 was working in CitroŽn's design office, I was also taking
classes in Applied Arts at the Arts et Mťtiers engineering college. I
wanted to further my training and get a diploma in engineering. So I
decided to submit some of my vehicle projects to Mr. Bertoni.
H.D.: He smiled and brushed them aside.
D.C.: What did you work on in the Bertoni studio?
H.D.: Car models in plaster. We made lifesize, scale 1 sculptures. We didn't make many small models.
D.C.: Did he frequently intervene, or did he let you get an with things yourself?
It depended, really. It was a bit of an adventure. I would often leave
a model in a fairly advanced rough form at the end of the day, and when
I arrived the next morning he'd be changing the model's volumes with
his little hammer!
D.C. : Bertoni
made some magnificent sketches, but the main image we have of him today
is that of the man working on a model of the Traction Avant. He
pioneered 3D volume modelling. Was this the most important form in his
H.D. : It's true that he made sketches
to define a part, but without going into detail. Only volume counted.
He had the shape he wanted to make in his head, and it was difficult to
get away from it.
D.C.: What was it like working with him?
H.D.: I admired him. I worked incredibly hard, and I observed him to understand how he arrived at the final result.
D.C.: Can you describe his method?
He shaped each model using a plane, taking into account the way it
caught the light. And he stopped when the result seemed satisfactory.
It was sensual and instinctive sculpture. But he also knew a great deal
about materials and steel. He always had a reason for what he did, and
he was extremely precise with technical definitions. Don't forget that
he was a coachbuilder when he was younger. He knew all about marking
out and shaping metal. Bertoni was a genius he was into everything, and
he was a real workaholic.
D.C.: And when you presented projects to the management?
With him it was a little like improvised comedy. First, he presented
the models he liked the least, then, at the last moment, he would say
to me, 'OK Dargent, unveil that one!' It was his way of getting the one
he liked accepted.
D.C.: Did he have any influences?
H.D.: "He once confided to Robert Opron
that he'd rather go to the zoo than a motor show. It's true that he
sometimes drew his inspiration from the shape of certain animals. The
daring, futuristic lines of the DS reflects the "morphing" of a fish
and a car. But 1 can assure you that he paid close attention to other
cars. 1 kept some of the notes and sketches he made at the Paris Motor
Show, and they clearly show he was interested in various things. We're
all influenced by somebody. When Mr. Bertoni was alone, he focused on
himself. But as the team got bigger, we all influenced each other. In
particular, I'm thinking about the work of Henriques Raba, who won the Prix de Rome. We can also see Bertoni as the gifted hand that was able to capture the aerodynamic shapes Andrť LefŤbvre
was looking for. He felt all of these things instinctively rather than
digesting them in a scientific way. In my view, Flaminio Bertoni was
truly the greatest in terms of his sensitivity and feeling for shape."
Robert Opron - Head of CitroŽn Styling from 1964 to 1974.
Henriques Raba - CitroŽn stylist from 1959 to 1962.
Andrť LefŤbvre - Manager of CitroŽn vehicle styling in the early 1950s.
Flaminio Bertoni (1903 - 1964)
Traction Avant, the 2CV and the DS. These three exceptional CitroŽn
models owe their existence to the genius and exceptionally skilled
hands of Flaminio Bertoni.
A born artist and a hard
worker, Bertoni was no doubt the first to sculpt body designs rather
than draw them, thus working on volumes more than on lines.
People say that "il Maestro" created the body of the Traction Avant "7" in one night in 1933.
drew the 2CV at the end of the 1940s and designed the famous
"Hippopotamus" in 1947, forerunner of the DS 19 released in 1955.
Three strokes of genius from one of the forerunners of modern automotive styling.