The Raphaël brush company, based in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany (France), is a subsidiary of Max Sauer S.A., an arts supply company that also holds Sennelier paints. (I am reminded of the ancient Greek schoolboy who was taught that Protagoras believed the world rested on the back of an enormous tortoise. He asked, what's under the tortoise? "Oh," he was told, "it's tortoises all the way down." Same with corporations: it's corporations all the way up.) They claim to be the oldest European brush manufacturer (in business since 1793), and like many large manufacturers they also make brushes for cosmetics and camera companies. Their brushes are available in the USA through most fine art retailers, such as Dick Blick, Pearl Paint or NY Central Art Supply, where they command a premium price.

Kolinsky - Raphaël makes a kolinsky sable watercolor round brush in three styles of tuft (all come to a fine point): (1) series 8404 is a standard length tuft with a regular belly on a seamless nickel ferrule and black varnished handle with orange tip; (2) series 8402 is a standard length with a long tuft length and thin belly; and (3) series 8408 ("Designer") is an extra long tuft and fine point that in smaller sizes approaches a rigger brush. (The marketing literature incorrectly claims that Raphaël is the only company to offer this range of brushes: see the less expensive and lovely Rekab kolinsky rounds). All are made in France with double crimped nickel ferrules and enameled hardwood handles. The 8404 is a well balanced, somewhat short handled brush (total length of the #12 is 23.6cm). The tuft is average sized, 33mm long and 26mm around at the ferrule; but the belly is narrow for the size (8mm wide when wet) so that the sides of the tuft continue the tapering line of the ferrule without any visible widening (note that this describes the "regular bellied" model). Even so the brush holds a good charge of paint and releases it very evenly. The tuft is somewhat soft (rather like ABS brushes) and quite responsive in the hand; it snaps easily to a disciplined, needle point. (No flats are available.) Sizes in the 8404 series (regular belly) range from #000 to #16. Prices: #6, US$27.00; #12, US$214.00. Sizes in the 8402 series (fine point, full belly) run from #000 to #12. Prices: #6, US$30.50. Sizes in the 8408 series (extra fine point, long body) range from #000 to #12. Prices: #6, US$34.80, #12, US$182.40.

Raphaël kolinsky rounds (#6 & #12)

Other Sable - Raphaël offers a red sable round (Series 8424), and a red sable flat (Series 904) that is actually a bright, and suitable for oils as well as watercolors. Sizes range from #2 (1/8") to #20 (1"). Prices: 1/2" (#14), US$51.20; 1" (#20), US$110.50.

Other - Raphaël makes a variety of squirrel hair watercolor brush. Leading off is the Series 803 extra pure petit gris squirrel mop (much in the style of quill squirrel mops by Isabey or Winsor & Newton, but with a slightly longer tuft for the size), made of sacamena blue squirrel hair and set in a natural quill ferrule. Sizes run from #000 to #14. Prices: #6, US$43.00; #12, US$110.00.

Other squirrel brushes include the Series 903 petit gris oval pointed skywash (filbert), the Series 8383 round fine point made of Kazan squirrel hair, and the Series 916 flat bright made of golden (Canadian) squirrel hair. Sizes in the rounds range from #000 to #20; the flats and filberts from 1/8" to 1".

Raphaël's synthetic bristle brushes are limited to a sable imitation round (Series 8394) and flat (Series 8796), both with light orange finished wood handles.

Raphaël brushes occupy a peculiar niche in USA art retail supplies: a quality line that apparently few retailers sell and few artists use. Many of the brush styles described here are not available for sale in the United States. The complete line of products is not sold by any retail outlet I can find, and different retailers selectively market different brushes, for reasons I can't identify. Overall, the prices are not competitive in comparison to other brushes available, especially since there is no visible marketing support. Partly in reaction to the quality of Sennelier paints, I was slow to try Raphaël brushes, but the quality is very good and they are among the better brushes I've tried — although the softer tuft of the kolinsky rounds is better suited to expressive or calligraphic painting styles.