05-03-2005 05-04-2005
Skinner Auctions
Skinner Auctions Bolton MA
May 3, 2005 10:00 AMCalender

Rare Roullet et Decamps Automaton of Two Clown Acrobats

Auction: Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments - 2283 Location: Bolton Date / Time: May 03, 2005 10:00AM


Rare Roullet et Decamps Automaton of Two Clown Acrobats, the larger with papier-mache face modeled in wide grinning expression, black-ringed brown glass eyes with articulated lids and red / blue mohair wig, supporting the smaller clown with locked outstretched arms, the smaller with smiling mouth and blonde mohair wig in topknot, resting on his heels on the top step of a stage-form base containing four-cam going-barrel movement playing one air, both figures in parti-colored costumes with lace ruffs, cuffs and midnight blue waistcoats trimmed with sequins and metal-thread braid, black stockings and white leather shoes, ht. in handstand 35 in.

Note: The sequence begins with both clowns in standing position, the larger clown raises the smaller into a horizontal, and then vertical position, until he is suspended in a mid-air handstand. The first clown then leans backwards from the waist to support the other's weight, blinking throughout, and tilts his head to look at his partner who arches his back by forking his legs and lowering his head, until their two faces are almost touching. The first clown then slowly lowers the second to the ground and the sequence begins again.

A larger and more common version of the clown acrobats is illustrated in Automata the Golden Age, 1848-1914, pp. 134 and 320. The two automata share the same basic set of movements, although in this example the arms remain permanently locked, whereas in the larger piece the second clown lifts one hand in the air while performing his handstand. The expressive modelling of the arm and hand muscles in very unusual, as is the modeling of the first clown's face - both are probably unique amongst Decamps automata. The firm was known to have produced occasional non-production prototypes of their automata (for example the Cambodian Dancer and the Tortoise-Charmer), some of which eventually found their way into private homes and collections. Probably a prototype for the larger production piece, this is believed to be the only example of this automaton.
Estimate $18,000-20,000


metal-thread braid