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Unique Automaton of a Dancer on a Chair by Henry Phalibois

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Clocks, Watches & Scientific Instruments - 2383
Date / Time :
October 28, 2007 10:00AM


Unique Automaton of a Dancer on a Chair by Henry Phalibois, the Chaplinesque figure with white papier-mache face, music hall make-up, smiling mouth, red mohair wig, and brown glass eyes with articulated "dancing" eyelids, flourishing a cane and dancing on the seat of white-painted chair, articulated at the elbows, hips and knees, the going-barrel movement in the chair base driving seven wood cams and duplex sublime harmonie cylinder movement playing two airs, in the original black satin tailcoat, breeches and leather shoes.
Literature: This automaton is pictured in Bailly, Automata, The Golden Age, p. 167; the movement is described on p. 223.
Note: An example of the innovative and slightly surreal work of Henry Phalibois, who purchased the family automata firm from his father Jean in 1893. The dancer raises each leg alternately, kicking from the knee in a graceful side-stepping motion with feet outstretched. He moves his arms in and out as though clapping, turns his head and winks his eyes rapidly. The mechanism that articulates the figures is a larger version of the miniature Tightrope Dancer made for many years by Jean Phalibois (see lot 618 in Skinner's auction on 24 March 2007), with the movements transferred from base to figure via twin sets of levers and long helical return springs that run through the back of the chair. Like many Phalibois automata of the period, the figure's movements are continuous and fluid, creating the effect of an accomplished, frenetic performance; at the climax of his performance, the dancer lifts both feet in the air simultaneously, as though preparing to leap from the chair.
For this accomplished act, Henry Phalibois provides a special form of musical accompaniment via identical cylinder movements, joined by a coupling hub, and playing the same tune in "stereo". This complex formation allows the musical box to play with greater volume, providing music of greater depth and volume than is usual on an automaton of this size. Bailly suggests that the Dancer's mechanism was the result of a special order from Phalibois, and describes it as a great rarity in automata.
Estimate $50,000-80,000


Henry Phalibois, Chair , Jean Phalibois, white-painted chair , miniature Tightrope Dancer , Automaton, Musical box, Robotics