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Exceptional Pair of Life-Sized Jean Roulet Blackamoore Musician Automata

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


Exceptional Pair of Life-Sized Jean Roulet Blackamoore Musician Automata, depicting man with flute and a woman with pan pipes, standing cross-legged as they lean against papier-mache tree stumps, both with leather-covered papier-mache heads, brown glass eyes with articulated lids, open mouth mouths with two rows of bone teeth, and curly black wigs, the man with carved wood hands and articulated fingers, crank-wound spring-driven barrel organ in the body with eighteen-key action, 4 1/2-inch lg. barrel, four cams and twelve wood pipes, the woman with leather-covered papier-mache hands, rigid fingers, crank-wind spring-driven barrel organ in the torso with twelve-key action, 3 1/2-inch lg. barrel, four cams and twelve wood pipes, both in green velvet, satin and gold silk brocade costumes overlaid with metal-thread soutache braid and passementerie, on velvet-covered ogee bases, ht. 54 in., and faux marble plinths with gilt borders, overall ht. 72 in., the man with brass plaque of Jouets et Tabletteries, Maison Simonne, Passage Delorme, Rue de Rivoli, 188.
Note: The man lowers his head to play the flute, moves his fingers over the stops, while blinking and looking from left to right. At the end of each of the four tunes (Les Cloches de Cornville, Mme. Favarit, La Carmago (?), and La Fille du Regiment, he pauses, looks up, around and then bows his head and returns to his music. His companion raises the panpipes to her lips, and moves her head back and forth and two and fro across the pipes, blinking all the while. At the completion of each of the four tunes Rigoletto - La Donna Immobile, Les Fauvelles, Soix de la Brise and Martha, she pauses, lowers the pipes and looks from side to side, surveying her audience.
Literature: Bailly, Automata, the Golden Age, pp. 29 - 30, 125, 275. Mary Hillier, "A Parisian Toy Man", in Doll Reader, December 1986 / January 1987. Although one of the most recognized automata by Jean Roulet, the origin of these pieces can be attributed to Alexandre Theroude, who took out patent no. 73,504 in October 1866 for an automaton with music provided by a miniature barrel organ concealed in the body. Although the mechanism was apparently identical to the Roullet piece, Theroude's model represented a shepherd boy of distinctly classical appearance. A visitor to the Paris Exhibition of 1867 described Theroude's display that resembled a rock, on which "an almost life-size shepherd sits and plays the flageolet, the movement of his fingers perfectly covering the instrument's holes....Another similar figure, a black flute-player, is found a little lower down. His pose is natural, even graceful, and the movements of his head and fingers are remarkably true-to-life". When he filed for bankruptcy in 1878, Jean Roullet was able to buy at least part of his stock, including the components for what was to become the Black Flute Player which appeared as No. 1 in Roullet's earliest known catalogue, printed the same year, at the sizeable price of 1000 francs. By comparison, his mechanical animals cost between 4 and 9 francs, and the majority of the figural automata cost less than 100 francs.
The creation of automata able to play (or seeming to play) their own instruments had been a preoccupation of makers from the ancient Romans to Jaquet-Droz. Jean Roullet, with Theroude's assistance, accomplished this feat with adroitness. The same visitor at Theroude's exhibit wrote that, "even though the finger's action is not involved in the making of the sounds, for they come from inside the man's body, so natural is the movement that many are fooled". The titles of the tunes are inscribed on the barrels, which ingeniously also house the spring, removing the needle for a separate going-barrel or fusee that would have taken up valuable room required for the pipes in the torso. The movements are perfectly coordinated, so that the pause in the music as the barrel shifts is accompanied by a pause in the figure's actions. The woman's mechanism and movements are different to the man's, adding realism to her performance on the panpipes. The barrel is shorter, with more trills in the music, and rapid movements of her head and eyelids in keeping with the instrument that she plays. This is the only example of a female figure known today, and the rarity is in the existence of a pair. Designed as animated versions of the fashionable Blackamoore torchiere figures of the day, these life-sized automata may once have graced the entrance of a grand hotel or palace in the same way that their carved counterparts did.
Estimate $500,000-600,000


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