American Furniture & Decorative Arts
Carved and Polychrome-painted Racetrack Tout Tobacconist Figure, possibly carved by Charles Dowler (1841-1931),Providence, Rhode Island, c. 1880s, full-figure carving of a nattily dressed gent with curly brown hair, wearing a gray top hat, sporting a mustache over his open mouth, holding a cigar aloft in one hand, the other hand resting in the pocket of his red- and tan-striped trousers, with a pack of cigars held in the breast pocket of his black jacket; the figure stands on a carved wooden platform encased with canted wooden panels painted with layers of lettered advertising, overall ht. 70 1/2, ht. of figure 56 1/2, wd. of base 21 1/2, dp. of base 14 1/2 in.
Note: The first horse racing track in North America was built on Long Island in 1665, and since then the sport has enjoyed immense and uninterrupted popularity. At every race track is a race track tout, a person whose advice on the race and associated bets flowed freely to anyone in earshot. In the nineteenth century, touts often cut a rather dandy figure, wearing close-cut trousers and flashy coats. The tout was such a well-known figure in American popular culture that he was a frequent subject for shop figure carvers.
Radiating confidence and success, this tout is a particularly charming example of the type. His clothing is urbane, his mustache chic, and his cigar most likely lit. Indeed, it is easy to imagine that people were buying whatever he was selling! A close relative of the so-called cigar store Indian, he would have stood outside a shop with an advertisement painted on his base. The ghost of two separate such ads are evident on this example, which must have had a long career in the commercial sector.
Based on his stance, clothing, and carving style, it is possible that this tout is the work of figure carver Charles Parker Dowler. Based in Providence, Rhode Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Dowler advertised that he was a carver for hire, taking on work ranging from furniture to architecture and everything in between. Folk art collectors and scholars associate him most often with carved sporting characters, often called "dudes." Though many pieces have been mis-attributed to his hand, the resemblance is strong between this tout and the known example of Dowler's work that belonged to a Connecticut collector and was illustrated in the 1937 Index of American Design.
The painted surface of the figure appears to be carefully dry-scraped down to its original paint, an approx. 4 x 1/2 in. area of repaint and repair on the front brim of his hat, the platform he is standing on has three shrinkage cracks, the wooden case around the base has a 3 x 1/2 in. area missing at the top left front corner and losses on all the bottom corners. The cigar is a replacement.
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