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musée poupée paris
October 3, 2006 to March 18, 2007

Poster of the exhibit
What a show !
the stage of entertainment
through toys and dolls

• • • • What a show ! An exhibit of the universe of the stage throught toys

The new temporary exhibit of the Museum displays the dolls and toys of yesterday and today as related to the fascinating universe of the stage and circus.

The following scenes will be presented :

circus and fair with Aunt Sally, many comical and sad clowns, performing dogs, monkeys, elephants and acrobats.

Acelluloïd crobat and clown
opera through characters from the famous operas “Carmen”, and “La Traviata”.

Faust by Mrs Saintot
dance with figurines inspired from classical ballets and operas such as “La Bohème”,“Le Sacre du printemps”, “L’Oiseau de feu”, “L’Après-midi d’un faune”, “Rhapsody in Blue”, as well as folk dances.

Strauss Waltz by Golia
theatre through representations of sweet Pierrot and Columbine from commedia dell’arte, true miniature theaters and operas complete with their scenery, puppets, string puppets, and the famous Guignol.

Miniature theatre
cinema : from magic lanterns to dolls representing movie stars.

Shirley Temple

Jumping jacks, dolls, figurines, string puppets, finger puppets, magic lanterns, tea sets, dancers, musical boxes, automaton, plush monkeys, dogs, elephants, celluloid toys, and masks are exhibited.  About 500 pieces are presented with red curtain backdrop sceneries creating the theater atmosphere.

The exhibit is divided in 3 parts:

First - The games offering shows for children: phonograph dolls with mechanism, the waltzer doll, a whistler baby, a kicking and crying baby, automatons, mechanical animals, magic lanterns, miniature operas, the Guignol theater, puppets with theater sceneries.

Second - Toys representing the entertainment world with dolls depicting celebrity, characters from the commedia dell’arte or from the circus.

Third – Toys recalling the genre of the stage for the amusement of adults such as dolls created by artists or fascinated with the themes of opera, circus, dance or theater. These objects should be considered more as cultural references or esthetical models than toys.

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• • • • Circus and toys

Origins of the circus :

The oldest documents showing circus date from 3500 years ago. 3000 years ago, Egyptians organized parades with wild animals  from Africa such as  lions, camels, and elephants.
The first open air theaters appeared in Greece but the Romans were the first to use the name “CIRCUS” to identify the stadium. The spectators sitting on the terraces could wager on fights between the gladiators and the wild animals such as big cats, bears or bulls.
In the middle ages, people rushed to the fairs to see jugglers, bear trainers, and performing monkeys. Every notable king of France and Europe had menagerie of lions, bears, lynx or panthers.
In the middle of the eighteenth century, France experienced a large development of the circus, mainly in Paris.

• Circus and its show :

- THE MENAGERIE- is a collection of animals. In the past, animals coming from Africa or Asia provided the public with a natural science lesson.

- FUNAMBULITS- they work at 7 feet in the air and use a large pole to keep their balance.

- ACROBATS- acrobatics are the basis of every circus job. The main figures are flip-flap, cartwheel, and somersault. Other acrobats work in the air with ropes and rings.

celluloïd acrobat

- TRAPEZE ARTIST – This is the star circus act because it demonstrates the thrill of man’s dream to fly by his own means.

- JUGGLERS- They throw all types of objects such as balls, clubs, hats, and plates. Speed and suppleness are important for juggling.

- CYCLISTS- they pedal forwards and backwards on monocycles.

- HORSES- riding acts are the origin of the circus.  The size of the circus ring corresponds to the length of the 40 foot horse trainer’s whip.

There are 3 types of riding acts of flying trapeze exercises and dressage.

- BIG CATS- at first, the animals were trained in ferocity and the acts were violent. Today, training is done with patience, kindness and good observation that gets the big cats obey. The trainer works in a high iron cage that occupies the entire circus ring that is connected to the menagerie by tunnels.

- ELEPHANTS- The largest animal of the menagerie, spectacular by its size and strength. It is difficult to train but it is one of the most gifted. An elephant can remain balanced on a pedestal, walk while leaning on his predecessor’s back, play music, go tricycling.

Performing elephant

- BEARS- have been trained for a long time. Polar bears are very good equilibrists. Some can juggle and others can ride bicycles.

iIlustration of a bear in the circus
mecanical cymbalist bear

- MONKEYS- in the past century, monkeys were trained to imitate man in all his attitudes, meals, and walks. Today people prefer to see them show their natural agility to jump.

monkey to pull
girl dancing with her monkey by Catherine Dève

- DOGS- performing dogs jumped through hoops and pulled carts.

performing dog

Small animals such as doves, parakeets, chicks, geese and even cats were trained and preformed in costumes.

- CLOWNS- are great artists because they must be actors, acrobats and good musicians at the same time. In the 1870s, the clown act was combined with the comic with his red nose and oversize costume, and enormous shoes which contrast with the elegant spangled dress and conical white hat of the white clown.
The comic is the one who entertains the public during the scenery changes of the coming acts.

3 clowns by Golia

The origin of the clown was not derived from Italian comedy, or in the fool of popular fairs, or jesters of the Middle Ages, or the Greek or Roman mimes. The clown, of recent traditions, has no ancestors except for a few recent generations.
They all appeared from the inborn need of man to laugh and to ridicule others. This is the only reason that explains the appearance and disappearance of comic types throughout the ages.
The clown with white make up, ears tipped in blue with shaggy eyebrows demonstrates his personality. He always moves on the ring back to the public, never looking at him. He gracefully uses his arms and seems to say « look how beautiful I am ». He is the ruler of all he surveys.
The comic is the red nose clown with the smallest of all masks, wears make-up on the mouth, cheeks and eyes revealing his character. He can cross the ring and to in the public. He taunts the white clown even if it good-natured. The clown has to succeed a performance through an act in which accidents are linked. His universe often crashes into the white one’s that dominates him.

mecanical clown

Circus and toys :

The magical world of circus is largely transformed into toys mainly the clown character under the shape of dolls. Many doll makers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have created colorful clowns with wonderful make-ups or ludicrous expressions. It was very common to include a clown outfit in the doll’s wardrobe or one of another circus artist. Animals have been used as models for plush animals such as monkeys, mechanical bears, and elephants on wheels.
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• • • • The commedia dell' arte's characters

Illustration on the theatre

The main characters inspired from the Italian tradition are: Harlequin, Punchinello, Columbine, and Pantaloon…
Some of them have been used for dolls, automatons, puppets or toys just like other typically French ones such as Pierrot, Scaramouch and Polichinelle who should not be mixed with Punchinello, the « maschera » from Naples.


decorative Pierrot to hang

In the commedia dell’arte, he appears as an honest but naive servant. He is in love with Columbine. He is a funny character. He is also very cowardly. His biggest fault is disruption, producing the majority of mix-ups in the commedia dell’arte.
Playful, he likes to dress up and play tricks. He can also cry and is very greedy.

Pierrot, dreamy, naïve and love-sick, appeared in the nineteenth century in the theater of Paris. He replaced the ignorant Harlequin. His white costume was inspired from Punchinello’s.


Mignonnette dressed as Harlequin
A servant from Bergamo wears a, ill-fitting hat that does not completely cover his shaved head and is decorated with a rabbit tail. His highly colored costume is made of tattered cloth with patches of various pieces of fabric. In the seventeenth century the rags change to blue, green and red triangles, sewed symmetrically with a yellow braid. He wears light and flat shoes that enable him to perform acrobatics. A purse is fixed on his belt as well as a bat he uses as a club.

At first, uncouth, naive and awkward, the character became more cunning, cynical, quick and immoral and often uses obscene language. As an optimist, he always finds an answer to his problems. Lazy, greedy and womanizer, he can also be sweet and faithful. He is  the favorite of children and in fact, looks very much like them. He resembles the dog for his faithfulness and obedience, the monkey for its agility, the cat for his autonomy and independence. Harlequin likes to have fun and to display one’s wit.


Mignonnettes dressed as Punch
Punch on a horse, toy to pull

This character comes from the commedia dell'arte’s servant Punchinello. He has a quick, cynical and mocking temper. He is greedy, a liar, and can be violent and even cruel.  His physical appearance is different from the Italian one. He has a double hump, one the front and one the back, with a hooked nose, a large costume and a cocked hat that is sometimes decorated with feathers, and wears a black shiny mask. Punchinello looks more like a white dressed Pierrot with no hump.
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• • • • Puppets

sicilian puppet
puppets for miniature theatre
string puppet by Chris Noel

Definition and origins

In French, the word “puppet” comes from the Middle Ages and represents a small doll looking like the Virgin Mary with a nickname of “little Mary”. In the other European countries, puppets are called by names meaning “doll that plays”. For instance, “puppe” in German, “puppet” in English although the string puppet also called “Marionette”, “titere” in Spanish, “burattino” or “pupazzi” in Italian whether they are with string  puppets or glove puppets.
The puppet is an articulated figurine that can be operated with a glove or by using strings and sticks. Puppets are made of light and fragile materials to be easily manipulated.
Puppets’ fragility makes their conservation very difficult and this is one of the reasons why it is not easy to fix their origin. Moreover there are very few texts left. Despite those difficulties many museums show puppets from Antiquity what tends to prove that they were very popular and numerous.
Puppets have no related origin. They appear at various times in different areas with no particular links. They can be found in Europe, Asia, America, and but Africa, especially in Egypt. Some articulated dolls, including puppets have also been found on the other side of the world as in Polynesia or in the Arctic’s Inuit. Puppets and the art of using them have mainly been developed in Asia and Europe.

Puppet show

miniature opera with puppets

It is fascinating to see that puppets have evolved in a similar way everywhere they have been used.
First, puppets have mainly been used for religious goals to illustrate myths of religion.
Later, they secularized to tell legendary heroes achievements.
The puppet plays have also been used for political dissent against autocratic rulers or lack of personal liberty, as in the character of Guignol.
Finally, they succeeded in getting closer to people’s everyday life through humor and fantasy.
Circa 1610, Giovanni Briocci came from Italy to France with his burattini or glove puppet. He changed his name to Jean Brioché around 1649. His most famous burattino is Punch. Even though the name comes from Punchinello, he has a different costume and his temper has changed.
The character of a puppet can change in time and space. One can see it with Punchinello changing to Polichinelle in France, Punch in England, Don Cristobal Polichinela in Spain, and even Petrouchka in Russia. This is also true with Girolamo, a naïve Italian farmer becoming Chignol in Lyon that finally changed into Guignol.

the puppet show by dolls


Illustration of a puppet show
Guignol is a French puppet created in 1808 in Lyon by Laurent Mourguet.
Laurent Mourguet, a silk worker, goes through a difficult period at the beginning of the eighteenth century and becomes a bazaar merchant. After his sales pitch, he uses Punch and a puppet theatre to attract his customers.
Abandoning Punch, he creates Guignol. From now on, this sympathetic woodenhead character becomes the spokesman for people of modest means.
He criticizes social injustice, taunts the middle classes as well as regional or national authorities. His salty language, his rebellious spirit, his impertinence, his wild but easygoing personality has made Guignol a popular and attractive puppet. Today, Guignol shows still attract many delighted children.

• • • • Magic lanterns

Illustration of magiq lanterns
magic lantern with painted glass plates

The magic lantern, ancestor of the projection equipment was described for the first time in 1671. The German inventor Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) gives a complete description of this optical instrument.
It is made of three elements: first, a source of light such as a candle, an oil lamp and later an electric bulb, secondly, a painted glass plate and thirdly, a convergent lens.
The images painted on the plate were enlarged in that manner and shown on a screen.

painted glass plate
painted glass plate
painted glass plate
painted glass plate

There are many variations of the magic lantern using a concave mirror and other lenses to concentrate added light, but the light source can vary. A double focus lantern has even been created that enables a fade in-fade out between two glass plates. These glass plates sometimes have small mechanisms that enable to move parts of the image and spark the public’s imagination.

magic lantern show by dolls

The magic lantern was improved and sold during Kircher’s lifetime by the Danish physician, Thomas Walgenstein. It  rapidly became very popular. Speakers, using barrel organs, often gave life to these shows. For several centuries, the magic lantern has been the preferred instrument of witches and charlatans. It gave them the means to produce special effects to simulate monsters and phantom appearances.
Magic lanterns have also been made in small sizes for children with glass plates that have illustrations of history or artistic drawings.

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Around the exhibit...

"Shush" tales for children

After your visit of the Museum, go on your trip in the magical world of the show while listening to stories told by Vanessa Brunel.

Wednesday 4.30 PM untill March 18, 2007 -
with reservation 01 42 72 73 11
Lasting (museum + stories) : about 1h30 - for children from 3 to 10 years old - in French
Prices (visit of the Museum + stories) : 10€/adult - 8€/reduced - 7€/child

"Funny masks" "Cloth clownworkshops for children

Workshops to make a mask or a cloth clown are scheduled for children from 5 to 12 years old. Children can visit the museum and be inspired by the objects presented in the exhibit before the workshop.

Mask and cloth clown's workshops are scheduled on alternate Wednesdays at 10 am untill March 18, 2007.
During Paris school hollidays : workshops on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 am.
Material provided - Limited number of children : 5 to 11 - Lasting (visit + workshop) 2 H
Price : (workshop +museum) 12 € clown / 10€ masque - With reservation 01 42 72 73 11

Birthday party with dolls

Have your birthday party with your friends and dolls.
Self-guided tour of the Museum with an educational questionnaire + cake (not provided) + stories.

Group 8-14 person : 7€/child - 10€/adult.
Group 15-25 person : 6,5€/person.
with reservation 01 42 72 73 11.

Shrove Tuesday : free entrance for any children coming in costume !

Any children coming in costume on Shrove Tuesday will get afree entrance to the museum.

A specialized shop – bookstore

The Museum’s shop is open at the same time as the exhibition rooms, and is also available on this website.

Play dolls and collectible dolls, clothes and accessories, as well as a wide range of books and products are for sale. Dolls and objects related to the exhibit will be available at the shop : puppet, clowns, theatres...

A doll hospital and appraisals

The Museum’s doll hospital repairs antique dolls, baby dolls, plush animals... and makes appraisals.
Veronique Derez, our doll doctor, is usually there on Thursday from 11 AM to 4 PM but you can come any other day for an estimate.

Free estimate of the repairs are given on presentation of the sick doll or plush animal. Appraisals and doll identity card with charge are made on appointment and on presentation of the doll.

A seamstress for dolls

The seamstress makes clothes, especially designed for your dolls.

Isabelle Banon, our seamstress, remains at your disposal on Thursday and Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM to examine your projects.

Free estimate on presentation of the doll to be dressed.

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Next exhibit from March 27, 2006 to September 30, 2007

Barbie’s R Thousand and One lives

Museum's collections exhibited elsewere

• "French plush animals", December 3, 2006,
Toymania, Paris Congres Center.

• "European Christmas" regional dolls from Europe, December 1 to 10, 2006
Chateau des Izards, 24660 Coulounieix-Chamiers.

• "French regional dolls", December 23 to 30, 2006
Espace Julien Green, 78570 Andresy.

• "Sweet teddy bear", December 8, 2006 to January, 13, 2007
Theatre municipal of Castres.

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