French Automaton "Ethiopian Flutist" by Gustav Vichy

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Gustave Vichy, France. Circa 1878. 32” (82 cm). Eight movements. Two tunes. A handsome standing figure of ebony-complexioned black man has early style paper-mache head constructed with a thin layer of kidskin under the oil-painted complexion and facial features. He has brown glass eyes, mohair lashes, ivory teeth, black fleecy hair, moustache, goatee and brows, carton torso and paper mache legs. He is standing casually with one knee bent, toes posed and bare feet, arranged upon an original velvet covered wooden base. His hands are made of gutta percha so as to be subtle, yet firm enough to mount and support all the interior linkages and springs for finger animation. He wears a bronze silk shirt with blue silk tie, magenta silk satin jacket with silk collar and lapels, silk short trousers, earrings, and carries a maple wooden flute. Marked G.V. on the winding key. Movements: He raises the flute to his lips while lowering his head, and his fingers play the flute, each finger independently of the other. Then he lowers the flute, blinks both eyelids as though in reverence for the music, turns his head from side to side, and moves his lips as though announcing the next tune. The movements of the fingers are extraordinarily lifelike. Music plays in accordance with the action. Historical References: The automaton appeared as Flûtiste Ethiopien in the Vichy historical catalog and was described as a deposed model by that firm. It is likely that the luxurious model was aimed at the wealthy international clientele that visited Paris during the 1878 World Exhibition.
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