25" Marquis Monkey Smoker by Gustave Vichy

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Gustave Vichy, Paris. Circa 1880. Eight movements. No music. 25” (63 cm). Standing upon a flat ebonized wooden platform is a paper-mache headed monkey with brown glass eyes, artistically-rendered painted face, hinged jaw with movable upper lip, row of painted teeth, white mohair periwig, carton torso and legs, and metal hands. The Monkey is costumed as an aristocratic gentleman with beautifully embroidered silk jacket and vest, lace jabot, silk pants, black leather buckled shoes, Marquis feathered hat, and holding a lorgnette in left hand, and Meerschaum cigarette holder in right hand. An internal system of rubber tubing emanating from his right arm to his mouth allows a smoking action. Movements: He turns his head toward the right and lifts the cigarette to his mouth, inhales five times, lowers his arm, exhales slightly, turns his head to the center, pauses, turns to the left, lifts his lorgnette, surveys the scenes, exhales deeply as though satisfied, turns back and repeats the process. Historical Notes: From mid-19th century until about 1885, the monkey as aristocrat was a popular theme with French automaton makers, as well as with designers of other objets d’art and French paintings. Certainly, personifying the monkey was charming and amusing in itself, but amusement was not the only end. Evolutionary theories had emerged in France in the early 1800’s and culminated in the publication of Darwin’s The Evolution of Species in 1859. These radical ideas caused shock waves throughout Europe as they were considered a serious threat to the established social order. The idea that French aristocrats had not always been thus, that they originated as monkeys just like the common folk, was not to be taken lightly in certain circles. Yet the automaton makers did just that, relishing in “making monkeys” of fancy folks. The decades-long popularity of the Monkey-People automaton symbolized powerfully that the social order had changed.
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