The Snake Charmer by Roullet & Decamps

Lot Number: 
An exotically sculpted woman of gesso and composition with rich amber-brown complexion,brown glass eyes,closed mouth,portrait- like features,and waist-length brunette hair has an entirely sculpted body with adult female shape posed with slightly bent right knee,and a separate plate above the bosom allowing for breathing. She has swivel jointing at upper right arm and lower left arm to allow articulation; the swivel joints are covered by elaborate gilt bracelets. Her costume is of metallic gilt threaded fabric interwoven with green faux- emeralds,and her elaborate headband is decorated with many faux-jewels. In her right hand she holds a trumpet; in her left hand is a snake that is wrapped around her arm. Movements: her head moves to and fro in a sensuous circular motion,her upper right arm pivots,bringing the trumpet toward her mouth; her lower left arm pivots which appears to bring the snake to life; the snake lifts his head,then lowers it as if charmed; her bosom lifts up and down as though she is breathing. Considered one of the most desirable of the turn- of-the-century automata with exotic pose and sensuous movements,the persona of the Snake Charmer remains a mystery. The international expositions in Paris in 1889 and 1900 stimulated interest in exotic cultures,to be sure. But,more specifically,the Snake Charmer was likely inspired by popular culture of the early 20th century. It is possible the inspiration was the French novelist Colette who,about 1905,performed as Salome in Paris theatres costumed in a sensuous bare-breasted manner that closely resembles Roullet & DecampsåÁs Snake Charmer. And in his book Automata the Golden Years,Christian Bailly proposes Miss Paula,the Amphibian Woman,Trainer of Crocodiles and Snakes,who performed in scantily dressed costume to delighted Parisian audiences,or Nala Damajanti,the Hindu Snake Charmer,who performed at the Folies Bergere,as the inspiration. The early noted French automaton collector,Jacques Courtois,declared this piece "the pride and joy of the Decamps family ‰â their masterpiece" noting that the figure was originally designed to be exhibited nude,but Madame Decamps opposed this on moral grounds. This explains why the body figure is fully sculpted rather than an unfinished armature form designed to be covered by a costume as was the norm; and,in fact,it is the only automaton so made. Fewer than fifteen of the automata are known to exist in the world,and so rare and intricate is the Snake Charmer that it was never offered in any catalog by that firm,being produced by special commission only. Roullet et Decamps. Circa 1900. 33 1/ 2" (85 cm). Six movements. Four tunes.
Realized Price: 
Presale Estimate: