A French Bisque Musical Automaton by Roullet et Decamps; ‘Bebe Tricoteur’ c.1885-90

Origin: French
Period: 3rd Republic
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1885-90
Height:  15”
Width: 10.5”
Depth: 10.5”

The un-restored French musical automaton, the vignette arranged on a ruby red velvet-covered base to a faux bamboo gilded chair, the porcelain head set with brown glass paperweight eyes, the movement functioning and when wound music plays and the girl nods her head forward and back as though examining her knitting, while her forearms twist to and for in a realistic knitting movement, the whole in incomplete though utterly beguiling condition and made by Roullet et Decamps in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The condition is self-explanatory with reference to the photographs. We have oiled the movement and it works well. She could obviously be fully restored but there is a beautiful sense of fragility in her present order. The porcelain head is marked Depose Tete 5.

This particular automaton appeared in the original company catalogue as #256 named "Bebe Tricoteur" (Child Knitting). When complete she would have had a blonde mohair wig with braids and curls, composition hands, satin and velvet clothing (of which some remains) and maroon satin shoes.

Founded in 1865 by Jean Roullet (who marked his doll & mechanical toys wind up key JR), in 1879 Jean's only daughter Henriette Roullet married Ernst Decamps, a worker in his company. In 1889 the partnership was formed between of Roullet et Decamps, by 1906 Ernst Decamps became head of their firm.  Jean Roullet passed away in 1907.  After Ernst also passed away, his widow Henriette Roullet Decamps and son Gaston Decamps were the successors.
Roullet & Decamps is best known for their automata, mechanical walking and moving dolls and toys who are marked on the wind up key RD.  Roullet et Decamps won many bronze, silver and Grand awards between 1867 and 1910. Roullet et Decamps used marked bisque heads made by Jumeau,, Kestner and Simon & Halbig and possibly by other porcelain doll makers French or German.

The period from around 1860 to 1910 is known as the golden age of automata. During this era many small family based companies of automata makers thrived in Paris and from their workshops they exported thousands of clockwork automata and mechanical singing birds around the world. The main French makers included Vichy, Roullet & Decamps, Lambert, Phalibois, Renou and Bontems. Amongst others, for instance examples from Austria, French automata are highly collectable today, although now rare and expensive they attract collectors worldwide.

The deconstructed aesthetic here is utterly beguiling., that possesses a haunting quality that stays with you long after the mechanism has stuttered to its inevitable halt.