An Early 19thC Life-Size Articulated Lay Figure Mannequin Attributed to Paul Huot c.1800

Origin: French
Period: Empire
Provenance: John Barnicoat, artist (1924-2013). Head of Falmouth School of Art 1972-76
Date: c.1800
Height: 62”
Width: 16”
Depth: 7.5” (all approximate and at extremities)

The very rare life size articulated mannequin or stuffed lay figure with polychrome painted papier-mâché head and articulated wooden fingers with kid gloves, wooden and metal jointed under structure and limbs with cotton stockinette stuffed sectional torso being plant fibre filled, of early nineteenth century construction, and very likely to have been made by Paul Huot (fl. 1790s – 1820s), surviving in largely untouched condition from the zeniths of eighteenth century France.

The condition of the mannequin is overall good with expected areas of wear to the extremities as photographed. At the time of its creation these mannequins were actually quite ephemeral and the focus wasn’t on them being made to last. There is a small crack to the back of head though the paint to the face is in very good order. The cotton stokinette is soft that is covering the body and it is worn through in various places such as the knees and elbows, and the original stuffing is visible and in places lacking. Remarkably the original kid gloves remain partially in tact. She remains very decorative and essentially sound considering she is so versatile and would have been moved into thousands of different positions over decades of use. She does not appear to be stamped. The stand was discarded when she was purchased in 1972.

We are offering this figure from our client Allie Barnicoat who says of the figure:

“This figure was owned by my late husband John Barnicoat.  He was offered her in 1972 when he was head of Falmouth School of Art.She was originally placed on a large wooden stand which we disposed of at the time. This was in 1972. We were both drawn to her as an art object, a life sized ‘doll’, due to the way she was made and we had a true appreciation of her qualities.  We always had her seated on a little wooden French antique chair in corners of our various living rooms: From a stone village house in Cornwall to homes in London and Hertfordshire.  We named her Muriel after a French film of the same name 1963 directed by Alain Resnais.  This makes me wonder if we had been told at the time that she was French.  I don’t remember.  We have never attempted to renovate her in anyway.  Strange as it may seem she was always a ‘member’ of our family and always referred to as  ‘Muriel’.  It is a wrench to see her leave us.”
Allie Barnicoat.
Wife of John Barnicoat artist (1924-2013)

In the late 18th century and early 19th century, Paul Huot’s mannequins were the most sought-after among artists from Paris to St. Petersburg. The genre painter August von der Embde paid 1000 francs — an enormous sum — to have one sent to Kassel, Germany, while the British painter William Etty once waited a full year to obtain one and then parted with £48 for one similar to this in 1823, the equivalent of £5,300 now. These “mannequin perfectionné,” as they were known, had an internal skeleton with moveable joints, horsehair stuffing, and an external cotton stockinette covering that mimicked human skin. In one of the photographs we show another figure by Huot which has the same stand that Allie Barnicoat remembers once belonged to this figure which they discarded in 1972.

The articulated human figure made of wax or wood has been a common tool in artistic practice since the 16th century. Its mobile limbs enable the artist to study anatomical proportion, fix a pose at will, and perfect the depiction of drapery and clothing. Over the course of the 19th century, the mannequin gradually emerged from the studio to become the artist's subject, at first humorously, then in more complicated ways, playing on the unnerving psychological presence of a figure that was realistic, yet unreal--lifelike, yet lifeless. (1)

“The seated mannequin is destined to inhabit rooms, especially in the corners of rooms; open air does not suit holiness. This is where they are at home; where they display the gifts of their ineffable and mysterious poetry”… Giorgio de Chirico; Birth of the Mannequin 1938.

A very rare opportunity to acquire an important figure that has not been on the open market for fifty years.

(1) Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from function to fetish: Jane Muro 2014