A Wonderful 19thC German Life Size Articulated Mannequin Formerly of the Studio of Franklin Watkins (1894-1972)

Origin: German
Period: Mid 19thC
Provenance: Formerly of the Studio of Franklin Watkins (1894-1972)
Date: c.1840-60
Height: 64 inches
Width: 16 inches
Depth: 8.5 inches (all approximate and at extremities)
The Stand: Extending from 31 to 47 inches high

The rare life size articulated mannequin or stuffed lay figure with polychrome painted papier-mâché head and articulated wooden fingers, wooden and metal jointed under structure and limbs with cotton stockinette stuffed sectional torso being plant fibre filled, stamped to the rear 'Made in Germany', and raised on an ebonised wrought iron stand, survives from the middle of the nineteenth century and from the studio of the American artist Franklin Watkins (1894-1972).

The condition of the mannequin would be best described as fragile but fair. At the time of its creation these mannequins were actually quite ephemeral and the focus wasn’t on them being made to last. Even so, the prominent painter William Etty still parted with £48 for one similar to this in 1823, the equivalent of £5300 now. There is a crack running up right and left side of the neck towards ears, and other age related marks to face. The cotton stokinette is soft that is covering the body and it is worn through in various places, and the original stuffing is visible and in places lacking. He is lacking an index finger on his right hand and there is a chip to tip of little finger on right hand. He remains very decorative and essentially sound considering he is so versatile and would have been moved into thousands of different positions over decades of use.

This figure was owned and used extensively by the well recognised American artist Franklin Watkins (1894-1972) and is featured in some of his paintings, most prominently in the portrait of R.Sturgis Ingersoll (see photographs). We have acquired the mannequin directly from a vendor who in turn purchased it directly from Mrs Watkins after her husband’s death. It is almost a certainty that Watkins would have bought this mannequin second hand, and at the time of purchase it would have already been at least 40 years old.

Featuring in one of Watkins’ most complex paintings (see photographs), the oil on canvas portrait of R.Sturgis Ingersoll painted in 1938 measures 23 x 24 inches and there is no doubt that this is very same mannequin seen in the background, with even the stand being the very same. Henry Clifford, author of the book ‘Franklin Watkins’ (of which a copy will be provided with the sale of this figure) says of this picture:

“a completely different conception of a portrait, that of the Philadephia lawyer and art patron, R.Strugis Ingersoll (No.20), a work of deep underlying overtones and probably one of the most psychologically complex paintings in 20th-century American art.” (2)

It is wonderful that this mannequin has survived and can be traced back to works as prominent as this.

Franklin Chennault Watkins, artist, was born in New York City, the son of Benjamin Franklin and Shirley Chennault Watkins. As an infant Watkins was taken to London, where the family then resided. During childhood and adolescence he lived at various times in Rye, N.Y., Louisville, Ky., and Winston-Salem. Due to the uncertain nature of his father's income, Watkins was reared in an atmosphere of alternating affluence and financial difficulties. Entering Groton in 1908, he had to leave in 1910 because money was tight. He then matriculated at The University of North Carolina but left after four days, not finding the school congenial. Watkins then spent a year at the University of Virginia. Several terms at the University of Pennsylvania followed. In 1913, having decided on art as a career, he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, an institution he was associated with for the remainder of his life. During World War I he did camouflage work for the U.S. Navy, and from 1918 to 1923 he was employed as an artist by the Philadelphia advertising firm of N. W. Ayer.

Franklin Watkins was little known in the art world until, at age thirty-seven, he suddenly received national recognition when his entry Suicide in Costume won first prize at the Carnegie International Exhibition in 1931. The oil painting, in an oval frame with a horizontal orientation, shows a male figure in a clown costume, lying on a table and holding a smoking gun. This picture, touching as it does on such basic human feelings, aroused so much controversy that the artist kept a low profile for several years afterwards. The painting now hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On achieving success, Watkins enjoyed a wide patronage among the rich and prominent in Philadelphia. He became chiefly known as a portrait painter, for which this mannequin would have been used for, though he painted still lifes, landscapes, and animals as well and executed the murals in the Rodin Museum on Philadelphia's parkway. Commissioned to paint President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, he and his wife went on a short vacation to North Carolina's Outer Banks prior to beginning the work. While they were there, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the president never had time to sit for the portrait. Among Watkins's many sitters were Dr. Jefferson B. Fordham, a North Carolina native and dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Dr. Eugene Strecker, the noted psychiatrist. An important commission was his portrait of the three Beinecke brothers, painted in 1969 for the Beinecke Rare Book room and manuscript library at Yale.

Watkins's portraits were at times controversial. He said that he painted what he saw in the sitter and did not strive for an exact likeness. His portrait of Joseph Clark, the Democratic reform mayor of Philadelphia, which showed the subject standing with arms folded and looking down, was not well received. It was only at Clark's insistence that the city accepted the picture. In his portraits Watkins has been said to have been influenced by Thomas Eakins, his great predecessor at the Academy of Fine Arts.

During his distinguished career Watkins, or Watty as he was known to his friends, received innumerable awards and honors both in Europe and America. His alma mater, the Academy of Fine Arts, gave him the three gold medals at its disposal. In 1934 he held his first one-man show at the Rehn Gallery in New York. The Philadelphia Museum of Art honored Watkins and his close friend Arthur B. Carles with an exhibition in 1946. A major show of his work took place at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1950, and a retrospective was staged at the Philadelphia Museum in 1964. A member of many prestigious organizations and boards, including the American Academy in Rome, he was awarded a doctorate in fine arts by Franklin and Marshall College in 1954. His paintings now hang in thirty major museums. Watkins occasionally contributed articles to art periodicals, the most important of which, "An Artist Talks to His Students," was published in the Magazine of Art in December 1941.

Throughout his life he painted pictures of a religious nature. Critics have noted the influence of William Blake. The Vatican Museum in Rome, having built a wing for contemporary art, selected Watkins as one of six American artists to be represented and chose a large painting of the Crucifixion. The wing had been scheduled to open in October 1972, and Watkins and his wife went to Italy for the event. The opening was delayed and they decided to remain in Europe. However, he was stricken and died in Bologna.

Franklin Watkins was a tall, handsome, urbane man. A self-portrait, exhibited in the 1964 retrospective at the Philadelphia museum, is in a private collection. He was married first in 1927, to Fredolyn Gimble, daughter of Ellis Gimble, the department store magnate. The marriage ended in divorce in 1942. He then married Mrs. Ida Quigley Furst, a native of Lock Haven, Pa. There were no children by either marriage.

Watkins, though born in New York City, was proud of his southern heritage and claimed North Carolina as home. The family had lived on Fifth Street in Winston-Salem in 1910 and 1911. As a former resident of that city, he exhibited oil paintings at the Piedmont Festival of Music and Art in 1944 and 1946. A few years before his death, he and his wife visited the Watkins ancestral home in Reidsville. An early study in oil of a reclining nude is in the collection of the Ackland Museum at Chapel Hill.

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)

A unique opportunity to acquire not just an incredibly decorative and rare object that both fascinates and disturbs but also an important piece of tangible American art history…“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.

(1) Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from function to fetish: Jane Muro 2014
(2) Franklin Watkins; Henry Clifford 1964