An Early 20thC French Wax & Composition Shop Display Mannequin c.1910-25

Origin: French
Period: 3rd Republic
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1915-25
Height: 44”
Depth: 9”
Width: 12”

The ethereal wax-work modelled head, in painted translucent wax with implanted human hair and glass eyes, the whole as a young boy with a characterful face, composite body and articulated wooden arms, to period sock and black boots, mounted on a velvet square plinth base and surviving from the first quarter of twentieth century France.

Condition wise the head is in good order with some repairs having been made at some stage with very faint hairlines. His hands are lacking, though the arms still freely articulate on the ball joints and the composite body has a nice craquelure patina with wear and flecked losses as pictured. One of the eyes has sunken slightly within the skull.

Mannequins have fascinated mankind for centuries. Indeed, these glorified coat hangars have a genealogy that goes back to ancient times. When Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb in 1923, he discovered an armless, legless, wooden torso, made exactly to the pharaoh’s measurements, standing next to the chest that held the ruler’s clothing. Dating from 1350 B.C., it may have been the world’s first dress form.

With their keen appreciation for style the French introduced the first full-bodied mannequin in 1870. Such was the allure of the then-wax figures that window shopping quickly became a form of entertainment; millions came to stare at a make-believe world frozen in place.

The most realistic mannequins of this era were those of wax, like this example, and like today’s mannequins, they mirrored the times. Though their false teeth, glass eyes and real hair, implanted with warm needles a strand at a time, had a definite taxidermist’s air about them, they sported the full bosoms and broad beams of the gay ’90s woman.

Hailing from a time when shop display was quite simply a work of art, this wonderfully haunting piece perfectly conveys and preserves the idealised image of shopping in the Victorian age.