An astounding and very rare antique monkey mother-feeding-baby musical automaton, by Jean Phalbois,
Catalogue No. 596 from Silber & Fleming catalogue, 1885 - Phalibois retailers in London,
One of the scariest untouched Golden Age automatons ever to surface,
When the musical wind is pulled, the separate key for the automaton motor is wound and the start/stop actuated, the automaton bursts into life, with the mother monkey first opening and closing eyes as baby's bottle in her right hand is raised and lowered, shaken by twisting around, before swooping her head towards her cradled baby and arching the bottle teat to baby's lips, holding in position as baby sucks at the bottle teat, mother arches the bottle back to her side again as baby finishes sucking and mother's eyes open and closes again straight ahead at the viewer, all accompanied by the two musical airs played consecutively.
With pull-wind tabatáire Palliard movement numbered 2171, with single-section comb and automatic snail wheel for air change, mounted within the ebonised base which also bears the very rare and fully legible maker's stamp in mauve ink.
Mother monkey sits upon a hidden stool, under a mature flowering tree, with the twisted branches arching over the centre of the scene, each leaf starting to turn as Fall begins, with painted papier-mache trunk, pressed silk leaves and textured branches to very realistic detail. Monkey figures each with finely painted and moulded papier-mache heads, glass eyes, carved, shaped and painted wooden hands and feet articulated jaws and teeth and gum detailed exceptionally, baby in bundle with silk apron, mother with fine lace bonnet finished with black and gold trim ribbon ties, faded red, cream and light blue dress with lace front, plain dress fall with tied behind, double ringed gold detail cuffs and stockings, all set on the wonderfully textured and coloured naturalistic modeled base featuring flowers, rocks, shoots and fallen leaves from above.
In exceptional untouched and fully originally dressed condition - still operating as intended. Most of the mother's clothes going threadbare in a conveniently artistic manner.
Illustration in pictorial format on p.162 in Automata - The Golden Age, C. Bailly, 1987. Confirms that all clothes, figures and setting are the original from day one.
Size - 20in. wide, 9.5in. deep, 24in. high - (51 x 25 x 61cm)
Point of interest -
Does automata seem scary to you? Perhaps that late night horror movie you saw the other evening contained an old automaton which made you go white with fright. Or perhaps you have never seen a monkey automaton whose dress is peeling off in shreds and whose eyes are following you around the room...
Whatever makes you scared of an automaton, you will find your scare here, with this superb offering from Jean Phalibois. Be afraid, be very afraid when this springs into life.
The use of animals, particularly by Phalibois, is usually confined to monkeys. They were if you like a trademark of his work. Expressive,effectual to the eye in motion and modeled to effect in settings more akin to human activities, monkeys made a very strong punch in theeccentric department. We are sure that this fabulous piece, now with a distinct dark side, was a happy if not slightly bizarre curio when purchased by its first wealthy buyer all the way back in the 1880s. By the 1920s however, it would have started to reveal its age, and now, in 2014, it is certainly holding on to dear life.
But let us not be under any illusion - this piece works wonderfully. The action, still technically brilliant. The way her arm lifts, shakes the bottle, then reaches the teat of the bottle all the way over to her other side where baby's mouth is, takes some skill with the cam cutting in the movement underneath.
Welcome to the world of the untouched antique automaton - a world few get to see, including us. Time really has blessed this automaton in a magical and scary way.
Now, where did we put that garlic. Just in case...