A fabulous antique Monkey Pastry-Cook musical automaton, by Roullet & Decamps,
French, close-circa 1880,
A highly important automaton from the renowned private Decamps collection,
Feline haut cuisine served up in a flash...
When wound and the start/stop pull actuated, the incredibly detailed and realistically modelled standing monkey chef begins his performance by looking left then right whilst opening and closing eye lids as mouth moves to speak, lowering head slightly to indicate his latest culinary creation and shows it by lifting the lid of the large pastry pie up with right hand to reveal the surprise of a whole white furred cat's head, who quickly turns head from side to side whilst opening and closing mouth slightly. Chef then slowly closes the pastry pie lid again and all the while turning then nodding head, opening eyes and mouth, all accompanied by the sweet melodic tones of a single jolly musical air from cylinder movement within.
The body and face of very detailed shaped, plastered and painted papier-mâché with the face and jaw with areas of very fine leather textured and articulated for the seamless movement, light brown eyes, bone teeth including double incisors and red gum detail behind arched hinged mouth, multi-toned monkey hair around neck and face to the head and throat, compositional finished metal fingers and hands, dressed completely as a professional kitchen chef.
With white pleated hat, off-cream shirt with drawer ribbon tie, high collared jacket with double threaded lined lapel appliqué in brown and cream, matching cuff decorations with additional gilt metal rosettes, all in the most finest cream lined weaved silk with horse hair padding beneath, his front adorned with white chef's apron tied to waist.
Bottom half with rose-taupe velvet breaches with high-relief zig-zag braided hems, fine cream silk stockings and matching shoes with double lined gold and black braid, standing upon the flower-textured moulded square base, start/stop and winding spindle to chef's left side.
The culinary creation is presented on a silvered coloured salver being held out from the chef's waist, with the pie of papier-mâché, superbly shaped and painted to realistically resemble that of a large traditional pork pie, complete with high-rim crust lid and leaf indentation to the very top.
size - 27in. high, 12in. from his back to front of tray, the base 7in. square, (69 x 30.5 x 18sq. cm)
This actual automaton pictured in Automata - The Golden Age, 1848-1914, C. Bailly, p.128.
Point of Interest -
This automaton is very special.
Special for the fact that this actual piece was part of the private Decamps collection and was cared for and operated by the family themselves. It also played a huge part, as it still does, in the exploration of the subject of classic French Golden Age automaton as compiled by Bailly in his masterwork book as noted above.
Everything about this piece is extraordinary. The subject matter comprising an obvious blend of the surreal and humour, the use once again of a primate to put into the shoes of everyday human life, the ultimate surprise of finding out what smells so good and yet makes one stand aback once the key ingredient of the chef's pie is finally revealed.
The movements are very well designed and executed, with the jaw of the monkey opening and closing to show a full set of close to life teeth, coupled with the outstanding use of dressage to include the finest silk cuts which comprise his outfit, so beautifully made and fitted to complete the illusion.
This one example was kept back by the Decamps as a clear sign of admiration. Other pieces were perhaps just as fine as the ones which went out to their clients from their workshops on the rue des Quatre Fils in Paris. This fabulous monkey chef has a bright gleam of magic which other automatons simply do not have.
That is the magic with antique automata - they all have their individual style and merit. This one works to that higher descriptive standard by a long stroke.
Dinner is served...