Musical automaton "Comedy and Tragedy"

    Musical automaton "Comedy and Tragedy"


    Circa 1870

    Vichy, Gustave

    Wood, metal, papier-mache, fabric (silk, tapestry, cotton), beads; painting, embroidery

    45 x 35 x 50 cm, 9 kg


    Musical automaton depicting Comedy & Tragedy or Les Clownes Insolentes, modeled as a pair of clowns, one happy, one sad on serpentine stage with central flight of stairs and brocade runner, both clowns with papier-mache character heads, articulated eyelids and blonde mohair wigs, the sullen clown playing a balalaika, the smiling clown a bed pan, with going-barrel movement playing two tunes, in original elaborate theatrical costumes of sequined black and gold satin, black tights and pointed shoes, their tailcoats decorated with beaded musical notes, sheet music painted on their jacket backs, faces retouched, with Vichy crank-key and acorn start/stop.

    The clowns turn side to side on their axis while strumming their unusual instruments, blinking, looking up and around, and kicking their feet in the air. Mid-way through the cycle, the sullen clown begins to lose interest in the performance and falls out of step with his smiling companion, swiveling slightly later, kicking only after a pause, strumming out of time and staring at the ground or at the other clown, as though he is unsure of which notes to play. As if to wake him up, the smiling clown kicks the other from behind in a less than friendly fashion and the performance continues.