Musical automaton “Flute player”

    Musical automaton “Flute player”

    France, Paris

    Circa 1879

    Jean Roullet

    Wood, metal, fabric, glass; carving, painting, sewing

    Height 183 cm

    On nameplate: “Jouets et Tabletteries, Maison Simonne, Passage Delorme, Rue de Rivoli, 188”. On cylinder: “Les Cloches de Cornville”,” Mme. Favart”, “La Carmago”, “La Fille du Regiment”


    Musical automaton “Flute player” is made in the form of a dark-skinned young man standing by high stump on round stand from artificial marble with polished golden color rims on the edges. The upper part of the stand is covered with dark green velvet. The musician head is from papier-mâché, full red lips, half-open mouth with two rows of teeth, brown glass eyes with movable eyelids, dark curly hair, his bare feet are crossed. He is wearing gold satin shirt with bow and green velvet suit. Collar, cuffs, belt and apron are made from brocade and trimmed with metal gimp. He is holding wooden flute in his hands. The nameplate of the Maison Simonne toy store, which was located in Passage Delorme on Rue de Rivoli, 188 is on the stump.

    Operating mechanism with twelve cams and musical organ movement with pinned cylinder for four tunes, twelve wooden pipes, bellows and spring drive are mounted in the body. Winding crank and activating lever are on the left lateral surface.

    When the movement is turned on, a melody sounds, the musician tilts his head to the flute, his fingers move, alternately closing the flute apertures, his head turns from side to side and bends over, his eyes blink. At the end of each of tune (Les Cloches de Cornville, Madame Favart, Camargo and La fille du régiment, he pauses, looks up and around, and then bows his head and continues to "play".

    Black Flautist appeared as No. 1 in the earliest catalog of Jean Roullet firm, printed in 1878, at a substantial price of 1,000 francs. In comparison, his mechanical animals costed between 4 and 9 francs, and the majority of automata were below 100 francs.

    Presumably, the model of the flutist by Alexandre Théroude, who received patent No. 73504 in October of 1866 for musical automaton, presented by miniature organ movement hidden in the figure torso, was the prototype of this automaton. The model of Alexandre Theroude was classical-looking shepherd boy. A visitor of the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris described the exposition site of Theroude as resembling a rock on which "... a shepherd sits almost life-size and plays the harmonic, his fingers’ movements perfectly cover the apertures of the instrument ... One more resembling figure - the black flutist, is placed below. His posture is natural, even graceful, and his head and fingers movements are surprisingly realistic".

    Jean Roullet was the participant of the Paris Exhibition of 1867as well. His works were marked with the bronze medal. The firm of Roullet, which he founded in 1866, was renamed as Roullet & Decamps from November 22, 1889.

    The dating of this automaton was b made basing on the time of the performed musical tunes appearance - the melodies which are recorded on the pinned cylinder. The first performance the opera Les Cloches de Cornville by Robert Plaquette took place on 19 April 1877, the first performance of the operetta Madame Favart by Jacques Offenbach was on 28 December 1878.