French character dolls: Trends in doll making seem to mirror trends in sculpture. Like the classic, calm Greek marble portraits of Apollo and Athena gave way to the emotional Hellenistic style of the Laccoon sculpture, so the quintessential pleasantly frozen smile of the dolly-face gave way to the expressive features of the French character dolls. One could say these delicate French bisque bébés wore their tiny hearts on their sleeves!
Chief among dollmakers who chose mischievous over serene was Jumeau. Kathy Libraty of Ruby Lane shows us an amazing Jumeau Series Fantastique bébé with a laughing and crying face. She comes with a trousseau. The crying face of this doll has eyes that narrow in frustration and sorrow, while the laughing face is wide-eyed and displays a full row of teeth in a joyous grin. So much for “closed mouth” dolls are better! It’s all a matter of taste!
Jumeau also gave us the rare Jumeau 201 Laughing girl that fetched over $225,000 at auction. It is said that only two of these dolls exist. The No. 236 S.F.B.J “Laughing Jumeau” is easier to find but is still unusual. Her sweet toddler face and tiny teeth capture the innocence of the little girls featured in the Impressionist paintings of Renoir and Degas. Bebe Triste, or the “long-faced” Jumeau is another variation of the character face theme. Turn of the Century Antiques shows a 26″ Rare French Bisque Character Doll 225 Emile Jumeau Art Character Series 1892.
No mention of character faces would be complete without mention of the artist inspired Poulbot (S.F.B.J. 239) street urchins, or the rare beauties of sculptor Albert Marque. Marque holds the record for a French, 21st-century doll of $300,000 at a Theriault’s auction.
Later character dolls by Jules Verlingue and Lanternier are interesting dolls, too, though the later bisques are not of the same quality as the Jumeau and other characters mentioned. An Edwardian character marked “Lutin” with the anchor mark of Verlingue appears in the Ruby Lane shop of Signature Dolls. A charming Lanternier character, “Favorite”, also comes from Signature Dolls.
Bru, Huret, Mothereau, A.T., Steiner, and other French makers began to create dolls with ethnic features, expressive features, clown features, and varying smiles, some open mouth, some closed. Magnificent exhibition dolls by Jumeau represented people from around the world, while automatons often had character heads that fit their action. Soon, German Makers like Simon and Halbig, Kestner, and Kammer and Reinhart would be producing character heads of all types, but the French, in this instance, seem to have gotten here first! Vive La France!
About the author: Ellen Tsagaris has collected dolls since she was three years old. She has made dolls, priced dolls, repaired, dressed, and studied dolls. She has set up at craft shows and presented papers on dolls and their history at the Midwest Modern Language Association. She is the author of several articles on dolls that have appeared in Doll Reader, National Doll World, Doll Designs, International Doll World, Hope and Glory, Doll News, Adventures, and The Western Doll Collector. She is the author of two books about dolls, Bibliography of Doll and Toy Sources and With Love from Tin Lizzie; A History of Metal Heads, Metal Dolls, Mechanical Dolls, and Automatons. An active blogger, she features two blogs about dolls, Dr. E’s Doll Museum, and Doll Museum. She lectures on dolls for various organizations and has displayed part of her collection in museums.
“Dolls are among the oldest cultural artifacts, and perhaps are the oldest toys. My passion for dolls began when I was a toddler, and it has never stopped. Explore the wonderful world of all things ‘doll’ with me.”
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