It’s a Doll’s Life: Edmond Morin’s Album des Jeunes Demoiselles

Edmond Morin, the nineteenth century French painter, watercolorist, illustrator, and engraver, is associated closely with the designs on Paris fashion he contributed to Le Monde illustre and La Vie Parisienne during the 1860s.  He also illustrated children’s books for the leading French publishers Hetzel and Hachette and created comic strips for the periodical Le semaine des enfants  like “L’ Histoire de la queue d’un chien,” in which a boy tried to defend his dog from an aggressive giant lobster. Cotsen has some nice examples of Morin’s lithographed picture books, including an alphabet, a book of trades, and editions of Perrault’s fairy tales and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Morin’s Album des jeunes demoiselles (Paris: Aubert & Cie, ca. 1845?) is quite beguiling.  He drew fashionably dressed little girls fishing by the side of a river, being ambushed by geese while sitting under a shady tree, drinking milk from a bucket with the cow and milk maid watching, circle-dancing on the grass, and tending flower gardens.  The beautiful hand-colored lithographic plates were produced by the same firm who printed  the works of Daumier and other famous satirists of the day.

Morin devoted many of the plates in the book to pictures of girls and their dolls. It would be interesting to know if he drew from life or was well-acquainted with the ways of little girls, having been a brother, cousin, uncle, or father.  Here the carriage waits for Madam, who is escorted down the stairs by two young ladies.  It looks like a lovely afternoon for a drive.

The tall, slender doll in a pink gown and modest white cap makes her devotions kneeling before a chair.   A pair of girls observe her.  They whisper approvingly, “See how good she is,”  but their ensembles suggest they pay far more attention to their clothes than the states of their souls .

This doll is dwarfed by her  crib with the rose canopy.  She dozes, oblivious to the girls working hard overhead on her trousseau.

A carefully dressed doll artfully propped up on the sofa, is an excellent subject for a sketch.

Polichinelle goes down on one knee to propose marriage to the doll he simply cannot imagine life without.  The girl in the yellow hat looks as if she worries that the match will not be especially advantageous.  He is so ugly.  And his shoes….

Are the girls taking turns playing the school mistress, so they all have a chance to discipline the poor doll?  Surely none of them have ever been guilty of neglecting their lessons and made to wear the donkey’s ears…


Teaching Difference in a 19th-Century German Alphabet Book

This week I examined two copies of a Fibelbuch, or primer, published by Freidrich Geissler in Leipzig to make sure that they were correctly described.   The texts were identical, consisting of an alphabet, list of vowels, a syllabary, the Ten Commandments, Pater Noster, Creed, proverbs, and multiplication table all in a Gothic type.

They had different sets of illustrations, however. One has depictions of  skilled tradesmen and shopkeepers, with humorous details like a baby trying out its new wicker walker, a boy blowing up a bladder in the butcher’s shop, or  a boy trying pots on his head while his mother negotiated the price for a new piece of crockery.

The other copy features pictures of men and women in different national costumes–Tyrolers, Turks, Finns, Spaniards, and Cossacks.  For some reason, farmers are featured prominently, with couples from Saxony, Altenberger, Tartary, Russia, and Poland.  The pictures of Russian and Poland farmers are paired with pictures of a Russian merchant and his wife and a Polish Jew and his wife.

The one of the Polish Jews caught my eye.  The buildings in the background suggest that they are city dwellers like the Russian merchant and his wife.  The bearded Polish man wears a tall hat, boots, and ankle-length dark robe belted with a wide yellow sash.  His wife wears drop earrings, an orange dress with a form-fitting bodice and lace yoke, a tall yellow headdress, and dainty slippers.

A a b c d e f ff g (Leipzig: Greidrich Geissler, ca. 1830). Cotsen 46436.

I had no idea of the significance of the yellow headdress and sash until I showed the illustration to Ian, who explained that those garments must have been a sartorial marker similar to the yellow badge or patch Jews in Nazi Germany were required to sew to their clothing to distinguish them from Aryans.

Given the long history of laws in Europe and the Near East that required Jews to wear on their clothes markers that unequivocably announced their Jewishness to everyone else, it seems unlikely that it was coincidence or the whim of the colorist.   But there’s no text that explains the significance of the yellow garments to the child reader.

Is this something a child in Leipzig who was just learning to read would already know?  This is a troubling question that cannot be answered here, but it is a powerful reminder that the pleasing pictures in alphabets can communicate silently ideas of sameness and difference.  The illustration of the Polish Jew and his wife is an excellent example of a descriptive and value-free picture that looks innocent until we learn how to read it.