" Puppets are figures which represent human beings or  animals, activated by the hand by a hidden person, who makes them play a part. They are distinguished from dolls and jumping jacks in that they are less children's toys than small actors in miniature, intended to appear on the stage, which always delights young children.

(H.-R. d'Allemagne, Histoire des jouets ).

 

 

This unexpected and extraordinary Picardy puppet comes from a theater in Amiens, which used rod puppets, the "Theatre of the Friends of Lafleur", created in 1929 by Jacques Villeret.

This theatre was one of many theatres in the Picardy area, a type of theatre which was extremely popular at the time. It was very famous. Many newspaper articles were devoted to it and many réfèrences to this one exist, in particular in a book entitled " Marionnettes et Marionnettistes de France" of Charles GERVAIS - a book from the 1940s and 1950s.

 

Springing from a true regional tradition, this one named Lafleur did not have however the influence of Guignol. Rather, It it drew its roots in the revolutionary spirit of the end of XVIII century but was subject to the influence of the many travelling theatres which set up their stages in Amiens since the XVI century.

 

 

 

 

Heir to a two century tradition, Amiens became little by little the French capital of puppets with rods and wires. The first marionnettists appeared during the XVII century. On the occasion of the fair of Saint-Jean-Baptist, the inhabitants of the Amiens area could attend small spectacles given around the Cathédrale.

Many puppet theatres flourished in the four corners of the city until the days before the First World War.The " Belle Epoque " counted more than twenty or so rooms distributed throughout each district including five in Saint-Leu. The plays given in Amiens were performed in these rooms in the form of buffooneries interpreted by little characters made of wood. It was the theatre of the poor..." says Francoise Rose, Director of the
"  Théâtre d' Animation Picard ".

Their hero, Lafleur, the leader, is a jolly fellow whose cheekyhumour sometimes satirizes contemporary society. It is so famous that a place in Amiens bears its name. It is to Amiens what Guignol is to Lyon. Besides it seems to be contemporary with him. But contrary to Guignol, Lafleur is a puppet with wires (one at each limb) and has a very visible metal rod fixed to his head. The unit is handled by a " croix d'attelles " ( crossed wooden sticks).

He is a servant, proud, a liar, a drunkard but always good humored. Like Guignol, he is a righter of wrongs, always in dissension with the gendarmes ("cadorets"), always ready to draw his Master away from bad situations. He gradually takes the character of an authentic Picard. Associated with him are a woman, Sandrine, two masters, a woman and a man, and finally gendarmes, rural policemen and soldiers. In the theatres where these characters perform, one names them show-offs, more exactly  "cabotans". This term comes from " cabotin/cabotine " which means a, "travelling Actor, poseur, person who plays a noisy comedy to put himself forward!.... ". This word used in Picardy and especially in Amiens where the tradition is still long-lived does not exist, it seems, in feminine gender, the great majority of these puppets with wires and rod being male. It describes these puppets, very local and really very spectacular as much by the superb quality of their artistic workmanship as by the bold spirits which their bright colors convey.

After the First World War, with the development of the cinema these theatres declined, and it is only since 1933 that Lafleur and his friends reappeared on the " amienoise " scene with the creation of "Chés Cabotans of Amiens" by Maurice Domon, marionnettist and great defender of the Picardy language, who founded his own company at that time. But the second world war stopped the activity of this enthusiast. He will however start his little " cabotans " again after 1944 on the stage of many French and European theatres. Lafleur, Sandrine and T'Chot Blaise become as time goes by the true ambassadors of Picardy culture to the world. Their success will see the company named as the "Permanent Official Theatre of the Town of Amiens" in 1967.

 

Croix d'attelles réunissant les ficelles et la tringle qui permettent de commander les mouvements à la marionnette.

This living art more than anything else promotes  the language and the culture of Picardy. "Lafleur incarnates precisely the heart of our area, he is a spokesman, a righter of wrongs, and, at the same time combative and high tempered..." Francoise Rose states. For more than thirty years Francoise Roze and her team will perform in rented theatres before investing in 1987 in a permanent place of their own, an old velvet factory, located in the heart of the Saint-Leu district, rehabilitated and financed by the Town of Amiens, the General Council of La Somme and the Picardy Area.

Chés Cabotans of Amiens" have been joined for more than twenty years with "Tchantchès " the hero inhabitant of Liège and, for several years with "Guignol", the celebrated puppet of Lyons. " It lacks only "Caragueuse", the Turk, to bring together the ' the 4 famous musketeers' of these puppets"... imagined Francoise Roze. All year long,, a vast public, nursery schools, colleges and universities, academics, congressmen, tourists French and foreign without counting the many Picardy ones come to laugh in particular at themselves through these buffooneries, formidable  presentations of life played out in the language and the culture of an area filled with talent.

It is thus that " this" Bécassine ", a little "cabotan" in the Picardy language, was born in about 1930. This unique specimen was acquired in Amiens, from an ardent collector and devoted "cabotans", Frederic HEDUIN, doctor of medicine. He agreed to give us a true history of this subject for which he has some of the archives !S

He clarified well to us that the term of "   cabotan " had appeared for the first time in Picardy publications of the end of the XIX ème and that it applies only to marionettes with rod and threads of this region.

Entirely carved by an Amiens artist of italian origin, Magnan, this "Bécassine" is carved of wood and her very alive expression does not surprise us!

Total height:140 cm. the puppet itself measures 53 cm. Of course, it is completely articulated : the shoulders are joined to the elbows by leather fixings, narrow, black strips firmly attached. It does not have arms but long forearms ending in well carved hands.

The same system is used between the lower body and the knees, with the legs cut in half for the thighs. The ankles are completely mobile (see the following description). Finally the neck, of course, swivels. The bulging wooden eyes, carved in the wood, are made very alive, very expressive, by dark black paint, and are surmounted by eyebrows drawn as a long arc. It had a horsehair wig it seems (? ), tan in color, glued to the head. Remainders still exist under the cap. A beautiful large smiling mouth is the same pink as the beautiful pink cheeks, makes it possible to locate its creation at the latest in 1930. It seems that after this year, Bécassine definitely lost it!

 

Détails de la main et de sa jonction avec le corps

 

Pied, demi-cuisse et jonction par tisssu avec le corps

Completely traditional the well done costume is absolutely precisely that of the heroine of J.P.Pinchon 1): its dress is dark green wool, with a red drill insert as it should be, over a white poplin short-sleeved blouse. The red and white striped cotton socks, well known, are hand knitted. Its black shoes, completely rustic, with strong soles and metal covered heels are carved from the wood and are attached to the ankles, they are even joined to the leg. The cap conforms completely to that which we have seen worn. 

The  underskirt of white poplin is edged with beautiful broad white lace, which is correct.

Articulation des chevilles

 

 

Indeed the red and white checked petticoat, which matches the little bundle, appeared only on the dolls of Reine Dégrais, i.e. after the end of the second world war.

And in the drawings of J.P. Pinchon, it is always plain and red and its heroine carries a traveling bag of green and yellow checks. This does not have the little checks nor of of course the bundle but an umbrella which was not made for it but is an umbrella from the Thirties, for  a little girl, in red stripes.

 

 

Chaussures , c'est à dire en picard " chabots "

1) I do not have any details alas because the facts are old (seventy five years!.... at least....!) but at the time, J.P.Pinchon who was a Picardy man and therefore, aware of the "cabotans", had  been asked about or had intervened about this puppet. The fact is certain but the content of his intervention remains vague. Was he requested to give his ideas, his direct input, his advice?..... Or on the contrary, did he warn the sculptor, because Bécassine at the time and since 1910, was  copyrighted, the mark and label?  Impossible to know more at the moment.

2 ) The most famous of them, the " Bouffes-Picard ", closed its doors in 1911. The appearance of the cinema and the rise of the sporting events also involved the decline of the puppet theatre in all in France..

Les " chabots " de Bécassine comme ceux de Lafleur sont
" ferrés à caboches "

Hélène BUGAT-PUJOL

I make it a point to thank here Frederic Heduin for putting at our disposal the rare documents unknown to the general public! Collectors of dolls and toys are always grateful for those which reveal new information, that they discover with amazement and enthusiasm! ! Thank you very much.

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