Item #4334 A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings. DECOUPAGE — CHILDREN, Françoise DELECEY DE CHANGEY, Baronesse de Chalancey.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings.
A relic of pleasures past

A home-made picture book of hand-colored cutouts from engravings. [Chalancey, France, ca. 1800-1802].

8vo (180 x 120 mm). 43 unnumbered leaves of laid paper, untrimmed, each recto with mounted hand-colored paper cutouts and a manuscript caption in brown ink in a large, legible cursive. A childish pencil sketch on one verso. Stitched into contemporary beige striped paper boards (rubbed, spine abraded). Provenance: later (20th-century) inscription in ink on front pastedown, “Fait par la baronne de Chalancey née Delcey pour sa fille Clémence devenue Ctsse d’Esclaibes d’Hurst.” ***

A delightful home-made children’s book, made by a mother for her small daughter at the beginning of the 19th century. Assembled with an eye for whimsy, it is a fine example of a favorite pre-industrial domestic pastime: known as decoupage in English, this was the cutting up of prints, usually hand-colored, and their application to paper, furniture, or textiles. The rage throughout the 18th century, this engrossing hobby occupied many long afternoons for those women and children lucky enough to have time and leisure. But from the many thousands of objects and albums produced throughout Europe using scissors and paste, “only a very few pieces survive today. These ephemeral trinkets were not considered worth keeping; no museums considered themselves responsible, with the result that — as is often the case — the objects that were in their time the most ordinary and ubiquitous are now among the rarest” (Metken, p. 105, my translation).

According to the inscription at front, probably by a descendant who inherited this carefully preserved treasure, the manuscript was composed by the Baroness de Chalancey for her little girl Clémence, born in 1797. Françoise Marie Gabrielle Delecey de Changey, who went under the nickname Fanny, was born in 1769 in Langres, Haute-Marne; she married the Baron Jean-François Bichet de Chalancey in 1791, whose chateau in Chalancey was 30 km from Langres. Their first child, a boy, died in 1796 at the age of four; a daughter, Clémence, was born the following year. Fanny lived to the age of 77, and Clémence survived her mother by 20 years.

Judging by their style, the prints used here were almost certainly produced in Augsburg in the first half of the 18th century, probably by the Engelbrecht firm, who published albums of engravings precisely for the purpose of cutting them up. Called Ausschneidebogen, Engelbrecht’s numbering points to a production of at least 3375 separate sheets, in which subjects were grouped systematically. They were disseminated throughout Europe. Martin Engelbrecht died in 1756; his heirs continued the firm but produced no new plates, instead reissuing the old ones (Metken, p. 102); hence the archaic appearance of this manuscript, produced half a century later. While other Augsburg publishers also produced engravings for decoupage, notably Jeremias Wolff and Christoph Weigel, Engelbrecht’s production eclipsed theirs in quantity and variety; and most (though perhaps not all) of the cutouts in this album appear to come from his albums. (For example, some of the small figures of tradespeople closely resemble in style, size, and presentation — each figure standing on a grassy mount — those on a sheet reproduced by Sigrid Metken (Engelbrecht sheet 1804, fig. 154, p. 115.)

The manuscript may have had a title-page, as there is evidence of a removed first leaf. It opens in medias res, with the heart of the child’s life, la Maison, shown in two small cutouts, of a house nestled next to a hill and a hamlet. Most of the illustrations, which were colored before being glued in, combine two or more cutouts. They show people, trades, activities, architectural elements (e.g., a steeple), places (a hermitage, a wheat field, a “pretty countryside”), animals, concepts, fictional characters, Clémence herself and other children or household familiars engaged in various activities. Many tiny details required dexterity with the scissors. The labels are simple: Le patineur (a large cutout of a skater next to a tree, gesturing toward a bird in the sky); le Bateau (a Venetian gondola), Petits marchands (sellers of trinkets, shown literally with very small cutouts), etc. Fanny juxtaposed cutouts in different scales to comic effect, for example to show a “giantess and dwarves.” One or two have additional drawn-in touches, like a face or decoration. Clémence, who must have been quite young, no doubt probably still a toddler mastering language, would have recognized some of the characters in her book, her friends Raoul and Sostherine (invited for a walk), or Maman Delecey (grandma), who is given flower pots, or Louis and his beautiful horse, whom Fanny painted with black spots. Other characters come from stories, like La Fontaine’s Compère le Renard, or the “man in the red coat,” shown with a dancing bear, or le dragon.

Some subjects may strike the modern reader as out of place in a child’s book, such as the page labeled “Vive le vin,” (long live wine) showing a man raising a glass to a musician and a lady dancing; and another, near the end, a nod to life’s evanescence, of a putto blowing a bubble, labeled “so passes the glory of the world / soap bubbles” (written in a rushed and tired hand). But both wine and an awareness of life’s fragility were part of a normal childhood at the time, and mom knew it. So, Vive le vin, vive la France, vive l’Imagination, vive l’Enfance!

Cf. Sigrid Metken, Geschnittenes Papier: eine Geschichte des Ausschneidens in Europa von 1500 bis heute (Munich, 1978).
Item #4334

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