In my last post I
wrote about ghost projection and mentioned the great fascination at the turn of
the 19th century with a particular type of magic lantern
entertainment that called up apparitions. In England, the shows were called
Phantasmagoria and in France Fantasmagorie. I was incredibly lucky to recently
find this fabulous small broadside (6” x 9”) c.1799 advertising Étienne-Gaspard Robertson’s Fantasmagorie show held in the Convent des
Capucines. Robertson’s shows were a great success, starting with his first show
in Paris in 1798. At the end of 1798 he moved to more spacious and atmospheric
quarters in the Convent. He gave his first show there on January 3,1799 and
continued at that location until 1803.
The broadside cleverly contains the visual power of a
striking wood engraving and bold
text proclaiming a show that will produce
Apparitions, Specters of Phantoms and Ghosts. What’s more,
the assembled patrons will witness, as the broadside proclaims, “experiments
with the new fluid know by the name of Galvinism whose application gives
temporary movement to bodies whose life has departed.” (This was based on the
work of the Italian physician, Luigi Galvani who applied electrical current to
frog’s legs, which seemed to stir life in dead frog).
Robertson’s patrons entered the convent and
moved through rooms where they might see the experiment in Galvinism, peepshows
and optical illusions before being seated in a darkened room. They must have
been startled when images appeared as from nowhere onto the screen. Often these
figures would not only get larger but they would seem to leave the screen. The
lanternist and lantern were hidden from view behind the screen. The lanternist
could make the image increase in size by moving the lantern, which was on
rails, further back from the screen. Music added to the effect and Robertson
employed the Franklin Harmonica. Benjamin Franklin invented a form of the glass
harmonica, a musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls of various
sizes and musical tones are made by means of friction. The glass harmonica
produces an eerie piercing sound which you can feel in your chest and must have
helped create just the right atmosphere for the spectral images appearing on
For more information on the history of the Fantasmagorie
read Laurent Mannoni’s excellent book: The Great Art Of Light and
A year ago I made a post about Pepper’s Ghost.It began with, “Who has not been scared
and at the same time excited by a ghost story or the inexplicable appearance of
an apparition. Fascination with ghosts and the afterworld have gripped
audiences for centuries. Our appetite for such titillation seems insatiable.
Ghost shows are nothing new. Writers, magicians, and lanternists have long used
the popular fascination with ghosts and apparitions for their advantage. From
its earliest inception the magic lantern has employed ghost figures to frighten
and to entertain audiences. Some of the very earliest magic lantern images in
the last part of the 17th century were of ghosts and demons.Calling forth such figures reached a
new height in the late 1700s and early 1800s largely due to two showmen and
their shows. The Fantasmagorie shows, popularized by Belgian showman Éttiene-Gaspard Robertson and
the Phantasmagoria shows of magician Paul de Philipsthal, called forth
apparitions onto the screen. Their shows ingeniously employed rear projection.
The lanternist was hidden from the audience behind the screen. In a darkened
room the images would appear on the screen as if from nowhere. By moving the
lantern, the figure could be made smaller or larger such that the ghosts would
appear and then menacingly approach the audience.”
A recent purchase of the book Aufschlüsse zur Magie aus geprüften Erfahrungen über verborgene
philosophische Wissenschaften und verdeckte Geheimnisse der Natur (1790) by
the German writer Karl von Eckartshausen has brought me back to the idea of the
appearance of phantoms and ghosts. Eckartshausen wrote about a wide range of
topics including alchemy, mysticism, and magic. In this book he describes how
to create a ghost illusion and the first print illustrates the ghost figure
hovering over a pedestal. The second illustrates how Eckartshausen employed a
hidden magic lantern to project an image off a mirror to create the effect.
I can’t resist including two more engravings from Eckharsthausen’s
book although they are not of a ghost projection, but rather of what must have
been a remarkable trick. Eckhartshausen would, he states, take someone for an
evening stroll and at some point would turn toward a wall and mysteriously and
probably frighteningly, a figure would appear on the wall. The print illustrates the trick at the
moment of the projection. The other engraving shows the lantern that was
employed and was hidden under his
coat. You can see the ingenious plunger used to extinguish the light and the carrying stick used to light the lantern. If
it actually worked it must have been wonderful.
Now back to the
tale of ghost projection. Éttiene-Gaspard
Robertson certainly was aware of the work of Eckartshausen and
created his own ghost effects. The image below is the frontispiece from Robertson’s
Scientifiques Et Anecdotiques (1831) and shows the impact of the
appearance of apparitions on an audience.The second illustration from a book published in 1811 shows a ghost
projection with the lanternist hidden behind the screen.
For at least a half-century following the Robertson’s first shows
the Phantasmagoria was a big part of lantern entertainment. The two broadsides,
one for a German shows, another for a Russian show illustrate the spread of
Those wanting to learn more about ghost shows and
Phantasmagoria entertainment should read Mervyn Heard’s book Phantasmagoria,
The Secret Life of the Magic Lantern.
I have put a number of prints and broadsides relating to the
Phantasmagoria on my web site.
Joseph Boggs Beale’s artistic work might not have seemed
significant to me were it not for the fact that a large part of his career was
spent in the employ of the firm of C.W. Briggs (lantern slide makers) producing
drawings to be reproduced as lantern slides. I had a number of Beale slides but
only one of his drawings, a romanticized scene seemingly extolling the virtues
of capitalism with a prosperous boss and his busy workers. I had the lantern
slide produced from the drawing and I liked having both the original drawing
and the slide. I did not know until last year when I had the opportunity to buy
some other Beale drawings that this drawing was from a temperance series called
“A Drunkard’s Reform”. The drawing was not meant, as I had formerly imagined,
to be about the rewards of capitalism but rather the return to honest labor and
promotion to foreman of a man almost ruined by drink. I have grown in my appreciation
of Beale’s work and been fortunate enough to add several pieces to my
collection in the last two years.
Who was Joseph Boggs Beale (1841-1926)? He was, a largely unremembered
Philadelphia artist who worked in the last half of the 19th century and the
beginning of the 20th century.He
worked for a variety of publications including Frank Leslie's Weekly, Harper's,
and the Daily Graphic before going on to work for C.W. Briggs. Between
1881-1915 he made more than 2000 drawings which were reproduced as magic
lantern slides. His drawings, and the slides that were produced from them, covered
an amazingly wide view of American life. His work included Bible Stories,
Popular Literature, History, Temperance, Folk Tales and Comic Scenes.A partial list of his work would
include Pilgrim’s Progress, Marley’s Ghost, Paul Revere’s Ride, The Life of Lincoln,
Yankee Doodle, The Star Spangled Banner The Raven, Hiawatha, Uncle Tom’s Cabin,
A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas.
In 1940 Life magazine did a piece on Beale that served to mark
a slight resurgence of interest in his work. The article referred to Beale as America’s
foremost magic lantern painter, not that there was much competition or
recognition for such a title. Terry Borton, the proprietor of the American
Magic-Lantern Theater, has for the past twenty years tirelessly promoted Beale’s
work and used slides based on Beale’s drawings for his magic lantern shows. Terry
and his wife Debbie have finished the manuscript of a soon to be published book
about Beale and his work entitled Before The Movies which will undoubtedly add
greatly to the awareness of Beale as an artist of American life and history.
Although Beale worked well into the 20th century his artistic
style is firmly planted in the 19th century with a kind of heroic grandiosity
and unbridled optimism.Some of
Beale’s drawings seem overly sweet and others sadly capture a stereotyping
common at the end of the 19th century. The best of Beale’s drawings catch grand
figures caught in melodramatic
moments and are packed with detail. They are worth a look and my collection of
Beale material is now up on my site.
Since I've started working with Dick on his collection, some of my favorite pieces to study and work with have been Praxinoscope strips. As you can see in this animated set, the images are impressively rendered, and the actions are both charming and convincing in their motion. These strips were produced by artists who had none of the technological conveniences of a modern animator such as myself. I am constantly amazed by the refined technique that can be found in these works of art that predate the likes of Winsor McCay and Walt Disney by several decades.
MOVING PICTURES proclaimed this 1786 broadside and what an
extraordinary entertainment the Eidophusikon must have been. It predated the
most famous moving pictures, the movies, by more than 100 years. Everything about the show was intended
to challenge how a picture was viewed. Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, the
creator of the Eidophusikon, was an accomplished French painter who at the age
of thirty-one moved to London in 1771. Soon after his arrival he took a job
working as a scene designer for David Garrick at the Drury Lane theatre. He
made quite a name for himself for the life-like scenes he created and would master
many techniques in the art of stage design and lighting that he would employ
when he opened the doors for the Eidophusikon (Greek for images of nature) on
February 26,1781 at his home on Lisle Street.
An evening’s entertainment consisted of as many as five tableaux,
each cleverly combining a familiar scene or place with a dramatic moment. His
first shows included a London View with an aurora effect, a view of Naples with
a sunset and concluded with a storm at sea. The entertainment was held in one
of the lushly decorated parlour rooms that could accommodate 130 people. There is only one known image of this
space, a watercolor by Edward Burney showing the interior of the room before
the show. There is a bench with a couple of patrons sitting and others standing
At the front of the room there was what can best be described
as either a very large picture, or a miniature stage. The framed picture was ten
feet wide and six feet high. Unlike other pictures however the opening had a
depth of eight feet “setting the stage” for a very different sort of picture. The
audience sat facing the picture, then the lights would be dimmed, the show would
begin and the scene would appear to come to life. With the artful use of
lighting nightfall would appear as the sun slowly faded, or the brilliance of
an aurora would light up the painted sky and possibly most powerfully an ominous
sky would darken, foretelling an oncoming storm, soon to be joined by the
appearance of lightning, accompanied by the sound of thunder, and a three
dimensional mechanically controlled ship built to scale would glide across the
picture sailing into a distance created by painting on several different panels.
It all must have been quite magical. There had been other
attempts to change how pictures were viewed in the eighteenth century. The peepshow employed many of them. Martin
Engelbrecht executed large numbers of views-scenes created on multiple layers
of paper- to be viewed in parlour peepshows which attempted to make a scene
more life-like by creating depth. Viewers of large public square peepshows often
saw pin-pricked pictures, which in candlelight gave the appearance of a day
scene transforming to night. There were even hand-painted scenes on multiple layers
of glass created to entertain viewers and create a multi-dimensional painting.
Yet none had movement and all were limited to the constraints of the size of
the peepshow box.
Loutherbourg employed the wide array of skills he had
successfully used in the theatre as painter, set designer, lighting expert,
creator of mechanical moving figures in creating his Eidophusikon. He opened
the peepshow box, created room behind and on the side of the picture opening,
so that he could manipulate what was seen and bring a mixture of lighting,
movement, sound and painting together to create a very new and different form
of entertainment. Part of Loutherbourg’s genius was to create a shared space
where a larger group could seemingly enter a picture and experience the scene. His choice of how large to make his
“screen” was an interesting one. He clearly didn’t want to replicate a theatre,
an experience the public already knew. He chose instead two dimensional
pictures to see if he could create a new experience when viewing a picture.
This remarkable show closed at Lisle Street after less than
two years. It did, however, reappear numerous times in different places. The
next appearance was in 1786 at rooms on Exeter Exchange with increased seating
for 200 people. Three years later another form of moving pictures, the
Panorama, would take London by a storm.
Part of the fun of collecting are the stories that accompany both things found, and, the agonizing stories of things that got away. I’ve heard countless tales about a wonderful item missed, often by a matter of a few minutes or even seconds at a flea market, an antique show and, these days, on ebay. Most collector have regrets about passing on something because the price was too high or can recall something missed because a dealer who said he would hold an item did not. Then there are stories about things a collector would love to have in his or her collection but never had an opportunity to buy. I have heard all these stories and have plenty of my own. It is a great pleasure that two striking images, one a print, the other a poster that I have long wanted and which have somehow avoided me, have recently come into my collection.
A few years after I began collecting, more than thirty years ago, I was visiting Clignancourt, the huge Paris flea market, with my friend and fellow collector, Jean-Philippe Salier and I remember first seeing Jules Chéret’s terrific poster of the Musée Grevin (the wax museum), where Emile Reynaud in 1888 first showed his Pantomimes Lumineuses -animated sequences. Animated sequences is hardly an adequate term to describe these wonderful shows during which his hand-painted images would flicker and move on a screen for up to fifteen minutes. This was seven years before the Lumière brothers would show their first movies. Reynaud employed something he called the Théâtre Optique to create the projection. Hidden from the audience behind the screen, this bulky equipment employed among other things both a very large praxinoscope and a magic lantern and served Reynaud well as he created his magic.
I thought the poster was quite beautiful but priced at $1,500, it was well beyond my budget. Over the next ten years I visited Clignancourt many times on “hunting trips” with Jean-Phillipe and occasionally we saw a copy of the Chéret poster. I kept repeating that if I ever saw it for $1,000 I would buy it, but that never happened and when I was prepared to pay a little more the price had gone up further. A few years ago a French dealer offered me a copy for the incredible price of 6,000 euros. I offered 3,000 and he laughed. I figured I probably would never own a copy and yet a few months ago I was amazed to have finally bought a copy at auction for $1,000. Sadly Jean-Philippe is no longer alive yet he remains the first person with whom I wanted to share the story of finally landing the elusive poster.
It is a wonderful piece. Jules Chéret, was one of France’s master poster designers and a mentor to Toulouse-Lautrec and others. He produced a series of stunning posters. I have no idea why the price for this particular poster was so much more reasonable. It could be because right on the woman’s dress there is a stamp. It is a tax stamp and in Paris at the time such posters were made, a stamp tax had to be paid before the poster could be put up. Some buyers might have found the stamp’s placement aesthetically unattractive. It didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked it because it showed this was a poster that was actually used.
If the Chéret poster was an object I didn’t own because I thought I couldn’t afford it, then the print of The Bartholomew Fair Fan was a print I had long wanted but had never had seen for sale and had never been offered. I long knew of it and had seen copies in many collections. I was envious that my friend, Ricky Jay, had two versions and the image graces the cover of his book Jay's Journal of Anomalies. When I was preparing my book on peepshow images I used a picture of the print from a book. I bought this print recently and wasn’t at all bothered by its overall condition-not great- or the fact that part of one of the fair’s visitor’s faces was now a small hole.
Bartholomew Fair, like Southwick Fair, was one of many London annual fairs that were particularly popular in the 18th century. In 1824 the London firm of J. F Setchel produced a print of a view of Bartholomew Fair in 1721. The British Museum not only has three versions of the print, both black and white and hand colored, but also the original study drawing made by an unknown source around 1730. The original design was intended to produce a fan that would be given away as a souvenir to those who the fair.
The fan is chocker block with people, food sellers and booths. For me the fan is particularly interesting because of the large-scale peepshow depicted in the lower left had corner showing the Siege of Gibraltar. Gibraltar was under siege several times in the 18th century and this could represent the Spanish attack on the British garrison in 1727. This print is also sought after by magic collectors, for whom the primary interest is the depiction of Isaac Fawkes’ booth. Fawkes was probably the most famous conjurer of the 18th century. However Fawkes had already stopped working the Bartholomew Fair by 1721. Possibly it could be a depiction of his son, but more likely it is the elder Fawkes who was far more celebrated. Take a look. There’s a lot to see in the print.