Libbey Dolls, Fashioning the Story: "They are representative fashion figures, depicting French style from A.D. 493 to 1915"
In 1917, their sale was hailed as the "greatest single purchase made at the Allied Bazaar," a World War I-era fundraiser in New York. The 78 fashion figures, known then as the Doucet Dolls, were made using couture-quality fabrics and surplus mold-making materials from France's premiere factories at Limoges and Sèvres.
The winning bidder? Toledo Museum of Art founder Edward Drummond Libbey, who purchased the collection for $30,000 (the equivalent of about $680,000 today), beating out newspaper giant M. H. de Young, among others, and contributing to the war relief fund in the process.
The collection was renamed the Libbey Dolls and put on display at the Museum from 1917 until 1972, when the figures were pulled from permanent view. Now, they return to the galleries until Feb. 12, 2017 in Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story, an exhibition exploring the story of the collection while showcasing the dolls' relationship to fashion and the art world.
Conservation intern Marissa Stevenson prepares the Libbey Dolls for show; courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art
The Libbey Dolls were a product of the World War I aid effort, when the porcelain factories at Limoges and Sèvres attempted to recover by putting wounded soldiers, out-of-work artisans and young men back to work making French novelties. The dolls were then shipped off to the United States to become part of a traveling exhibition marketing the talents and history of the French.
"They weren't really considered dolls, at least not in our modern sense of the term," said Marissa Stevenson, the art conservation intern tasked with researching the objects for the The Libbey Dolls — 2 exhibition. "They are representative fashion figures, depicting French style from A.D. 493 to 1915. No detail was spared making them."
Inspiration for the figures came from works of art by great French artists such as Nicolas Lancret and Louis-Léopold Boilly, drawn from an 1864 publication by engravers Hippolyte Louis Émile Pauquet and Polydore Jean Charles Pauquet called "Modes et Costume Historiques."
The dolls also represent dress from historical fashion publications, among them Costume Parisien, and contemporary stage actresses of the day, such as Gabrielle Dorziat, further highlighting French culture. Using surplus porcelain mold materials, the faces, arms and legs were fabricated in wax and plaster and painted in the likeness of the characters they represent. The figures were dressed using fabric remnants by prominent French couturier of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Jacques Doucet (1853–1929).
By the height of the Belle Époque at the turn of the century, the House of Doucet was highly sought after for its elegant garments. "Doucet could be considered one of the grandfathers of haute couture," Stevenson said. "He was the epitome of what we consider a fashion designer today."
Jacques Doucet Gown; La gazette du bon ton-
Each Doucet-clothed doll was meticulously and individually crafted down to the smallest detail. The elaborate costumes exhibit the same high degree of detail and finesse as Doucet's full-scale garments. The ornate hats were fashioned by Marie Crozet, a coveted milliner of women's hats and Doucet’s store neighbor.
"Doucet really pioneered the connection between fashion and the arts as we see it today — he had strong relationships with artists, writers and other creatives of the time," Stevenson said. "The dolls are really a fascinating window into his work and influences."
Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story is made possible by members of the Toledo Museum of Art and a sustainability grant from the Ohio Arts Council. Admission to the Museum and to the exhibition, on view in Gallery 18, is free
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