A rare hand carved and sculpted French "Marotte", probably from the Queyras region in the French Alps, first half 19th century, carved with prominent eyes and knotted bun fitted with a period hand-stitched pique cotton bonnet,
Provenance: Private collection, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Literature: Margaret Hofer and Roberta Olson. Making It Modern: The Folk Art Collection of Elie and Viola Nadelman. (New York: New-York Historical Society, 2015), pp. 140-141.
The rustic quality of this naively-carved head bespeaks of its folkloric utility. As the expression in French denotes, "marotte porte-coiffe" (dummy head for wigs), these objects were designed to hold the shape of ordinary women's bonnets and hats in the 18th/19th centuries. Though there are many extant models, notably the papier-mache examples, this type is distinctive to the high French Alps region of Queyras. These marottes are ensconced in superstition; they served as guardians who looked over the bonnets and the domicile of their wearers and makers, hence the frozen wide-eyed stares and pursed lips. The primitive angular carving of the head and facial features also reflects regional carpentry. The soft Alpine pine was first planed, then the design or decoration was traced on the object before it was whittled with a short knife.
Queyras is part of the oldest mountain range in France and was not opened to public tourism until the end of the 20th century. As such, its customs and dress have remained largely intact for the past three centuries. The region is known for its production of fine linen, most notably its lace, which is produced from the raw materials of wool, linen, hemp and cotton on a 15th-century-style small circular loom called a "tambour". In a photo taken of a town hall meeting in Queyras, ca. 1980, that was published in the Cahiers du Queyras (2007), several of the women are wearing nearly identical block stitched cotton bonnets (coton en pique) to the one presented here. There are a handful of these fine marotte specimens conserved in prominent collections like the "Folk Arts" one of Elie and Viola Nadelman (purchased by the New York Historical Society in 1931), or in "The Objects of Daily Life in the Alps", in the Dauphinois Museum in Grenoble, but they are rare. It is even rarer to find Queyras marottes for sale, as they seldom come to market, and when they do, it is almost exclusively in France.
Dimensions: 13 inches high x 9 inches wide x 8 inches deep.
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