Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The House Where the Automatons Live

   Sitting here with three musketeers outside the window... little girl musketeers shouting 'Une pour toutes, toutes pour une!' over and over.  One day we ate lunch outside and overheard them playing shop.  One stopped the other from sweeping, 'No, no!  A shop has to be dirty!'

   But, that's not what I meant to post about today.  Last week, since I had the task of showing some company around Paris, I decided that we should go to L'Hôtel Arturo Lopez, which is also a  museum of automatons.  The first time I came to Paris, shortly before moving here, this was one of my favourite places to visit.  My husband used to come here when he was a child, and had told me tales of a robot Humpty Dumpty who smoked real cigarettes.  It turned out to be the moon who smokes, and apparently even his lungs have suffered some damage, so he doesn't smoke these days, except on a video which plays next to him.... but all the same, it's a lovely place to be in.

When we visited this time though, the Museum was closed for some restoration, so these photos are what I happened to have on my computer from that first visit.  I felt badly for bringing us to a place where everything was closed.  When we arrived, the doors were open but no one was home, so at least we got to sneak through a bit of it.  The only people we saw were a little boy and an old woman having a violin lesson in a giant, mirrored hall, and a tired-looking woman (probably the mom) waiting down some grand stairs.  All the automatons were packed away, so even if we did enjoy seeing the lovely building -- which boasts a room where every inch of the walls, floor to ceiling, is covered in seashells and coral, arranged into patterns -- we missed out on the main purpose of our visit.

  So today, here are pictures of some of the automatons for everyone!

   I think most of the automatons still work, which is very impressive considering their age -- they all date to the second half of the 19th century, or the very early 20th century.  There are apparently 69 automatons in the collection, 40 of which were made by the Vichy family.  At the museum there are large group photos of this family all standing around with their automatons... I always find it fascinating to see families where everyone is dedicated to the same trade.  Originally the family business was clock making, but they switched over in the 1860s, a time when interest in luxurious toys for children was just beginning to blossom among the bourgeoisie of Europe.
   A very nice aspect of the museum is that, while only some of the automatons are moving at any given time, there are always videos of the non-operational automatons playing next to the display cases.  Unfortunately, I didn't make any videos myself to share here.  There is even one automaton which is a poet at a writing desk, and he is designed to write out an entire stanza of a poem in beautiful cursive! 
   The museum does not have a website of its own, but the city of Neuilly-sur-Seine (a suburb of Paris which is where Arturo Lopez's house is located) has a little bit of information about the museum on their website.  It's in French, but they have photos of a few additional automatons here and there are some photos of the house here.  Originally the house was in a Neo-Classical style, but in the 1930s M. Lopez went around modelling rooms after those at Versailles or other homes of French Royalty of various periods.  Arturo Lopez, besides having the good fortune to have such a lovely first name, worked for the Chilean Embassy, in case you were wondering.


  1. Wow wow and triple wow!
    Would you take me on a tour of that place one day? :)

  2. oh, my-- i have sort of an obsession with automata, this is like a mini-heaven for me. i must, must, must go there! thank you so much for these lovely photos, and the links.

  3. I'm so glad you two liked the photos...that place is magic.
    And while I was looking around for links while writing that post, I found out that there's another automaton museum on the other side of Paris, as well. So I hope to head over there sometime!

    And Rima, of course I certainly would, but it's all a matter of whether I can. I'm trying to escape Paris before it eats me.

  4. Heisann!

    Thank you for a lovely lesson. I found what you write very interesting since I once worked at a puppet-academy in Fredrikstad after graduating dramastudies.
    Did not know the museum.Nice to see the photos!

  5. Sounds and looks like an enchanting place to visit, interesting how the family switched from clocks to automated toys.