Urban Cultures and Leisure Activities at the Muceum

Circus, fun fairs, and puppetry

By Mucem

Model of Pir’Ouett Circus (1924/1971)Mucem

Very early in the museum’s history, it took an interest in urban cultures, especially as seen in performance art and leisure. The circus, fun fairs and puppetry are some of the strengths of the museum’s collections which include a number of masterpieces and other unique pieces addressing the subject. In parallel, every aspect of “modern” life is depicted, whether in terms of urban beliefs, industry, advertising, tourism or politics.

Limonaire organ (Vers 1909) by Limonaire FrèresMucem

Limonaire organ
Circa 1909

This imposing mechanical organ, painted in bright colors in a firmly Art Nouveau style, provided a lively musical accompaniment to the movement of a large wooden merry-go-round that was donated to the old Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires (Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions) by the Town of Nogent-sur-Marne.

Advertising poster for the psychic Maïna Juan (Avant 1930) by HarfordMucem

Advertising poster for the psychic Maïna Juan
Circa 1930, Harford

Maïna Juan was a famous fortune teller in the 1920s and 1930s, practising various divination techniques out of a space on Boulevard Sébastopol in Paris. She maintained her reputation and her advertising through posters, newspaper advertisements and the use of a sandwich man.

Oracle cards (Vers 1845) by Jules Charles Ernest Billaudot, aka Mage EdmondMucem

Oracle cards
Circa 1845

These “Oracle” tarot cards were designed, drawn and hand painted by Mage Edmond (1829-1881), a great clairvoyant of the 19th century who was consulted by the biggest names in the Second Empire, including Napoleon III himself.

Each card bears a symbol attaching it to one of the seven celestial bodies that were fundamental in the mage’s clairvoyance (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn), as well as a drawing that symbolized a force or an action that influences life.

Some of the classic symbols of the tarot also appear (like the Tower) while others were inspired by Antiquity, particularly Ancient Egypt, which was extremely fashionable in 19th century France.

The name Edmond is inserted into the drawings on four of the cards. For example, in the Nativity, it is written on a parchment as a signature under a zodiac square.

Flute playing automaton (1878) by Alexandre-Nicolas ThéroudeMucem

Flute playing automaton
1878, Alexandre-Nicolas Théroude

While the automaton’s position was inspired by an ancient marble statue in the Louvre, a faun playing a flute, its decorative shell took on the appearance and the colors of the subjects of the French colonial empire, then at its apogee, in order to satisfy the exotic tastes of the time. It has a mechanical barrel organ in its chest, giving the illusion of the music played by a flautist.

Flute-playing automaton (1878), Alexandre-Nicolas Théroude (1878)Mucem

Puppet of St. Anthony (1898)Mucem

Puppet of St. Anthony

This hollow puppet is part of a series that acted out the Temptation of St. Anthony at the Théâtre du Vrai Guignolet in the Champs-Elysées Gardens in Paris. The Temptation was a very popular play that had multiple versions but that always followed the same framework: the saint's humility and conversions provoke the anger of the king of hell.

Les Tarots, fortune-telling machine (1re moitié du 20e siècle) by BussozMucem

Les Tarots, fortune-telling machine
First half of the 20th century

For the modest sum of 2 francs, this device was supposed to reveal the user’s lucky number and day of the week. Here, you can see a sphinx and Egyptian pyramids, imagery that was frequently utilized in fortune-telling since the 19th century.

In the Western mind, these figures were evocative of ancient and mysterious knowledge, like a guarantee of quality predictions.

Torero’s costume (circa 1950)Mucem

Costume de torero
Circa 1950

Acquired in 1960 by Georges Henri Rivière, founder of the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions (the MuCEM’s predecessor), this “suit of lights” or traje de luces, as bullfighters’ costumes are called in Spanish, supplemented the institution’s already rich collection of textiles.

Credits: Story

© Mucem 2017

This exhibition has been created by Mucem curators. Explore the Mucem’s collections

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