Paris Street Criers

Paris Street Criers

Tapping Life to the Full

Modeller-in-Chief Johann Joachim Kaendler (1706-1775) travelled to Paris in the summer of 1750 to deliver a sumptuously wrought mirror to the dauphiness Maria Josepha, daughter of the Saxon Prince Elector and wife of the heir to the French throne. There is no record of how he perceived the dichotomy between pomp and industrious hullabaloo on the one hand and filth and stench on the other in what was then Europe’s largest city. Yet he was evidently fascinated by the colourful diversity of the street criers seeking to come good in Paris, their clothing and general demeanour charming and a little exotic.

 

Once back in MEISSEN®, Kaendler in 1753 began supplementing the seven Cries of London figurines that his assistant Peter Reinicke (1711-1768) had modelled in the late-1740s with numerous new Paris street criers characters. The upshot was the most comprehensive single-theme figure series, comprising 16 male and 15 female street criers, ever produced at MEISSEN®. Source material took the form of detailed drawings acquired by the Manufactory from the Paris trader Jean Charles Huet († 1755). These were annotated with comments in German and French to help Kaendler and Reinicke with the painting and casting processes. The skill with which they turned the drawings into three-dimensional entities is beyond compare – indeed, the work is so consistent it’s hard to tell who modelled what. 

The great artistic talent of the two modellers is evidenced in the vibrant nature of gestures and bearing suggestive of snapshots from real life, though realism does have to take a back-seat to chivalrous grace. But anyone looking closely at the Paris Street Criers’ attire, gestures and faces will be taken by them on a journey through time in the course of which long-forgotten customs will be relived. Why is the girl carrying a marmot to market? Because it gives purchasers an idea of the colour of the fur they might order. The poultry and vegetable seller lets us in on the food served in wealthy houses: young geese, pigeons and products from the region. The flower seller is not wearing a head-scarf and, far from begging on the street, is selling her flowers at an opera performance. Every facet and detail of these porcelain figurines is conducive to their re-enacting everyday scenes from a life long past – on the street and at the royal court. Invigorating liquorish water was all the rage then in Paris. A street-crier operates a metal tap on the canister on his back to fill a cup with the beverage. Figurines of this kind served as showpiece table decorations at courtly banquets, providing conversational material for the assembled diners.

The 31 Cris de Paris figurines can be readily re-arranged into imaginative new settings. The Frauenzimmer-Lexicon issued in 1773,
for instance, states in its entry on table decoration that the porcelain manufactories “prepare the most beautiful and dainty figurines in all conceivable types and positions, saving confectioners a great deal of work as a result”. Such figure groups had previously been made using sugar – it wasn’t until they were produced in porcelain that they could provide testimony of their age for centuries to come.