Minou Drouet: A Forgotten Child Poet

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (1)

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the media and public opinion in France, and to some extent in Europe, were impassioned about a little girl who wrote very imaginative poems and letters, sang on stage with famous artists, starred in a film and was even involved in children’s fashion: Minou Drouet. When she grew up, she stopped writing poetry, and soon fell into oblivion, so that now only old people barely remember who she is. As writes Robert Gottlieb in his essay “A Lost Child” (November 2006):

In fact, you can’t find a book by Minou Drouet in any bookstore in Paris, not even her phenomenally successful Arbre, Mon Ami, which was published just over fifty years ago—early in 1956—by the aggressive René Julliard, who a year earlier had scored an international triumph with Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. But Sagan had been eighteen; Minou was eight.

Minou Drouet was born on July 24 or 27, 1947. Her birth certificate did not indicate a father, and her mother relinquished her parental rights, so the baby was put up for adoption. On June 17, 1949, she was officially adopted by Claude Drouet, an unmarried woman who worked as a private teacher. The girl was christened Marie-Noëlle, with the diminutive Minou. As writes Robert Gottlieb:

Minou Drouet’s existence was turbulent well before she became a cause célèbre—in fact, from the very beginning. When she was a year and a half old, she was adopted by Claude Drouet, an educated woman who earned her living by coaching children at home. The story was that Minou’s parents had drowned in a fishing-boat accident, but actually she was illegitimate, and her birth mother had signed away all rights to her.

Indeed, when Ms. Drouet adopted her, she had heard about a child whose parents had both drowned, and she sometimes told that story in order to preserve the reputation of Minou, so she would not be called a “bastard,” since at that time single mothers were considered shameful.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (2)

The baby was almost blind and affected with a strong strabismus; she also suffered from poor health and it seems that she had difficulties closing her mouth on food. Ms. Drouet herself had a very poor eyesight and had been completely blind during seven years of her childhood, then in her youth she had written a short tale about the marvellous world that a blind little girl creates inside herself as a shelter from the torments of the world. So her choice was deliberate: to raise a child who had suffered in the same way as her. She was also inclined to the occult, and she read the lines in the baby’s hands. Says Gottlieb:

Minou was almost blind at birth, and for three years or so lived in a semi-autistic state, unable to speak and cut off from communicating with people other than her mother and her beloved grandmother. Years later, she wrote, “Locked inside myself, I led the life of some kind of vegetable. … The doctors warned Mama, ‘The condition of this child is desperate. We can’t imagine her being cured.'” Other children were unkind to her, and her emotions were directed almost entirely to nature: to animals, birds, and especially the big tree in the garden—“Arbre, mon ami.”

It took on the part of Claude Drouet a long and patient work of love to change this sickly and closed off baby into a healthy, happy and creative little girl. Music was the means by which she could awaken to the world. There are several versions of how it started (her age at that time, the music composer and the medium through which she heard the music vary in each); here is the one of Gottlieb:

Then, when she was three, Minou heard Bach organ music on the radio, and it awakened her to the world. Music became her link to humanity, and in those early years it was music rather than writing that obsessed her. Her passion led to piano lessons from a local teacher, and her abilities led her eventually to Mme. Descaves, in Paris; if the child wasn’t a miniature Mozart (any more than she was a miniature Rimbaud), she was clearly gifted.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (3)

A more extravagant version of Minou’s early childhood is given by Charles Templeton in An Anecdotal Memoir:

Minou Drouet’s mother was a prostitute and her father a field hand. As an infant she was taken into the home of a middle-aged woman, whose ambition to write well exceeded her talent. She adopted the child and raised her with love, surrounding her with music in a home dedicated to literature. It appeared that Minou was retarded. At six she hadn’t spoken a word. The judgment of four doctors was that she would never be normal.

One day, her mother played a recording of a Brahms symphony for her. Minou swooned. When she was revived, she spoke perfect French in complex sentences. Shortly thereafter she began to write poetry.

Similarly, Carol Mavor writes in “Tragic Candy, Time” (an article leaning towards post-modern speculations and titillation):

Her father was a very poor field hand. Many said that her mother was a prostitute.

By age six, little Minou still had not spoken a word. She was tight-lipped and silent.

In fact, Minou’s childhood has been surrounded by mystery, and fantastic tales have been told about her. Ms. Drouet herself seemed to be involved in fortune telling through cards or reading lines in hands. According to a French online article, Ms. Drouet told the author that Minou possessed a gift of clairvoyance; she could foretell exactly a visit or a death. When the controversy erupted about the authorship of her published poems, some critics hypothesized that her mother had hypnotized her or transmitted her poems by telepathy. The writer Louis Pauwels even hinted at “possession” and labeled her “not a case of a child prodigy,” but “a case of sorcery.”

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet with Lucette Descaves (1956)

In 1954, Minou started piano lessons first with a tutor, Ninette Ellia. The latter put her in contact with famous pianists: Alfred Cortot, Yves Nat, and foremost Lucette Descaves, professor at the Conservatoire de Paris, who took Minou as pupil on July 29, 1954. Minou, an affectionate child, developed strong feelings for her teacher and sent her letters full of love, together with poems. Ms. Descaves showed them to professor Pasteur Vallery-Radot of the French Academy, who became immediately fascinated, and remained afterwards a staunch supporter of Minou’s exceptional talents. He told about her to the publisher René Julliard. Ms. Descaves entrusted Julliard with a batch of Minou’s writings, and Julliard met Minou on May 6, 1955.

Then things started to move fast. Professor Paufique, an ophthalmologist in Lyon, operated successfully on her eyes. In September, Julliard made a private edition of a booklet with a selection of poems and letters by Minou. A controversy immediately erupted, involving the major French media. Some disagreements concerned the quality of her poems, but mainly it dealt with her authorship, many stating that it was an imposture, that her adoptive mother had written the poems and letters herself. Templeton writes (getting wrong with Minou’s age, she was then aged 8, not 6):

Some of the poems were published and immediately provoked debate. It was said that no child of six could possibly have such thoughts, much less express them so profoundly. It was argued that, unlike music, poetry demands an experience of life, experience that no child so young could have had. It was charged that her adoptive mother — a poet herself who aspired to recognition but had been judged second-rate — was the author of the verses.

Several journals sent reporters to interview the Drouet family. In particular the magazine Elle sent a journalist and a photographer for an “investigation,” then published their report, claiming to give a “proof” of forgery. This article was shown to Minou. Also journalists revealed her adopted child status, something that Claude Drouet had hidden her in order to protect her. Many letters of Minou published later show the deep hurt felt by that sensitive girl, resenting the cruelty and wickedness of people; in a very sad one of them, addressed to her mother, she compares herself to a frightening cat whose whiskers have been cut out, or to an old castle surrounded by moat.

Graphologists and writing experts were called in by both sides, with conflicting opinions. At the end of November 1955, Julliard took Minou without her mother at his home for a few days, so he could witness himself how Minou composed her poems (and it is during that stay that she wrote that letter to her mother mentioned above).

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (4)

The surrealist leader André Breton published in Paris-Presse, December 20, a short article where he stated firmly that he did not have to investigate the facts, simply by examining the texts he could deduce that no child aged 8 and even beyond could write such texts, which show a maturity and experience of life unavailable to such a child. “Between the physico-mental structure of Minou and what is published under her name there is an incompatibility of structure.” He invoked in particular the works of Jean Piaget on the psychological development of children. He finally speculated on Ms. Drouet’s personality, and the possible reasons for her to write under the guise of her daughter.

Minou seems to hint at that in a letter to Pasteur Vallery-Radot, where she mentions “the article by B,” adding that “if this was true, I would have only to go back to classroom and burn everything I have written. This dreadful man says that some sixty-year-old dictates me what I write.”

Breton would not have written such a nonsense if he had only examined the writings of Ms. Drouet herself. As she told Julliard, in her youth she submitted some poems to a “floral games” competition, but did not win. Then around 1925 she had submitted her tale about the blind little girl, which was again rejected, and in 1948 she had again tried to publish it, still without success. She contributed articles to third-rate serials, especially religious ones. The book L’affaire Minou Drouet by André Parinaud reproduces two of her works, an article about the misery of fishermen and a short tale about a poor family, they are drab and show her as a mediocre writer, very far from the flamboyant imagination shown by Minou. And indeed Julliard said to Parinaud that he saw her writings, except her poems, and their dullness reassured him. When Ms. Drouet was accused of fraud, he envisaged publishing these texts, but he felt this would be ungracious to her.

It has been said that this “literary” quarrel was a way for media bosses to settle their accounts, in particular between Hélène Gordon-Lazareff of Elle and Françoise Giroud of l’Express, and that Julliard himself encouraged the debate in order to get more publicity. In particular he published in 1956 L’affaire Minou Drouet by André Parinaud, a detailed analysis of the whole controversy.

On January 14, 1956, Julliard published Minou’s first book, Arbre, Mon Ami, with 21 poems followed by letters she wrote to various people. In it she displays a flamboyant imagination, with powerful metaphors, and she freely creates neologisms. As remarks Carol Mavor, “like Apollinaire, she liked to make her poems into calligrammes, serpentine shapes, crystal cages of words.” At the same time she shows an immense sensitivity, a huge capacity for love towards all her friends, and a maturity usually not expected at that age. The book knew an immediate success. As writes Gottlieb:

By the time Arbre, Mon Ami was published, in January 1956, the publicity had been so unrelenting that within a few months the little book had sold forty-five thousand copies. (Later, Minou said, “I believe that René Julliard himself was at the bottom of this campaign.”) The celebrated actress Madeleine Renaud recorded a group of the poems and letters. A jazz band, Michel Attenoux et Son Orchestre, released the “Minou Drouet Stomp”—you can find it in a recent CD collection, Jazz in Paris.

A month after publication, Minou was put to the severest test of all. The February 13 issue of Life tells the story: To resolve the controversy, Minou agreed to take a test for membership in the Society of Authors, Composers, and Music Publishers. She was left alone in an office (from which “the telephone had been removed to prevent all communication with the outside world”) and given a choice of two topics to write on: “I’m Eight Years Old” or “Paris Sky.” “My eight years were already too sad,” she said. “I chose Paris Sky.” Within twenty-five minutes she had written a few dozen lines, and the judges, as Life put it, admiringly awarded her membership. ‘I’ve won’ yelped Minou.”

This poem, “Ciel de Paris,” was published in her second volume, Le Pêcheur de Lune (1959), with the following dedication (translated from French by me):

My Mummy, it is to defend you that I composed this poem, to prove that it was indeed me who wrote my little things. This text has been much more than an imposed subject, it has been for me an act of love towards you.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (5)

Gottlieb tells then how Minou became a showbiz star:

Soon after the publication of her book, Minou’s life began its transformation from that of a controversial child poet to that of a full-fledged celebrity. She mixes with cabinet ministers at the Julliards’; she collaborates with famous singer-songwriters like Gilbert Bécaud; she’s photographed with Maurice Chevalier (he’s kissing her hand) and at the premiere of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s The World of Silence. (She’s ten, and that big bow is still in her hair.) She stars in a movie. She launches and designs lines of children’s fashions. She demonstrates her guitar playing for Andrés Segovia. Pablo Casals teaches her his “Song of the Birds.” In Rome, she encounters Vittorio De Sica, and “quickly we were inseparable—we spent the entire day together.”

By this time, Minou was in rigorous training, every minute accounted for. She practiced the piano for hours every day; studied guitar and gymnastics; spent six years learning ballet. Soon she was touring France, appearing with other celebrities—pop singers and comedians—in nightclubs, theaters, arenas. Her act involved reading her poems aloud, singing to her own guitar accompaniment, playing “Clair de Lune,” Handel’s Passacaglia, Albinoni’s Adagio on the piano. (There’s a demented photograph of her standing on a piano, arching backward until her fingers are on the keyboard. She’s playing upside down!) In June 1957—she’s about ten—she’s at the Gaumont Palace in Paris, the largest theater in Europe (six thousand seats), performing between screenings of Gary Cooper’s Friendly Persuasion. In Brussels, she’s on with Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour. At La Scala, she’s a guest of honor at a gala for Mario del Monaco. She’s thirteen when a rose is named after her.

She starred in the film Clara et les méchants directed by Raoul André in 1958 (some pictures from it can be seen here). In his article, Gottlieb recounts her private audience with Pope Pius XII, and how she made him laugh (the story can also be read in his shorter article in the JohnShaplin blog).

Claude Drouet’s influence on Minou has been much discussed. Because of her eyesight problems (and maybe the scoffs of other children), the girl did not attend public school for a long time, so she was educated at home by her mother. Julliard wrote in the introduction to Arbre, Mon Ami that Ms. Drouet raised her daughter with as much tenderness as severity, and that she constantly encouraged her to work, both for music and for her general education. Gottlieb writes: “The child was firmly disciplined—kept hard at work and punished for infractions of the rules.” In several letters, Minou mentioned being spanked on the buttocks, and Ms. Drouet did not deny using this form of punishment, which was considered normal at that time. However the press spread the rumour that Minou was a battered child, that one witness said having seen Ms. Drouet beating her daughter with a wet towel, etc. This image of an abusive mother is echoed in the article by Carol Mavor:

As in many fairy tales, Maman was the wicked stepmother. Mme. Drouet cracked the whip: ballet lessons, guitar lessons, hours of piano practice and gymnastics, “every minute accounted for.” Even though she could play Mozart while doing a backbend on the piano, Minou could never be perfect enough; one might even say “empty” enough. (“Innocence is … like air … there’s not a lot you can do but lose it.”) Mme. Drouet beat the innocence (air) out of Minou for the most minuscule mistakes.

Nevertheless, since Ms. Drouet had chosen to adopt a child who suffered the same blindness as her in her own childhood, one may speculate whether she used Minou’s talents in order to compensate for her own failure as a writer. Gottlieb writes:

Mme. Drouet encouraged her gifts—some would say exploited them. However devoted she was to her child, to strangers she could appear severe, controlling, overprotective. She would jump to answer questions put to Minou, declaim her poetry, boast about her talent. She was, clearly, a classic stage mother—using her child both to live out her own ambitions and to carry her and Minou onto a larger stage than was available to them in La Guerche-de-Bretagne. Minou read the situation with a cool precision: “My successes opened the door for her to opportunities that would otherwise have remained closed.”

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (6)

After her second volume, Le Pêcheur de Lune (1959), Minou ceased to write poetry. She tried writing novels and singing, studied nursing, married the artist and radio chronicler Patrick Font and soon divorced. Says Gottlieb:

In her early twenties, Minou published some fables, a novel for children, and a novel for adults, but the irresistible impulse to write had left her when she was fourteen: “When a bird no longer feels the desire to sing, it stays silent.” Her mother contracted Parkinson’s and needed her, her marriage petered out, and in her early thirties she retreated to La Guerche-de-Bretagne, to the house where she had grown up. There she cut herself off completely from her public past, making no appearances and refusing all interviews, until 1993, when, having remarried—her husband, Jean-Paul Le Canu, is a local garageman—she published a reticent and skimpy memoir, Ma Vérité (My Truth). But the public was indifferent. Her celebrity, like her talent, had disappeared.

In that book she wrote that since the death of her mother, “I sing in myself and I am the only one to hear me.” I quote again Gottlieb:

In her book, Minou acknowledged that part of her had found it hard to give up the fame, the applause, the perks: “You amputate part of yourself.” But she went on to say, “If I had the kind of child I myself was, I would try to protect her from all the temptations and assaults of the world. … Beyond the public recognition there’s everything that can’t be replaced—play, friends, family, a kind of freedom. Everything I had to live without.”

It doesn’t require much psychological acumen to figure out that what she needed to express and what she needed to suppress are the same thing: her anger at what had been done to her. “No one protected me. Adults rode on my back to exploit me. . . . I was caught up in the gears.”

She is also reported to have said: “I was sold like a soap, I was criticized as a child prodigy. I was neither.” Gottlieb stresses the responsibility of her mother:

And who was the person who should have protected her? Her mother—the one who exposed her to the world, first as a beleaguered victim, then as a performing seal. Yet it’s also her mother who rescued this semi-autistic, semi-blind orphan and gave her a life. Minou is rigorously fair, fully aware of her debt to the woman who adopted and succored her. But her account has very little warmth, and it leaves out a good deal—for instance, that her birth mother, who she discovered lived only a few kilometers away, had refused to meet her.

Under the influence of her mother, Minou Drouet rose from a near-autistic and nearly blind baby to a precocious poet with a powerful imagination, becoming a superstar … then abandoned poetry and fell back into silence, finishing her life in seclusion. Was the weight of her mother too heavy? Or was it the cruel adult world that tore her sensitive soul? Gottlieb concludes:

This is Minou Drouet before she’s eight—a primitive, an ecstatic, an original. A few years later, she’s become a phenomenon, a scandal, a by-word. “I was a lost child,” she says. “I was only a pathetic little animal,” she says. “What crime did I commit to be persecuted this way?” she asks. There is no answer. That she survived at all is a testament to her strength. That she lost Minou on her way to becoming Mme. Le Canu is the price she was willing to pay.

On the other hand, Carol Mavor writes:

Completely sugarcoated and consumed by the time she was fourteen, Minou lost her passionate desire to write.

As in the years before she was six, Minou is once again silent.

Roger Hauert – Minou Drouet (1956) (7)

The photographs by Roger Hauert shown in this article were scanned from the booklet Poèmes. They are included here for scholarly purposes. Please do not use them publicly without citing their authorship (or, for commercial purposes, without the express permission of the copyright holders).

Bibliography:

  • Minou Drouet, Arbre, mon ami, Julliard (1956).
  • Minou Drouet, Poèmes (with photographs by Roger Hauert), René Kister (1956).
  • Minou Drouet, Le Pêcheur de lune, Pierre Horay (1959).
  • André Parinaud, L’affaire Minou Drouet, Julliard (1956).
  • Chez les libraires associés, “Minou Drouet : ‘On a fait de moi un animal qui a mal’,” September 13, 2012.
  • Robert Gottlieb, “A lost child,” A critic at large, The New Yorker, November 6, 2006 (Full article reserved to subscribers). Republished in Lives and Letters, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Apr 26, 2011, pages 52–64.
  • Carol Mavor, “Tragic Candy, Time,” Cabinet, Issue 40, Hair Winter 2010/11.
  • Charles Templeton, An Anecdotal Memoir (1982), “Inside Television CBS & CBC.”

One Blond Little Girl … and Many Racists in Europe

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (1)

My previous article ‘The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery‘ analysed the use, notably in the early 20th century illustrated press, of the theme of the European little girl abducted by Roma. Now I will discuss the affair of the “blond angel” Maria, where the discovery of a blond little girl in a Roma camp in Greece sparked an international hysteria, with unfounded accusations of child abduction, and led to similar accusations being raised against Roma parents with blond children in other European countries. It revealed deep-seated racist stereotypes about this ethnic group. Finally, we will see that the “child abductors” are not the Roma, but the official institutions that have systematically taken away children from families of ethnic minorities.

Since this article is already very long, I had to leave out a detailed analysis of media coverage—not only the openly hateful gutter press (The Daily Beast, Daily Mail, The Sun, etc.), but also the self-styled “serious” BBC, which only propagated subtler forms of prejudice. I might return to this aspect on another occasion.

I have used many sources: first an article in Spiegel Online International (October 28, 2013), second a consolidation of the case by Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer (June 26, 2015), which contains many links to media treatment of the case, and third an extensive study of the case in the French Wikipedia, with many links to important documents, media coverage and scholarly analyses (this work was awarded the “article of quality” label by Wikipedia). See the references at the end of this post.

The story

Early in the morning of October 16, 2013, Greek police raided a Roma community in the town of Farsala (in central Greece).

Police were actually looking for drugs and weapons, but then they caught sight of this girl who looks so different than the rest of the family — and that alone sparked suspicions and fueled speculation: Maria could have been abducted or sold to a Roma family that kept the girl as an attraction, just as dancing bears were once led on chains through the towns of Europe. They could have forced her to beg or work for them, it was thought. … 10 police officers banged on the door … and then pulled Maria out of bed.
“This child is not yours; it’s white,” yelled one of the policemen. The little girl didn’t cry. The police also took along the parents, and the three of them sat in the backseat of a squad car. –Spiegel Online International, October 28, 2013

The couple claiming to be the parents of the little girl, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis, aged 40 and 39 respectively, were kept in police custody and interrogated.

Maria with her adoptive parents, Eleftheria Dimopoulou and Christos Salis (October 2013)

When police questioned them about Maria, they lied at first. But they eventually told the story of the Bulgarian woman, a migrant worker who placed the child in their care. Nevertheless, mistrust persisted. Dimopoulou, the mother, had a forged passport. To make matters worse, the couple have reportedly been collecting child benefits for a total of 14 officially registered children, six of which must have been born within a 10-month period, according to the information that they provided. They allegedly collected 2,800 Euros ($3,850) a month this way (Spiegel Online International).

DNA tests confirmed that Maria was not the biological daughter of Dimopoulou and Salis. The couple was charged with child abduction and forgery. Interpol released a Yellow Notice stating:

On 16 October 2013, a police operation took place in a camp near Larissa/Greece. During the operation, a little girl (approximately 4 years old) was found and the subsequent DNA check revealed that she was not the biological daughter of the couple who presented themselves as her parents. Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.

The affair immediately made headlines in the European press, which in most case relayed uncritically the accusation of abduction, and sometimes spread various rumors, that Maria was forced to beg, that she was raised for prostitution, or in order to be sold in marriage at age 12, etc. And according to the Spiegel article, “Some TV reports have even speculated that the family wanted to raise Maria so they could sell her organs, and one story on organ trafficking included images of the Roma settlement.”

On October 22nd, two “blond angels” (blond Roma children with blue eyes) were found in Ireland, a 7-year-old girl in Tallaght and a 2-year-old boy in Athlone. The Guarda (Irish police) removed them from their parents, but in both cases DNA tests revealed that they were indeed the biological parents of the children; the latter were thus returned to their families (The Telegraph, October 23, 2013; The Guardian, October 24, 2013). In Serbia, skinheads attempted to abduct a fair-skinned Roma child:

On 22 October news server Blic.rs reported that a group of men described as skinheads almost succeeded in abducting a two-year-old child last Saturday evening from in front of his home on Šafarikova Street in Novi Sad just because the child’s skin was fairer than that of his father, Stefan Nikolić. The men accused Nikolić, who is of Romani nationality, of having stolen the child from its biological parents.
Nikolić told Blic.rs that when he threatened to call the police, the hooligans ran away. (Romea.cz, October 23, 2013)

Reuters – International appeal

Maria was put into the custody of the charity The Smile of the Child. An international appeal to find her parents was launched, which got around 9000 replies. Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for the charity, said that “about 10 cases of missing children around the world are “being taken very seriously” in connection with Maria’s case. They include children from the United States, Canada, Poland and France.” (CNN, October 23, 2013) But none of the cases matched Maria.

Meanwhile the last explanation given by the couple, that they had been given the girl as a baby by a Bulgarian woman who couldn’t take care of her, was confirmed by their Greek lawyer and also by residents of the Roma camp in Farsala, who said that Maria’s biological father had been visiting a few days before. Investigations led to a Roma camp in Nikolaevo, Bulgaria, where many residents show the same features as Maria. A couple with 9 children was identified, Atanas Rusev and Sasha Ruseva, aged 36 and 38 respectively; DNA tests confirmed that they were the biological parents of Maria. A check at the hospital in Lamia yielded her birth certificate, dated January 31, 2009 (GR Reporter, January 14, 2014). Here is the version given by Sasha Ruseva:

In 2008, she went to Greece to harvest oranges and gave birth to a girl there. She actually intended to name her Stanka, but since nobody at the hospital understood that, she called the baby Maria. She said she had no money to acquire papers for the child. One of the women helping with the harvest offered to take care of the child and promised: “You can pick her up her anytime.” She never took any money for the girl, says Ruseva. She worked for another few days in Greece, and then she returned to Nikolaevo, she says.
Ruseva has seen pictures of Maria on TV. “I would take her back, but I’m so poor that I don’t even have enough money to properly clothe my children,” she says (Spiegel).

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters – Sasha Ruseva with 2-year-old son Atanas (October 2013)

The article adds, “And the Greek Roma who have raised Maria are thus neither child traffickers nor thieves, but merely the two adults who have been Maria’s father and mother since soon after her birth.”

Guilty until proven innocent, human rights violated

Media coverage mostly uncritically propagated accusations of child trafficking against Salis and Dimopoulou. As writes the Spiegel article: “The principle of innocent until proven guilty — which should also apply to Roma families — was ignored by the TV reporters. Every day now, the Greek government orders Roma communities to be searched for weapons, drugs and blond children.” Similarly the police assumed that they were guilty of abducting Maria. Indeed the above-quoted Interpol Yellow Notice said “Preliminary investigations revealed that the couple abducted the minor in 2009 under unknown conditions.”

EPA/Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (2)

The Smile of the Child also propagated the worst stereotypes about Roma, accusing Salis and Dimopoulou of the most heinous crimes without proof. According to The Huffington Post of October 19, 2013, Panayiotis Pardalis, a spokesman for the charity, said “it was obvious” that she was not a Roma girl, while its director Kostas Yannopoulos told private Skai TV “We are shocked by how easy it is for people to register children as their own … There is much more to investigate, there are other registered children that were not found in the settlement, and I believe police will unravel a thread that doesn’t just have to do with the girl.” According to CNN, October 23, 2013, Pardalis also said “We don’t have any other information if this girl was forced to work or to beg on streets.” In a video interview shown on BBC News (October, 18, 2013), Yannopoulos declared “it shows that it could be kidnapping and combined efforts of these people to buy and sell children … They will use this little girl in the streets to beg because she was blonde and everybody says she was cute.” Then in a subsequent video on BBC News (October, 19, 2013), he said “she was either sold at maternity or later abducted for begging, because they use children for begging, or later for prostitution or even worse for selling for other purposes.” The nature of this “worse” is left to your imagination.

Natasha Dukach raises an important point:

Not a single article even mentioned the possibility of human rights violations to the Roma couple. As they adopted Maria illegally and had problems with their papers, no one considered their human rights. … Each European country has its own human rights laws, and these should be applied to everyone in the country, regardless of their nationality or ethnicity. Human rights laws were not applied in the case of Maria. The media failed to report on this angle or even ask the question as to whether gypsies have human rights.

Because Maria’s adoption by the Greek couple was informal, both their parenting rights and those of the Bulgarian biological parents were not taken into account. The fact that Salis and Dimopoulou fraudulently declared 14 children in order to obtain child benefits is not a valid excuse for this. Indeed, there have often been affairs of financial or fiscal fraud involving huge sums of money, but each time the (rich and non-Roma) defrauders saw their rights respected, and their family was not broken by authorities. Incidentally, fraud on taxes and social benefits are very frequent in Greece.

As remarks Jana Hainsworth in Euractiv, society tends more and more to remove children from their families because of “bad” parenting, but in the majority of cases, the family problems are due to poverty.

The informal adoption of Maria by Salis and Dimopoulou can be explained by Roma culture. Unlike Westerners, they do not function according to the model of the nuclear family, where parents “own” their children, whose interactions with the adult world are strictly regimented. They rather follow the extended family system, where children can be raised by cousins, uncles, grandparents, etc. and there is an extensive community involvement in the raising, education and welfare of children. Living as a “homeless nation” marginalized and excluded by mainstream society, they tend to follow their own rules, and not those of the countries where they are stigmatized and marginalized. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian of October 22, 2013:

Informal adoption is commonplace, particularly in societies where children are raised collectively by extended family units, and families of eight or 10 are not unusual. Across the world, children in economically difficult circumstances are left with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or sometimes given away because the birth parents cannot provide for them. This is hardly a practice unique to Roma society, and it is a long way from deliberate abduction for the purposes of “child trafficking”, an assumption that the non-Roma world has been happy to make with impunity.

The aftermath

As soon as it was revealed that Maria was indeed the biological daughter of the Bulgarian Roma couple, the press immediately lost interest in her case. Most journals that had propagated the accusation of abduction soon forgot her. Some turned their coats elegantly, such as the French online journal Atlantico: on October 22 it titled ‘Greece: “the blond angel” was at the heart of a child traffick and was destined to be sold’ then on October 24 an article by Emanuela Ignatoiu-Sora titled ‘Why affairs of “blond angels” unfortunately awaken prejudices against Roma, children kidnappers.’

Maria as a toddler (c.2011)

As writes Zeljko Jovanovic in The Guardian of October 28, 2013, under the appropriate title ‘Maria is Roma — so now she will become invisible once more’:

When the glare of the media spotlight fades, Maria will go back to a life of exclusion, without basic documentation or rights … But now that it has emerged that Maria is a Roma child, it is painfully predictable that global interest in her fate will fade. Whatever the legal fate of the couple who have been charged with her abduction, Maria, like other Roma children, will have to navigate her way through life suffering illiteracy, unemployment, and segregation in education.

So it has been very difficult to find more recent information about her case (apart in the French Wikipedia article).

On June 30, 2014, the tribunal of Larissa awarded full custody of Maria to the Smile of the Child charity. The decision was motivated by the need to avoid a change of environment for the girl, who had been in the care of the charity since October 2013. She is now going to school. On November 9, 2015, the appeals court of Larissa acquitted Christos Salis and Eleftheria Dimopoulou of the charge of abduction. But for their use of forged documents, they were sentenced to suspended prison terms, 2 years for Dimopoulou and 18 months for Salis.

It seems that Bulgarian authorities intended “to remove seven of Sasha and Atanas’s other children, placing them in different social care services including an institution.” (Jana Hainsworth, Euractiv, November 13, 2013) However I have no information on what was finally decided in this case, as well as on any Greek decision regarding the custody of the other children of Salis and Dimopoulou.

EPA/Greek Police – Close-up of Maria (October 2013)

Blond angels and dark devils

When the DNA of the two blond Roma children in Ireland was shown to match that of their brown parents, the two French media France 24 and L’Express titled ‘No “blond angels” in Ireland, the two Roma children given back to their families’ and ‘No “blond angel” in Ireland: two Roma children have been given back to their parents.’ Apparently, blond children are “angels” only if they are Westerners abducted by Roma. As writes Louise Doughty in The Guardian:

She is, we have been told repeatedly, the girl Greece is calling “the blonde angel”. She is certainly blonde — and she is a young child who deserves concern as all children do, particularly those facing poverty or discrimination. Whether or not she is angelic is a matter of stereotype rather than personality. She is angelic in the eyes of the media only in stark contrast to the circumstances in which she was found: in a Roma camp in Greece, with dark-skinned parents who, DNA tests have revealed, cannot be her birth parents.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (1)

Some people have explained by a kind of genetic defect the light skin and blond hair of Maria and of some residents in the Roma settlement of Nikolaevo. “Maria’s blonde hair and pale complexion was found to be due to her biological father’s albino gene,” writes Natasha Dukach in Fair Observer. In other words, this would be some sort of accidental occurrence.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Three Rusev children inside their family home (2013) (2)

However blond hair, a light skin and blue eyes are not uncommon among Roma people. In The New York Times of October 25, 2013, Dan Bilefsky quotes Dezideriu Gergely, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, based in Budapest:

Mr. Gergely, a human rights lawyer who has a Roma father and a white Romanian mother, noted that many Roma, who arrived in Europe from India centuries ago and are also known as Gypsies, came from mixed families.
He himself has light skin and blue eyes, which he said punctured the widespread stereotype that Roma have dark hair and dusky complexions.

Nikolay Doychinov/AFP Getty Images – Four Rusev children inside their family home (2013)

One can guess that Westerners don’t see white children with coloured parents in the same way as the reverse:

“Imagine if the situation were reversed and the children were brown and the parents were white, would they have ever been taken away?” said Dezideriu Gergely. … “The most dangerous consequence of the hysteria is that now we have to live in fear that our children can be removed from us on the basis of a wrong perception. No one should be profiled on the basis of their ethnicity.” (Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times)

Gene Demby in NPR, October 27, 2013, inquired with readers:

We asked readers on Twitter about times when people treated them and their relatives as if they weren’t related. Some stories were funny. But sometimes the cops were called.
One Asian-American woman told us that her white adoptive parents and her white husband are assumed to be related, while she was assumed to be the person who married in. But several women of color with light-skinned children said people just assume them to be their nannies and not their parents. Several people remembered that as children, people inquired with concern about their safety — in echoes of the Roma cases, strangers thought their darker skin parents might have been abductors. (Interestingly, white or lighter-skinned parents with darker children were instead assumed to be adoptive parents.)

Greek Police – Maria (October 2013) (3)

The dark-skinned Rom is seen as a symbol of dirt and crime. For dirt, compare the image of Maria on the day of the police raid, shown at the top of this article, with the one used in the international appeal to search her parents, shown here: fingers tainted purple, unkempt hair and a distressed look in the former, then neatly combed hair, a nice pink and white sweater and a smile in the latter. According to The Huffington Post, Panayiotis Pardalis, spokesman for The Smile of the Child said “She was afraid and under some psychological pressure when she arrived. Colleagues have been trying to communicate but are struggling. She seems to understand Greek but cannot speak it. She was living under bad conditions and was very dirty but is now safe.”

For crime, I quote again the words of Gergely given by Dan Bilefsky:

“It is mystifying that those accused of criminality are seen to represent the Roma community,” he said, noting that if people engaged in human trafficking it was because of severe poverty, not their cultural background. “Applying collective responsibility to the entire Roma community is unacceptable.” … Roma advocates counter that if there is crime among some Roma, it is the byproduct of severe economic deprivation and social exclusion that allowed a minority of unscrupulous ringleaders to exploit poor people desperately eking out an existence on society’s fringes.

Who are child abductors?

In my previous article, I quoted Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” Quite to the contrary, there are many instances of minority children being systematically removed from their families in order to be put into the custody of white middle-class families. Well-known are the plight of the aboriginal children in Canada (the “Sixties Scoop”) and Australia (the “Stolen Generations”). The Yenish are a nomadic group living in Central Europe; in Switzerland, between 1926 to 1972, 600 Yenish children were forcibly taken from their parents by the “Oeuvre d’entraide aux enfants de la grand-route”, a charity set up to “protect children in danger of abandonment and vagrancy.”

So, sadly, the accused are rather the victims, poor, marginalized and unable to defend themselves.

References:

Further reading:

The Abducted Girl in Anti-Roma Imagery

This is the first of two articles on the use of the girl image in anti-Roma racism. Here I will describe the hundreds of years old accusation that Roma steal non-Roma children. In the next one, I will discuss in depth the case of the “blond angel” in 2013, when the presence of a blond little girl in a Roma camp led to the claim by both police and media that she had been abducted from a non-Roma family.

Note: Following European usage, I use the singular noun Rom and the plural noun and adjective Roma to designate people of this ethnicity, while the adjective Romani will designate the corresponding culture and language. There are also ethnic Roma subgroups carrying specific names: Sinti, Kale, Manush, Romanichal, etc. However well-known designations such as “Gypsy” or “Tzigane” / “Gitano” should be avoided, as they usually carry cultural and literary stereotypes.

The Roma people originated from India and migrated into Europe during the Middle Ages. For a long time it was thought that they came from Egypt, as illustrated by the novel Isabel of Egypt, first youth love of emperor Charles V written by the German romantic Achim von Arnim in 1812 (imagining a brief love affair between the Holy German Emperor and the daughter of the leader of the Roma people); indeed the word “Gypsy” comes from “Egyptian.” On the other hand designations such as “Tzigane” or “Gitano” come from the medieval Greek Atsinganos, meaning “untouchable.”

Roma were enslaved in Romania until the middle of the 19th century. In Western Europe, they have been persecuted since the 15th century, first accused of being Turks, or Turkish spies, then of being criminals. Over and over, laws and ordinances were enacted to prevent them from settling down, with various penalties for offenders: deportation, forced labour, flogging, mutilation, execution or their children to be taken away. In 1721, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI ordered the execution of all Roma adults, while children were “to be put in hospitals for education.”

Being always expelled from one place to another led the Roma people to a life of forced nomadism (similarly, during periods of persecution, Jews often moved from one town to another); from that comes the image of Gypsies living in caravans. While Jews were generally emancipated throughout Western Europe during the 19th century, the same did not happen for Roma, who were considered “born criminals.” The persecution culminated in the Nazi genocide that targeted both Jews and Roma for systematic extermination; the number of Roma victims is estimated between half and one and a half million. This genocide has been called Samudaripen (meaning “mass killing”) or Porajmos / Porrajmos / Pharrajimos (meaning “devouring” or “destruction”).

Sinti / Roma children victims of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Sinti / Roma children victims of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Literary depiction of Roma shows two apparently contradicting aspects. On the one hand they are presented as criminals on the dark side of humanity. For instance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire Count is transported by savage Gypsies. On the other hand the word “Gypsy” suggests a free and careless life made of travel but no hard work, with picturesque customs, clothing, singing and dance, as well as alluring and liberated women, such as Esmeralda in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, or Carmen in Prosper Mérimée’s novella and the opera by Georges Bizet derived from it. A similar dual racist stereotype holds for African-Americans, seen both as criminals and as people endowed with a very potent sexuality.

Minorities seen as dangerous are generally presented as posing a threat to children. For instance in medieval Europe, Jews were accused of killing Christian children in order to use their blood in the making of unleavened bread for Passover. Now it has been repeated over and over that Roma abduct non-Roma children. Often the abducted child is a girl, as a symbol of helplessness.

Miguel de Cervantes - La Gitanilla (book covers)

Miguel de Cervantes – La Gitanilla (book covers)

The accusation already appears in La Gitanilla (The Little Gypsy Girl), the first novella contained in the Novelas Ejemplares (The Exemplary Novels), the collection of short stories written by Miguel de Cervantes between 1590 and 1612. La Gitanilla is the story of a 15-year-old gypsy girl named Preciosa, who is said to be talented, extremely beautiful, and wise beyond her years. A Spanish nobleman falls in love with her, and after many peripeties, it is revealed that Preciosa is the daughter of a magistrate, Don Fernando de Acevedo, knight of the order of Calatrava; Preciosa’s Roma grandmother confesses to having kidnapped her as a young child and raised her as her own granddaughter. Notice the link between the qualities of Preciosa (talented, beautiful and wise) and the fact that she has been abducted, hinting that Roma as an inferior race could not have such qualities themselves; also in many book covers, Preciosa is shown having blond hair.

I searched the French illustrated “popular” press of the early 20th century for illustrations of anti-Roma racism. Les Faits-Divers Illustrés was a weekly published between 1905 and 1910, with a peculiar taste for the most horrendous crimes and the worst catastrophes. Part of the collection has been digitized by Gallica, and I downloaded there the following image (also found on Wikimedia Commons):

Les Faits-Divers Illustrés, no. 164 (10 December 1908) - Romanichels voleurs d'enfants : Une mère défend sa fille

Les Faits-Divers Illustrés, no. 164 (10 December 1908) – Romanichels voleurs d’enfants : Une mère défend sa fille

The caption translates as “Gypsies child thieves: a mother defends her daughter.” I have transcribed the corresponding article here. It tells that one morning, as gypsies had left a small town, a mother noticed the disappearance of her 3-year-old daughter.  She alerted people around her, then thought about the departed gypsies. Armed with a pole, she ran after them and saw her daughter at the front of a caravan. She snatched her and fought off the gypsies with the pole. Meanwhile, townspeople who had followed her arrived, accompanied by policemen; the latter had to use their authority to prevent people from lynching the gypsies.

Le Petit Journal was a daily published between 1863 and 1944. Politically, it was republican (in the French sense), conservative and nationalist; in 1937 it became the mouthpiece of a fascist party. Between 1884 and 1937 it published an illustrated weekly supplement. Part of the collection of the weekly supplement has been digitized by Gallica, and the website Cent.ans has an almost complete collection of the front and back covers between 1890 and 1930, often with a transcription of the corresponding articles.

The first image, downloaded from Gallica, can also be found—with different colours and contrast—on Cent.ans and on Wikimedia Commons (where it is credited to the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg). The caption translates as “Child abducted by nomads.” I have transcribed the corresponding article here. Antoinette Mirguet, a 10-year-old girl, was going to school, when she was called from a caravan. As soon as she entered it, the man made the horse start. She screamed, but she was threatened with a knife. Approaching the German border, a brave vine grower heard the girl’s screams, and he warned the nomads that he would split their heads with his spade if they did not release their prisoner. Intimidated, they released her, and her savior could bring her back to her parents.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 585 (2 February 1902) - Enfant enlevée par des nomades

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 585 (2 February 1902) – Enfant enlevée par des nomades

This second image, also downloaded from Gallica, can be found on Cent.ans with the transcription of the corresponding article. Calling for an “energetic law” against vagrants, it tells how a gang of nomads assaulted a 11-year-old girl who was going back home from school, taking her to a caravan. But she resisted bitterly and screamed desperately, so that the Roma had to abandon her and flee.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 1082 (13 August 1911) - Fillette enlevée par des bohémiens

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 1082 (13 August 1911) – Fillette enlevée par des bohémiens

This third image comes from Cent.ans. I do not have the corresponding article. The caption, titled “A caravan went by…”, tells that a 9-year-old girl was playing when she was abducted by a Rom, tied up and gagged, then brought into his caravan, which departed. But the child managed to escape.

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1675 (28 January 1923) - Une roulotte passa...

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1675 (28 January 1923) – Une roulotte passa…

In this collection I also found several images about Roma girls, with a quite different tone. The following one comes from Cent.ans. I do not have the corresponding article. The caption tells that a little Roma girl was going to her parents’ caravan with a basket full of fish. Then wild cats, attracted by the smell, attacked her and disfigured her. Readers will notice that no mention is made about rescuing her.

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1656 (17 September 1922) - Attaquée par des chats affamés

Le Petit Journal Illustré no. 1656 (17 September 1922) – Attaquée par des chats affamés

The next image, downloaded from Gallica, illustrates the theme of Roma teenagers being precocious criminals: “A farmer woman attacked by Roma.” The corresponding article (with the image) is found on Cent.ans. It says that two “impudent daughters of Bohemia,” “Roma of pure race,” were begging for food. As the farmer woman said she had no food to give them, they assaulted her. Her screams attracted her husband and a hunter. The two Roma escaped but were afterwards arrested and jailed. They were aged 15 and 17. The article ends by calling on the State to address the “scourge” of people without regular home or employment.

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 782 (12 November 1905) - Une fermière attaquée par des bohémiennes

Le Petit Journal Supplément Illustré no. 782 (12 November 1905) – Une fermière attaquée par des bohémiennes

There is also an image and an article (in No. 877 dated 8 September 1907) about Roma releasing a bear in a sheep enclosure, together with a longer one about the origin and customs of the Roma people, repeating the usual stereotypes mixing the fascination for their picturesque life with their labeling as “lazy” and “born criminal”.

The child abduction libel against Roma is also found in “children’s songs” or “nursery rhymes,” which were told to children to warn them against approaching Roma. The following one is famous in the English-speaking world:

My Mother Said… (Anonymous “Children’s Song”)

My Mother said, I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
If I did, she would say;
‘Naughty girl to disobey!

Your hair shan’t curl and your shoes shan’t shine,
You gypsy girl, you shan’t be mine!’
And my father said that if I did,
He’d rap my head with the teapot lid.

My mother said that I never should
Play with the gypsies in the wood.
The wood was dark, the grass was green;
By came Sally with a tambourine.

I went to sea – no ship to get across;
I paid ten shillings for a blind white horse.
I upped on his back and was off in a crack,
Sally tell my mother I shall never come back.

These accusations repeated for centuries rest on nothing. Thomas Acton, Emeritus Professor of Romani Studies, University of Greenwich, clearly stated: “I know of no documented case of Roma / Gypsies / Travellers stealing non-Gypsy children anywhere.” In a letter to Dennis Marlock dated August 2nd, 1990 (quoted by Ian Hancock), he wrote:

Compared with the massive record of murder, theft, kidnapping and other crimes by non-Gypsies against Gypsies throughout history, Gypsy crime against non-Gypsies pales almost into insignificance, so that to prioritize the study of the latter over the former shows a twisted sense of values.

To finish, readers who want to learn more about the history of the persecution of Roma in Europe, can watch the Holocaust Living History Workshop video Porrajmos: The Romani and the Holocaust with Ian Hancock, produced by University of California Television.

Delphine Blais

After Alexandre Lamotte, I will present another painter from Carré d’artistes.

Delphine Blais was born on February 15th, 1971 in Rouen (Northwestern France). She soon developed a taste for drawing, painting and sculpture. In 1993 she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Bordeaux (Southwestern France). Her art career was interspersed with raising two children in the early 2000s and then animating art workshops for children as well as adults.

Her technique mixes collage with acrylic painting. She glues on a support little pieces of various old material, in particular found in flea markets: wallpaper, handwritten letters, vintage photographs, fabric or lace. Then she paints over them figures of women made of successive layers of colour. In her Carré d’artistes webpage, they have been compared to stalagmites (although I tend to think rather of a kebab). On top of their elongated body stands a tiny minimalist head. Thus all emotions are conveyed by the colours and by the posture and movement of the body.

I bought one of her works, which shows a painted woman beside a vintage photograph of a little girl. It is a painted collage on a 13cm×13cm cardboard, itself glued to a larger white support that I surrounded by a black frame. Here is the photograph I took from it; I cropped it slightly outside the collage, so that one can see its irregular border and its relief above the support.

Delphine Blais - Angèle (c2016)

Delphine Blais – Angèle (c2016)

I show next reproductions of two other of her painted collages, from her Carré d’artistes webpage; I chose them because they also mix painted women with vintage photographs of little girls. The first one is 13cm×13cm, the second one is 19cm×19cm.

Delphine Blais - Félicie (c2016)

Delphine Blais – Félicie (c2016)

Delphine Blais - Suzanne (c2016)

Delphine Blais – Suzanne (c2016)

Finally I show a picture of the artist at work, from the information leaflet about her made by Carré d’artistes:

(Unknown photographer) – Delphine Blais at work

(Unknown photographer) – Delphine Blais at work

Links:

Alexandre Lamotte: Langoureuse

Last April, I bought at Carré d’artistes a second watercolor painting by Alexandre Lamotte. Its French title Langoureuse means “languorous,” and indeed I find it soft and sensuous. It is one of my loveliest, and it hangs above my bed.

Compared to the previous one, it is slightly smaller (25cm×25cm instead of 36cm×36cm); as in the latter, there is a white cardboard inside the frame surrounding the picture, but given the smaller size of the painting, I have cropped the photograph to remove it. Without professional equipment, it is difficult to reproduce exactly the tones and colors of a watercolor having a weak color contrast. Of all my shots and computerized contrast enhancements, I chose the version that seems to me the most emotional. So the background looks a little bit bluish, while in reality it is beige.

Alexandre Lamotte - Langoureuse (2016)

Alexandre Lamotte – Langoureuse (2016)

At Carré d’artistes, paintings rotate between their various galleries. Indeed, the week after I bought Langoureuse, all unsold works by Lamotte had been removed. But the staff told me that he has now other projects beside painting, so instead of being sent to another gallery, his works were returned to him. And his webpage on their site has been reduced to his biography.  They removed the image of one of his paintings that appeared on it; however I had saved it, so I give it here.

Alexandre Lamotte - Carre-d'artistes website (title and year unknown)

Alexandre Lamotte – Carre-d’artistes website (title and year unknown)

Modern and Vintage Dolls

In a previous article last year, I introduced the topic of porcelain dolls, illustrating it with my own acquisitions. My collection having grown both in quantity and in diversity, I think that the time has now come to post a sequel.

There are many types of dolls. First they can be made with various materials: cloth, plastic, etc. The ones I own have their head (and generally the visible body parts such as hands) made from a matte type of porcelain (without enamel) called bisque (biscuit in French). But the rest of the body can be made in several ways, as I will explain. Then they can represent different types of people. Mine belong to the category called baby (bébé in French), which means in fact small children; but in that category, I never buy babies and toddlers, nor boys; I collect only girls looking to be between the ages of 5 and 12. Finally, dolls vary according to the epoch of their making. My previous article showed what one calls modern dolls, most of them were recent models produced for the tourist market.

I will start with five modern dolls bought since last year. Their head, hands and forearms, feet and lower legs are in bisque, but the rest of the body is made with padded tissue. The assembling of limbs is not always perfect, so that while they are held from their waist on a metallic holder (under their dress), their hanging legs can slightly slant to one side, and their feet be somewhat turned. One can minimize this defect in photography by taking the picture from a suitable angle and rotating it by 1 or 2 degrees.

I show first a small redhead (40 cm without the hat), with rustic clothes.

Doll_RH

The next four dolls (as the last two in the previous article) were made by the German company Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH, whose brand name is rf collection. On the label one can read:

Decorative doll for collectors, minimum age: 14 years!
No toy! Small parts can break and be swallowed!

Indeed, they are not intended for little girls, but for adults. I show here my two loveliest ones. I consider them twins: I bought them on the same day, they have the same size (42 cm without the hat), and their clothes are similar.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection no. 120691 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection no. 120691 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection no. 120707 (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection no. 120707 (2016)

The next one is peculiar; she is not standing, but she has to sit on a chair (her knees are folded); she is approximately 55 cm long.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2016)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2016)

I call the last one (54 cm without the hat) the green fairy, because of her green dress, but also because she stands next to the glass cabinet where I keep my absinthe.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2015)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2015)

Photographed from another angle, she seems to be dreaming.

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH - rf collection (2015)

Reinart Faelens Kunstgewerbe GmbH – rf collection (2015)

Now I show my big doll, she measures exactly one meter. I bought her last year in a flea market in Strasbourg. As with modern dolls, her head and hands are in bisque, and her body in padded tissue, but her lower legs and feet seem to be made of painted tissue covering some light and flexible matter, maybe cardboard. As it often happens with second-hand dolls, her soiled face needed some washing, and her dusty bloomers and petticoat required a laundry. She has been featured in Agapeta, where I showed her sprawling on a sofa. But I decided that her dignity (and my comfort) required buying a chair for her. And she even got her own doll, a very old one.

Doll_NSD

Before describing the latter, I must introduce the topic of vintage bisque dolls. They often date from the early 20th century, sometimes from the 19th. They are rather expensive, generally costing several hundred euros; I even saw a beautiful 19th century doll by a renowned maker, in perfect condition, priced 13 000 euros! The body can be made from various materials, such as tissue, wood, “composition” (imitation of bisque), or a kind of painted papier mâché. Often the arms are articulated, and instead of dropping, they can be held raised thanks to elastic rubber attached to them inside. Generally the hair and the clothes are recent replacements; in fact they often have real human hair, in contrast to modern dolls that have synthetic hair (hence, because of reflections, they should be photographed without a flash). Given the sophistication of their moving body parts, it seems that they were not decorative dolls, but real toys.

German dolls from the early 20th century usually have the brand name, model and geographic origin engraved at the back of the head. This one is a series 250.0 of the maker Ernst Heubach in Koppelsdorf, Germany. I bought it from an antiquarian in Strasbourg, who dates it from around 1900. As another site states: “The Germany inscription reinforces the early 1900 date. Starting in the early 1920’s the US started requiring the ‘Made in Germany’ mark on imports.” She has “sleeping eyes”, that is, her upper eyelids close when she lies on her back. Her articulated shoulders and elbows can both fold and rotate as in humans, and her wrists can rotate. Her legs are articulated at the hips and knees (but without elastic to prevent them from dropping down). Note also her open mouth.

Ernst Heubach Dolls, Koppelsdorf, Germany - Heubach Koppelsdorf 250.0 (c.1900--1920)

Ernst Heubach Dolls, Koppelsdorf, Germany – Heubach Koppelsdorf 250.0 (1900–1920)

I bought the next vintage doll at the Musée de la Poupée in Paris. It is a series MOA 200 made for the brand Welsch & Company by Max Oscar Arnold in Neustadt, Germany. I was told that it is dated 1940; however I think it could perhaps be older, since according to the reference site, the Max Oscar Arnold Doll Company operated until 1930. Since she wears a nightgown, I put her in my bedroom. She also has an open mouth, limbs rotating and folding at the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows, and rotating wrists. I had to untangle her hair, but I do not dare use a comb to groom it, since it might be torn from the felt scalp—so I leave it wildly spread around her face.

Max Oscar Arnold Dolls, Neustadt, Germany - MOA 200 Welsch (c.1940)

Max Oscar Arnold Dolls, Neustadt, Germany – MOA 200 Welsch (c1940)

Readers who looked carefully at the previous post may have noticed that another doll was standing at that place in my bedroom; indeed the latter moved to my kitchen.

My last doll, the most expensive one, was also bought at the Musée de la Poupée in Paris. They date it 1945. It was made by Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA, USA. Her arms and legs are rigid; they move only at the elbows and hips. But while the trunk and limbs of the two German dolls were rather rough in their making, Monica’s body is made in the same material as her face, and with the same quality. So maybe it was a decorative doll, not a toy.

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Here we can see her from another angle.

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

Monica Doll Studios, Hollywood, CA USA (1945)

I am not sure whether I will buy any more dolls. They fill my apartment, I am starting to run out of room for them.

Alexandre Lamotte

Last December I wanted to offer myself a painting as a Christmas (or New Year’s) gift, so I went into the gallery of Carré d’artistes, which sells paintings by contemporary artists at affordable prices; they propose only original artworks, never copies nor prints, in standardized formats at a fixed price for each size. My sight was attracted by small ones showing girls with strange eyes, painted by Alexandre Lamotte. I chose a 36cm × 36cm watercolor entitled Assoupie (dozing), with a black frame surrounding it. It is now hanging on a wall in my living room, above my computer. With sunny days coming back, I could photograph it without a flash:

Alexandre Lamotte - Assoupie (2015)

Alexandre Lamotte – Assoupie (2015)

Alexandre Lamotte is a French painter born on October 11th, 1976, in La Roche-sur-Yon in the Vendée department bordering the Atlantic Ocean. His biography on Carré d’artistes says:

Alexandre was born and raised in the Vendée region of France. From early childhood, drawing played a vital role in his activities. A creative child, he scribbled and sketched characters straight out of his imagination or inspired from comics.
During adolescence, he was fascinated by supernatural and fairy worlds, feeding on legends and stories and passionate about fantasy worlds. He discovered literature, film and illustration.
Gradually, his drawings became coloured and painting made its appearance in Alexandre’s creations. He decided to make art his career and began art studies, which he quickly left, preferring to teach himself. At the age of 20, he met Jacques Bessonnet, a stone sculptor, who shared his passion and his profession. Alexandre extended his skills and added sculpture to his pictorial creations.
A few years later, in the same studio, he met other artists and embarked on the adventure of the association “Village of Painters”. Each year, from April to October, the village of Vouvant (Vendée) becomes a place for pictorial events, exhibitions and artists’ workshops.
Alexandre works principally with paint in black and white. A game of light and shadow, both poetic and Gothic, appears in his works. He blurs the colours and creates graphic lines, traces of his childhood.
Alexandre is inspired by legends, fables and stories, as well as science fiction. He feeds on topics such as women and children, which are very present in his works.
He seeks a form of escapism through imagination: dreams begin when his spirit is freed.

Many of his paintings evoke dreamlike memories of the magical world of childhood, and this impression is enhanced by his frequent use of grey or foggy backgrounds, as one can see in the following two works from his web gallery for Artistes pour l’Espoir:

Alexandre Lamotte - (work exhibited at Artistes pour l'Espoir) (1)

Alexandre Lamotte – (work exhibited at Artistes pour l’Espoir) (1)

Alexandre Lamotte - (work exhibited at Artistes pour l'Espoir) (2)

Alexandre Lamotte – (work exhibited at Artistes pour l’Espoir) (2)

Lamotte painted many women who unmistakably look adult. But as he started to make small format paintings for Carré d’artistes, his female subjects began to change, becoming “petite women” or young girls, and their eyes acquired a strange fairy-like look, as can be seen in a sample of such works on his website. Below I show one of these paintings, currently on sale:

Alexandre Lamotte - (work for Carré d'Artistes)

Alexandre Lamotte – Baies Roses (2015)

Here are two samples of “works in progress” from a his blog, one sees how the girls look ever younger:

Alexandre Lamotte - (works in progress)

Alexandre Lamotte – (works in progress)

Alexandre Lamotte - "encres" (works in progress)

Alexandre Lamotte – “encres” (works in progress)

Finally I show a picture of the artist at work, from the information leaflet by Carré d’artistes:

(Unknown photographer) - Alexandre Lamotte at work

(Unknown photographer) – Alexandre Lamotte at work

Biographical information on Alexandre Lamotte (in French) and further samples of his work can be found in the following links:

Most images shown here belong to the artist and are taken from his websites. Do not use them publicly without citing their authorship and origin (or, for commercial purposes, without the express permission of the artist).

William Sergeant Kendall and his Daughters

William Sergeant Kendall (1869–1938) was an American painter and occasional sculptor who is chiefly remembered for painting his wife and three daughters.

After studying art in New York City, he enrolled at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris from 1888 to 1892. He first earned fame for having a work accepted at the Paris Salon and awarded an honorable mention. He returned to New York City in 1892 and taught painting to women at the Cooper Union from 1892 to 1895. Early in 1896 he married Margaret Weston Stickney, one of his students. They had three daughters: Elisabeth (1896), Beatrice (1902) and Alison (1907). Kendall also taught at Yale University, and was head of its School of Fine Arts from 1913 to 1922. In the fall of 1921, the Kendalls were divorced. In 1922 he resigned from Yale and sold his house; then he married his student and occasional model Christine Herter, aged 32, whom he had befriended when she was a teenager. The couple moved to an isolated, mountainous area near Hot Springs, Virginia, where Kendall continued to paint and exhibit until his death.

He used his daughters as models for many of his works, so during about 25 years he produced paintings of young girls. As there are several portraits of his family at different times—for instance The Artist’s Wife and Daughters (1906)—it is often possible to recognize the girls in his more allegorical paintings.

Pigtails in Paint has shown his painting Psyche (1909), which portrays his eldest daughter Elisabeth, aged 13.  At age 5, his second daughter Beatrice was the model for Narcissa (1907) (source of the image: MutualArt.com):

William Sergeant Kendall - Narcissa (1907) - from MutualArt.com

William Sergeant Kendall – Narcissa (1907)

His third daughter Alison appears in two beautiful paintings. According to Brooklyn Museum, A Statuette is dated approximately 1914, but signed 1915 by Kendall; I would tend to agree with 1915, as the girl looks 8 years old rather than 7:

William Sergeant Kendall - A Statuette (1914/1915) - from Brooklyn Museum

William Sergeant Kendall – A Statuette (1914/1915)

The second painting A Child was sold by A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC; they date it 1918 and say that it portrays Alison; indeed her appearance seems to match her age of 11:

William Sergeant Kendall - A Child (1918) - from A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC

William Sergeant Kendall – A Child (1918)

There are other girl paintings by Kendall where I do not recognize one of his daughters, for instance Crosslights (1913).

Anne Underwood Enslow, granddaughter of Elisabeth, has made a website on her great-grandfather William Sergeant Kendall. It contains many family paintings, identifying the people portrayed.

Science at Age 9: Emily Rosa

Linda Rosa - Emily Rosa at age 11 (1998)

Linda Rosa – Emily Rosa at age 11 (1998)

One usually considers children as naive, even gullible, and living in a magical fairy-tale world. However, when adults put their trust in them, children can show themselves to be logical, skeptical and even scientific.

Emily Rosa was born on February 6th 1987 in Loveland, Colorado. In 1996, she saw a video about the so-called Therapeutic Touch, a quack medicine whose practitioners claimed they could feel the “Human Energy Field.” Astonished, Emily decided to scientifically test that claim. For her 4th grade science fair she devised a simple and elegant experimental protocol; technically speaking, it was single-blind, which means that the subject is not aware of the experiment’s procedure and development, while the experimenter knows it. Through two sessions, 21 Therapeutic Touch practitioners were asked to sit at a table and extend their hands through a screen; on the other side of the screen, Rosa randomly selected (by flipping a coin) which of the practitioner’s hands she would hold her hand over. Then they were asked to state whether her unseen hand hovered above their right hand or their left hand; the practitioners identified the correct hand in only 123 (44%) of 280 trials. This shows that they were unable to detect the investigator’s so-called “energy field.” This experiment led to a scientific paper co-authored with her mother Linda Rosa, a registered nurse, her stepfather Larry Sarner, who made the statistical calculations, and Stephen Barrett, an MD who suggested the publication of the results. It appeared on April 1, 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a renowned peer-reviewed medical journal.

Emily performed this research at age 9, and the result was published when she was 11 years old. For this she holds the Guinness World Record for the youngest person to have research published in a scientific or medical journal.

Emily Rosa Wikipedia page.

The above photograph is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Francis Chantrey: The Sleeping Children

In a corner of Lichfield Cathedral (Lichfield, Staffordshire, England) lies since 1817 a white marble statue depicting two girls asleep in each other’s arms on a bed. It was carved by the sculptor Francis Legatt Chantrey, who presented it at the Royal Academy Art Exhibition of 1816, and it is considered one of his finest works. Behind and above the statue stands a black marble plaque, see the following image (from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license):

Francis Chantrey - The Sleeping Children (1817) - photographed for Wikipedia by Bs0u10e01 (8 June 2011)

Francis Chantrey – The Sleeping Children (1817) – photographed for Wikipedia by Bs0u10e01 (8 June 2011)

It represents the tribute of a bereaved woman to her deceased family. Ellen-Jane Robinson (née Woodhouse) lost her husband, the Reverend William Robinson, in 1812. Then she witnessed the death of her eldest daughter, also named Ellen-Jane, in 1813, followed by her younger daughter, Marianne, in 1814. She commissioned Francis Chantrey to immortalize the two girls; she told him of how in the past she had watched as her daughters fell asleep in each other’s arms, and this was how she wanted them remembered. She took inspiration from the monument to Penelope Boothby by Thomas Banks in St. Oswald’s Church, Ashbourne; thus Chantrey visited it before starting his work. The black marble plate is dedicated to her husband William Robinson. The next image (also from Wikipedia, copyright-free) shows the statue from another angle:

Francis Chantrey - The Sleeping Children (1817) - photographed for Wikipedia by Villafanuk (15 February 2006)

Francis Chantrey – The Sleeping Children (1817) – photographed for Wikipedia by Villafanuk (15 February 2006)

Note that Brooke Boothby, Penelope’s father, was also involved with the Lichfield Cathedral, in particular for the purchase of its 16th-century stained glass in 1801. There is another link between the two sculptures: poetry. In 1796, Brooke Boothby published a collection of poems grieving his daughter: Sorrows. Sacred to the Memory of Penelope. A transcription (by Bonita Billman) of a selection of 8 sonnets was published on Internet by Sonnet Central and by Wikisource. I corrected one of them and transcribed 6 other sonnets and one elegy in three blog posts (here, here and here). In 1826 the poet William Lisle Bowles wrote the poem “Chantrey’s Sleeping Children” about the Lichfield Cathedral sculpture (see also Wikipedia).

The following beautiful close-up photograph was used to illustrate the poem “Norse Lullaby” by Eugene Field (1850–1895), which repeats the refrain “Sleep, little one, sleep”. The strangest of it all is that it appeared in a blog “dedicated to sleep and sleep disorders, particularly obstructive sleep apnea“, and the post with the poem and picture has its title starting with “Three Steps to Sleep”, with categories “dreams”, “sleep”, “sleep apnea” and “sleep disorders”! I doubt whether poetry has ever been used to cure sleep apnea, but this would certainly represent the most charming form of medicine.

Francis Chantrey - The Sleeping Children (1817) - from cpapsociety.com

Francis Chantrey – The Sleeping Children (1817) – from cpapsociety.com

In 2008, Branislav L. Slantchev made a photo report on the Lichfield cathedral; it contains a wide-angle photograph of the statue under the church’s stained glass, and a close-up of the two children’s faces; both are copyrighted by the author.

Acknowledgement. This post originated from a comment to my Penelope Boothby post by the blogger DR Walker. His post dated July 26th 2015 contains several photographs of the Boothby monument and of the Sleeping Children.