Six friezes for a paper theatre, 1880-1920
I have been rather busy of late, as the tidal wave of consequences from the Referendum has swept over and fundamentally altered my place of work, and so it's been hard to find time to think about landscape and art. However, I've just looked back at some draft posts and come upon the material here, which I wrote in 2011 after reading Will Schofield's 50Watts blog, where he reproduced various sets of scenery, like the one above, from a Dutch Puppetry Museum database. They are all in muted colours, like memories of childhood. When we were growing up I wasn't that taken with the Pollock’s Toy Theatre my parents got us; more recently, however, my sons did play a little with a Czech magnetic theatre. The novelty wore off quite quickly though. In an essay on the toy theatre, Robert Louis Stevenson looked back on the pleasure he had experienced admiring and painting these scenes and figures. But then what? 'You might as well set up a scene or two to look at, but to cut the figures out was simply sacrilege; nor could any child twice court the tedium, the worry, and the long-drawn disenchantment of an actual performance.'
Another of my favourite blogs back in 2011, the now defunct Venetian Red, did an informative post on the history of toy theatres and their enthusiasts (you can read it here). Writers and artists who remembered them with fondness included Goethe, Jack B. Yeats, Cocteau and Chesterton, who asked
“has not everyone noticed how sweet and startling any landscape looks when seen through an arch? This strong, square shape, this shutting off of everything else, is not only an assistance to beauty; it is the essential of beauty… This is especially true of toy theatre, that by reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events… Because it is small it could easily represent the Day of Judgement. Exactly in so far as it is limited, so far it could play easily with falling cities or with falling stars.”
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Coulisses de Forêt, 1889
Source: Geheugen van Nederland
It is a month later and I have just seen a toy theatre - the one used at the start of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. As I mention in my most recent post, I visited the Bergmancentrer on Fårö and it is on display there. I have included a photograph below (sorry about the unavoidable reflection from the window opposite). The sign above the stage means 'Not for Pleasure Alone'. The film begins with running water and then cuts to this theatre, where a young boy's face is revealed as he pulls up the background landscape scenery.