Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story Opens Oct. 28 at the Toledo Museum of Art

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In 1917, their sale was hailed as the “greatest single purchase made at the Allied Bazaar,” a World War I-era fundraiser in New York.

marissa_the_dolls_3_1200pxThe 78 fashion figures, known then as the Doucet Dolls, were made using couture-quality fabrics and surplus mold-making materials from France’s premiere factories at Limoges and Sèvres.

The winning bidder? Toledo Museum of Art founder Edward Drummond Libbey, who purchased the collection for $30,000 (the equivalent of about $680,000 today), beating out newspaper giant M. H. de Young, among others, and contributing to the war relief fund in the process.

The collection was renamed the “Libbey Dolls” and put on display at the Museum from 1917 until 1972, when the figures were pulled from permanent view.

Now, they return to the galleries Oct. 28, 2016-Feb. 12, 2017 in Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story, an exhibition exploring the story of the collection while showcasing the dolls’ relationship to fashion and the art world.

The Libbey Dolls were a product of the World War I aid effort, when the porcelain factories at Limoges and Sèvres attempted to recover by putting wounded soldiers, out-of-work artisans and young men back to work making French novelties. The dolls were then shipped off to the United States to become part of a traveling exhibition marketing the talents and history of the French.

“They weren’t really considered dolls, at least not in our modern sense of the term,” said Marissa Stevenson, the art conservation intern tasked with researching the objects for the exhibition. “They are representative fashion figures, depicting French style from A.D. 493 to 1915. No detail was spared making them.”

Inspiration for the figures came from works of art by great French artists such as Nicolas Lancret and Louis-Léopold Boilly, drawn from an 1864 publication by engravers Hippolyte Louis Émile Pauquet and Polydore Jean Charles Pauquet called “Modes et Costume Historiques.” The dolls also represent dress from historical fashion publications, among them “Costume Parisien,” and contemporary stage actresses of the day, such as Gabrielle Dorziat, further highlighting French culture.

marissa_the_dolls_8_1200pxUsing surplus porcelain mold materials, the faces, arms and legs were fabricated in wax and plaster and painted in the likeness of the characters they represent. The figures were dressed using fabric remnants by prominent French couturier of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Jacques Doucet (1853–1929). By the height of the Belle Époque at the turn of the century, the House of Doucet was highly sought after for its elegant garments.

“Doucet could be considered one of the grandfathers of haute couture,” Stevenson said. “He was the epitome of what we consider a fashion designer today.”

Each Doucet-clothed doll was meticulously and individually crafted down to the smallest detail. The elaborate costumes exhibit the same high degree of detail and finesse as Doucet’s full-scale garments. The ornate hats were fashioned by Marie Crozet, a coveted milliner of women’s hats and Doucet’s store neighbor.

“Doucet really pioneered the connection between fashion and the arts as we see it today – he had strong relationships with artists, writers and other creatives of the time,” Stevenson said. “The dolls are really a fascinating window into his work and influences.”

Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story is made possible by members of the Toledo Museum of Art and a sustainability grant from the Ohio Arts Council. Admission to the Museum and to the exhibition, on view in Gallery 18, is free.For more information, visit toledomuseum.org or call 1-419-255-8000.

For more information, visit toledomuseum.org or call 1-419-255-8000.


2 Responses to “Libbey Dolls: Fashioning the Story Opens Oct. 28 at the Toledo Museum of Art”

  1. Pam Peters LeDc says:

    I am so thrilled that I will get to see these beautiful dolls once again! I used to visit this exhibit every Saturday when I took my art classes at the museum on Saturdays throughout elementary school and high school and later as a college student. They are beautiful beyond belief. The detail on each outfit is incredible. One day they were simply “GONE!” I was heartbroken when the museum pulled the display in the 1970’s. I was told that they were too fragile to display any longer and they were at risk of deteriorating. So glad this exhibit will be enjoyed by other Toledoans and may little girls who will be impressed by the clothing and the beauty of these dolls. Thanks to Edward Drummond Libbey,for this amazing acquisition.

  2. January 13,2017
    Yesterday three of us traveled from Cleveland in the fog and rain to see the Libbey Dolls. It was so worth it! Loved every minute there. I remember them from over 60 years ago when I took art lessons there. They fascinated me. I now have a doll collection of my own and am sure these dolls were a big influence.
    My only disappointment was there was nothing in the gift shop with photos of the dolls like post cards or note cards to purchase.
    Thanks for putting them out again and respecting their conservation.


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