Jean Charles Pellerin's paper theaters were wildly popular in the nineteenth century. Depicting folk themes, Gothic gardens, domestic drabberies, prison life, and Napoleonic battlefields, these "images d'Épinal" were first commercially produced in 1796 using stencils to hand-color woodcuts.
Pellerin's company unveiled its most lavish production, the "Grand Théâtre Nouveau," in 1896, using a lithographic process. Many of the images featured here come from this set, though some were produced by competitors in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. I cropped out production info for maximum effect, but you can click though each image for more details provided by the Dutch database Geheugen van Nederland.
I'm drawn to the visually disorienting uncut pages of Pellerin's sets, with their mash-ups of scenes and perspectives, floating furniture, doors opening onto doors opening onto curtains, and mirrored-but-not-quite-mirrored glory. Ernst certainly appreciated these surrealist readymades. (Check out my post on his late work Commonplaces.)
I could see myself as a kid patiently cutting tiny oceans out of the sky for tinier clowns to drown in, smiling and a little high on glue.
Agence Eureka provided a few of the images and most of the inspiration for this post.