Friday, February 15, 2013

The Art of Play: Albert Smith’s Mr. Punch

Mr. Punch
Albert Smith
Britain, Late Nineteenth Century
The Victoria & Albert Museum

Dear Mr. Punch always looks basically the same from puppet show to puppet show. Each professor’s figures are slightly different from one another. Of course, he has his large nose, jutting chin, round belly and hunchback. But, sometimes his hair is white, sometimes its brown or ginger, and his expression and costume depend on the wishes of his “master.” Typically, he is outfitted in crimson with gold details, occasionally, he also wears blue. But, he’s always recognizable as Mr. Punch.

This Mr. Punch is one of a set of figures created and used by late Punch and Judy Man, Albert Smith who performed throughout London. This puppet, as was the rest of the set, was made in the late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century. He wears a suit of red corduroy with blue velvet sleeves and metallic gold trim. Beneath his “hunch,” a sleeve of red velvet conceals the professor’s arm. His hands, legs, feet and head are carved from wood which has been painted.

This figure is a little battered, but he would be. Punch gets about some very rough business. In light of that, it’s rather amazing that he’s in such fine condition. Clearly, this puppet was well used and well cared for.

He came to the Victoria & Albert Museum—with his original slapstick as well as his other puppet companions—in 2001 as a gift from the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild.

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