This has to be one of the strangest art stories of the year (and thus it appears on Ionarts), in just under the wire. It concerns Pierre Loti (1850–1923), usually known for his novels, and his "first work," figurines he made for a toy theater when he was between the ages of 7 and 12. Jean-Michel Othoniel has used them in an actual theatrical production after finding them in the attic of the Maison Pierre Loti. I read about it in an article by Esther Moschkowitz (Le tout petit théâtre de Pierre Loti, December 28) for Le Figaro (my translation):
At the age of 7, Pierre Loti met his first love, Jeanne, who was two years younger. One day, she told him admiringly the fairy tale of Peau d'âne, which she had seen performed in Paris. Amazed, they decided to perform it themselves in the boy's little marionnette theater. So they made all kinds of characters inspired by Perrault's story: with cherry pits for heads, matches for arms, box pieces for legs. Then, imagination ended up going beyond just the simple universe of Peau d'âne, and a whole miniature world of fairies, elves, gnomes, princesses, and exotic monsters took shape. When Jeanne got tired of it, the young inventor continued to invent fairytale sets, fantastic palaces, and especially lots of characters to inhabit these enchanted places. But, at 15, Pierre Loti put all of his work in a box that he never opened again. Nevertheless, he hoped that "one day, unknown successors, delving into the depths of the most mysterious closets, would make the stunning discovery of legions of little characters" (from Pierre Loti, Le Roman d'un enfant). [That link is to the electronic text from Gallica, but you can also buy the book in the old codex technology.]There is also this article (Le plasticien Jean-Michel Othoniel ressuscite le petit théâtre de Pierre Loti, December 29) from Agence France-Presse. The production will be at the Théâtre de la Coupe d'or, in Rochefort-sur-Mer, until January 15, 2005. It will then move to the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Paris, from February 7 to 13. Othoniel's most recent show, I think, was Crystal Palace, at the Fondation Cartier from October 31, 2003, to January 11, 2004.
Available from Amazon:
Pierre Loti, Le Roman d'un enfant (1890)
A creator has unearthed these figurines from the attic of his house and has created for them a set appropriate to their size and imagination: it's Jean-Michel Othoniel [b. 1964], designer of the entrance to the Métro at the Palais-Royal. That's how Le Petit Théâtre was reborn and is in on exhibit in Rochefort-sur-Mer, Pierre Loti's birthplace, at the Théâtre de la Coupe d'or and in the entryway of the Théâtre du Châtelet.
The fairytale, about a princess who escapes from an unwanted marriage by wearing a donkey's skin and becoming a peasant, also inspired filmmaker Jacques Demy, who made a beautiful film on Peau d'âne (1970), starring Catherine Deneuve.