Tiller Family Marionette Company
Carved wooden marionette with painted decoration
Late 19th century
Museum no. S.285-1999
The speciality act figures in the Tiller-Clowes troupe include a juggler, a pole-balancer, three Chinese bell-ringers, two stilt-walking drunken clowns, an expanding skeleton and a trick puppet with three heads. In a programme these would have been used by the marionette showman as 'curtain-raisers', before the main play, or as 'entr-actes' acts between plays.
Acts and plays in Victorian marionette theatre mirrored popular real theatre, and this marionette was modelled on the great French tightrope walker known as Blondin. After 1859 when Blondin walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, he appeared frequently in Europe, amazing audiences with his tightrope walking, sometimes carrying other people. Like all the figures in the Tiller-Clowes troupe, this marionette is quite heavy and would have been tiring to manipulate. His head, yoke, lower arms, hands, lower legs and balancing pole are made from carved wood, while his body is made of stuffed coarse cotton.