Monday, January 21, 2013

French Paper Theater - d'Epinal No.1579 Part 1

I have a fondness for the paper toy sheets created by the French "d'Epinal" company during the late 1800's.  In late 2012 I did a series of jointed paper dolls I altered based in vintage d'Epinal "Pantin" sheets and today I'm posting about my latest project which is one of the d'Epinal Paper Theaters.

To keep this post from being too long I've broken it up in to two parts.
Welcome to Part 1 - d'Epinal Paper Theater No.1579

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My digitally altered and assembled version of d'Epinal Paper Theater Sheet No. 1579
While many paper theaters of the 1800's and early 1900's were available as a single image; 
 others had to be assembled from sheets where the parts were unassembled.

This was the case with d'Epinal No. 1579. 
It is a deconstructed sheet that required reassembly to form the main portion 
of the theater or "proscenium" as it is also called.

As I've stated in previous posts regarding d'Epinal sheets; 
These were inexpensive paper toy sheets and the print quality is not usually very good. 
This sheet was no exception and quite a bit of digital cleanup was needed 
to achieve the end result I was looking for.

The process of digitally building this vintage paper theater
The above image shows the steps I went through to take a vintage paper theater sheet and digitally enhance it to become the theater set I finally came up with.  Once this was achieve I then made a series of them in various color combinations. (I'll post them all for you next time in Part 2).

For this first post I wanted to talk a bit about this vintage theater 
and the process I took to get the "new" look for it.


Usually d'Epinal sheets are too large to scan in one shot: 
so you either have to scan in sections or take a photograph and work from that.

This project was a digital "piecing" game for starters.
Once I had a full digital sheet to work with on the computer I moved on to cleaning up the image.
Before and After Alteration Examples
The original theater had blunt edges at the base and I wanted them to look more like the footed columns they were, so I digitally extended them. They could easily be cut off if they proved a problem when assembling a theater but I think they add a lot aesthetically and will enjoy having them there when I use the image in digital projects.

The original sheet also has a bit of a side curtain at each column; a red one on the left and a blue on the right. Personally I thought the looked better matching so I made them both blue. There was a substantial amount of color work that needed fixing throughout the parts and while I did not want to take away from the "charm" of the original I tried to clean up or enhance where I could.

This is what my final sheet looked like when I finished all the digital work

Now then I first attempted to assemble this theater, I got it totally and completely wrong.
Prior to this sheet the paper theaters I've worked with were assembled ones or those that formed an "arch" opening with no footer, so that's what I thought I had here - an Arch.

Boy was I wrong and I thought I'd share my giggle with you 
by seeing how I originally constructed this sheet.

Correct Assembly vs Incorrect Assembly
The large outer image is how I incorrectly put it together the first time.
I did not realize that this sheet (in the black box) consisted of 4 pieces and not 3 as I originally assumed. The top piece on the sheet is actually 2 pieces with a very slight separation between them.
These two sections form the middle header and footer (circled) of the theater and are flanked by the columns on either side to finish it off; forming a lengthwise theatrical rectangle.

Boy did it look so much better when assembled the correct way.

So - how did I discover my mistake...
I was looking at some of my other theater sheets and noticed some of them had small "assembled" diagrams in the corner of the sheet to assist the builder in doing the job correctly.

This d'Epinal sheet did not have that perk, yet when I re-studied the image I quickly realized where I got it wrong and then started looking through some of my reference images of  "unknown" paper theaters  and discovered this very one.  I just never associated the two since till now.

Here are a few images of those vintage theaters.
A vintage assembled version of the d'Epinal Theater at The German Ordensmuseum - image found HERE
The colors were so different on this version that I did not readily 
see this was the same theater on the sheet I was working with.

A view of the vintage theater above with out the scenery and fashion figures - image found HERE
I know on occasion d'Epinal sheets can have differently colored versions of the same No. sheet so I'm not sure if that is what happened in this instance or if this is due to sun exposure and fading.
Since I don't know the history of the above assembled theater; It may have been on display for years which would account for fading but if it was stored away then it was probably colored differently.

Here is an earlier 1854 d'Epinal Sheet of this theater with a very strong color scheme
This is a 1854 version of what later became the No. 1579 Theater Sheet

 This early version of this French Theater sheet by d'Epinal has much stornger colors and the print/color process is much higher quality than what was found in the later sheets.
There is even metallic gold ink trim on this example.
This image is from the French Library System - HERE


I also wanted to add a curtain in for my theater to finish it off and while trying to discover what d'Epinal curtain my have originally come with the theater, I discovered this tantalizing site that sells reproduction sheets in Europe.

Many vintage paper theater parts are available in reproduction form as is this set from
This web site ( sells reproductions of wonderful vintage theaters; they even had the curtain that should be used with the theater.
 Using images from their site I digitally constructed what their d'Epinal theater with curtain would look like and this is what I came up with.

Sadly I do not have the correct curtain, so I came up with a nice substitute
 that worked well enough for me. 

Vintage paper theater curtain from the Danish 1924 Illustreret Familie-Journal

I only had 2 d'Epinal curtains and since I did not like either of them for this theater;
I selected this vintage treasure from the Danish publication of Illustreret Familie-Journal

The vintage curtain image I started with was downloaded from Pilllpat (agency-eureka) on Flickr

Once again I did some digital alteration and clean up to the image I was using to arrive 
at the curtains pictured on the right of the above image.

While Red works great with the Theater I also wanted a blue curtain for it;
so a bit more alteration and I had what I was looking for.

Blue version of the vintage curtains.
Add the curtains in with the theater and I get this new look.
My version of the d'Epinal Theater with Familie Journal Curtains
Naturally I had to create lots of color versions of these which I will share in Part 2.
Click HERE for Part 2
Preview of theater color choices with closed curtain backdrop

Preview of theater color choices with open curtain backdrop

I hope you have enjoyed today's post and join me next time for the conclusion.

Till then...


  1. Wouaouh! C'est vraiment beau!!

    1. Merci beaucoup, Sim! J'aime la façon dont il est sorti et je suis heureux que vous avez fait trop.


  2. Hello,
    Very beautiful colors!!!
    The alterations are great!
    Many thanks!

    1. Thanks Sylvie,

      It has taken me several weeks to finish this project but I'm very pleased with the final look of the theaters and curtains. Thank you for letting me know you liked it.

      I hope you will enjoy the next post showing all the fun colors I have for the theater and curtains. I'll try and get it up in the next day or so.


  3. Thank you! These are awesome!

    1. Hey Carmen - I'm so glad you like them! Thanks for letting me know.


  4. Hi, it could be interested to know what are the dimensions of your models. In the early 70s I found in Paris a full set of a miniature theater probably of Swedish brand by the name on the frontispice of the proscenium. Build with wood and furnish with a full collection of sets and "actors", I bought it and completed the stage with elements of Mecano as to be able to makes sets change descending from the grill or slide the sides of the stage. The stage is approximately 70cm wide and high and the proscenium width 30cm. There is room under the stage to have elements of the sets or personages to appear from under the stage. I put lighting to be able to give any atmosphere on the sets. I even added a red velvet curtain which opens like Scala or the Met theaters, Italian style. I used the theater to make my children aware of the great plays of Molière, Racine, Corneille and other great French playwrights which are today considered at school as out of fashion. When they had good marks at school I would organize a performance during the week end. Today they are of course 43 and 50 but remember those days with nostalgia. I still keep the theater although I have no grand children.

    1. Hi Claude - Thanks for letting me know you found my blog and were interested in the theater I've posed here. It sounds like you have a great fondness for these old theaters and I totally agree.

      I work on miniature scale and digital format mostly and I've never assembled a large wood built theater. I'm sure your children were thrilled to have had that experience, so that's wonderful.

      I've posted this theater at a small scale so people can print it out on regular paper and create a very small personal theater. There is just something fun about miniature scale that I can't resist.

      The antique pages I have in my collection for creating theaters range in size but none of the ones I own are much larger than a newspaper page, I only have a small handful of that size. Most of mine are about the size of a Life Magazine or a bit smaller. I learned early on that the larger sheets are hard to store and since I work in small scale my collection has focused on collecting the smaller sheets only. Thanks again for sharing your story with me, I'm sure others will find it interesting as well.

      Best Wishes,
      Evelyn aka EKDuncan