Hogarth on Vaucanson

When the French inventor/mechanic/clever clogs Jacques de Vaucanson came to London in 1743 to display his incredible automata – as reported in a previous blog – his duck, flute player and tabor player were all the talk of the town. It was shown at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. Nobody had ever seen such life-like machinery, and yet the painter Hogarth was not impressed. This is from John Joseph Merlin The Ingenious Mechanick:

‘a little clockwork machine, with a duck’s head and legs fixed to it… so contrived as to have some resemblance to that fowl’ Its movements he considered ‘all of them the plainest and easiest directions in living movements’, ‘yet for the poorly performing of these few motions, this silly … machine… appears a most complicated, confused and disagreeable object’.

Bet he was delighted when the duck turned out to be a fake.

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