Nostalgia - Inconnue de la Seine

Some years ago when I still did the "Finds of the week" posts, I had some called "I'm a collector" in which I shared vintage items.
Over time my collections have mostly stopped growing due to different reasons, but they are still there and still loved. I also have vintage items, some inherited, some gifts, some from fleamarkets, some more interesting than others.
So I thought it could be fun to share some of them every, now and then and tell their story.

I'll start with L'Inconnue de la Seine - The Unknown of the Seine - who is also called La Belle Italienne in the USA.
You can find the story online a thousand times, the beautiful young girl who drowned in the Seine, probably a suicide as there was no sign of violence to be found, the pathologist in the Paris Morgue who was so enchanted by her beautiful face and smile that he took a plaster mold of her face from which casts were made to be sold.
So sad, so mysterious - just the kind of tale we still like today, so it comes up from time to time.
Back then the Bohemians of Paris hung that mask in their halls, artists and writers were inspired by the "drowned Mona Lisa" as Camus called her and who is said to be the most kissed face in the world after the first CPR doll was modeled after our beautiful unknown girl.

Later there were doubts about the possible truth of the tale. Cast makers and doctors said there is a difference between life and death masks, even more so if the dead person was in the water. Was it just a smart advertising move to sell more masks?
Whatever the truth is, the girl made me feel a little uneasy when I was a child. Why yes, we had her hanging at home, and now I'll have her hanging in my home.
I don't know if I ever asked anybody about it, but I remember thinking that it was a very small face before I got old enough to understand that it wasn't a 1:1 cast.
Now a friend of mine shared the story because she found the part with the CPR doll interesting, and I couldn't help myself, I had to go pester my Mom about the mask. In fact not much pestering was needed. She had taken her down and put her away, but she didn't have a problem finding her, and I have the feeling she didn't mind much having her out of the house after "having to look at her for so long" ;-)
So this here is our Inconnue.

Not all casts are the same. This one has a smile that I actually like better than the original.

Now I got curious if I could find out which of the many manufacturers had made our Inconnue. I found this pottery mark on the back which wasn't that easy to recognize at first, but then it wasn't too hard to find out whose it was, thanks to the website Museum Europäischer Keramikkunst (it's mere coincidence that the club making that site is situated in my own hometown!).
It belongs to the Majolika Keramik Manufaktur Karlsruhe (on whose website here you can see the mark much clearer if you are interested). Unfortunately the mark doesn't give me an idea when exactly they produced these casts, but ours must be from the early 60s.

Do you want to read more?
How about this manufacturer's - Felice Calchi - blog here and here? Both posts are very interesting.
This article from the New York Times was very interesting as well.
I could add so many more, but I think you'll find these by yourself if you have some time on your hands eventually.

So - see you next time on "Nostalgia"? :-)


  1. Replies
    1. It's so fascinating that so many artists were inspired by it!
      I've got a book imagining her as a young French girl who falls in love with an English lord. Although they get along wonderfully, he has to leave the country for Egypt for new duties and a waiting bride, so the girl swallows all her sleeping powder and steps into the Seine.