A Selfportrait of a Caricaturist as a Tobacco Pipe

Don Duco

Original Title:
A caricaturist's self-portrait

Publication Year:

Académie Internationale de la Pipe

Le Livre de la Pipe 1994

Discussion of the clay pipe by J. Gambier representing the self-portrait of the sculptor Dantan Jeune from Paris.

From the early nineteenth century onwards a rage among French pipe smokers started to appear in public smoking a figural clay. Portraits of famous man and less in quantity of famous and beloved woman were produced by various manufacturers. This habit started in intellectual layers of society, were people were political and social engaged, especially in the cities. The grace of the French, combined with artistic sympathy for sculpture and the interest in figurating utensils made an extreme variety in figural clay pipes. In this article I pay attention to one specific pipe with an interesting background to the French sculpture and the French society.

Fig. 1a. APM 10.077
Fig. 1b. APM 10.077

The herewith illustrated effigy pipe represents the self-portrait of the sculptor Dantan Jeune. Dantan was a descendent of an artistic family (Figs. 1-3). His full name was Jean Pierre Dantan and he was the younger brother of Antoine Laurent Dantan called Dantan Ainé. From 1823 onwards he studied in the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris as a pupil of a certain Bosio. In 1827 he debuted with busts of portraits that later became his specialization. Shortly thereafter he became famous because of his miniature busts.

In 1830 he exhibited portrait-caricatures and small terra-cotta busts and statuettes in the Salon. These amusing but specially skilful items were admired all over. His "Dantorama" soon became a rage and lithographers and artists copied them. In his "Musée Dantan" Dantan Jeune brought together his works and together with a set of 20 lithographs a general advertising was given. Almost every year Dantan sent work to the "Salon des Soc. d'Art Français". His last contribution was a bust of Beethoven in 1870.

It is quite understandable that his sculptures were imitated by manufacturers of figural clay pipes. His pieces of art show a simple and remarkable quite concept and because of the small-scale they were easy to copy. The Gambier firm, a gigantic pipe factory in Givet in the northern part of France, inspired different pipe designs on the work of Dantan Jeune. Some of them are straight copies, others are more freely inspired on his work.

Fig. 2a. APM 11.585
Fig. 2b. APM 11.585
Fig. 2c. APM 11.585
Fig. 2d. APM 11.585
Fig. 2e. APM 11.585
Fig. 2f. APM 11.585

The self portrait of Dantan is one of the examples of sculptures made into a pipe without any change. The bowl to contain the tobacco was placed in the head and at the backside a short stem was attached with a stub. This part served to put in a wooden stem fitted with horn as smoke tube. These figural pipes never are unique pipes, they were always made in series. Of every pipe design a brass mould is made, which enabled serial production. To prevent the pipe, during the production process to mould damage, a more than two parted mould was used. Between the two main parts of the mould a third and sometimes even a fourth part was placed, which ensured the decoration to leave the mould in perfect condition. Of the Dantan pipe the face was made with a third mould part.

Fig. 3a. APM 8.529
Fig. 3b. APM 8.529
Fig. 3c. APM 8.529
Fig. 3d. APM 8.529
Fig. 3e. APM 8.529

The illustration, which comes from the catalogue of Gambier, does not show the attractive facial expression (Fig. 1). The melancholic gaze and the upward combed forelock together with the slightly pockmarked face give the portrait a confinement charm which almost gives us a look into the personality of the artist. Dantan used to give his caricatures a picture puzzle. An inscription in a kind of hieroglyphic referring to the name of the representative. The Gambier firm copied this puzzle on the collar of the person. On the left side is a tooth and the right side is an angle with scythe in French pronounced as "dent-ange" referring to "Dantan Jeu(ne)".

The design of the stub, in which a separate stem is inserted is done by Gambier. This shows amandel shaped ovals and some lob-shaped leaves on the bottom side of the bust, a design that is quite unusual. Here also the factory mark is stamped while later copies show the full name of the factory and a mould number in relief as well.

The popularity of the Dantan portrait bust has been considerable. The design of this pipe was made before the year 1840 but the period of production runs into the 1890s. It is not impossible that the pipe was sold in the Dantorama of the artist or more likely at the pipeshop in the near surrounding. We may however expect that after the death of Dantan in 1869 little popularity was left for this pipe. For that reason this pipe design is now quite rare.

© Don Duco, Pijpenkabinet Foundation, Leiden – the Netherlands, 1993.

Published as: "A caricaturist's self-portrait", Académie Internationale de la Pipe, Year Book 1994, Paris, 1993, pp. 78-79.


  1. The pipe bowl with caricature of Dantan jeune in the factory catalogue, France, Givet, firm J. Gambier, shape 376, 1868.
    Leiden, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 10.077
  1. Portrait pipe bowl of Dantan jeune with details in painted enamal. France, Givet, firm J. Gambier, shape 376, 1860-1880.
    Leiden, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 11.585
  2. Portrait pipe bowl of Dantan jeune with in lacquer finish. France, Givet, firm J. Gambier, shape 376, 1870-1890.
    Leiden, Pijpenkabinet collections Pk 8.529


Jean-Léo, Les Pipes en Terre Françaises, Bruxelles, 1971, p. 16.

Philippe Sorel, "Les Dantan du Musée Carnavalet", Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 128-1404, Jan. 1986, p. 27, ill. 87.