• Another image of MARTIN MONTE À L’ARBRE by [PARIS - JARDIN DU ROI.]
  • Another image of MARTIN MONTE À L’ARBRE by [PARIS - JARDIN DU ROI.]
  • Another image of MARTIN MONTE À L’ARBRE by [PARIS - JARDIN DU ROI.]

MARTIN MONTE À L’ARBRE Jeu de Société. L. Saussine. [n.d. but

ca. 1880-1900.]. Chromolithograph decorative lidded box, 405 x 320 x 50mm; interior divided into three compartments, the larger containing three large chromolithograph playing boards, each with a sliding graduating scale on which the bear can slide, the two side compartments containing a pink cotton drawstring bag of bone tokens, two card ‘faux crocodile skin’ die shakers and two bone die; some signs of wear to all three playing boards, with some minor loss of paper in places, all three somewhat browned and aged; with mounted rules on the inside lid; in the original decorative box, with chromolithograph scene mounted on upper lid depicting the Jardin de Plantes, with a large group of spectators looking down into bear pit, lid a little darkened and soiled, with some darkening and soiling around the edges, some slight scuffing and loss of paper to base, some edge-wear as to be expected; an appealing complete example of a rare and fragile item. A striking game of chance, though very much of its time, ‘celebrating’ the famous bears of the Paris Jardin du Roi. A speed race comprised of three playing boards, each player chooses a bear - either Martin, Coco, or Lebernois, and taking turns to throw the dice moves their bear up the graduated ‘pole’ according to the numbers thrown. Like all games of chance, players risk landing on forfeit squares, printed in red and green, which will force either a return to the start, or to slide several places back down the pole. The first to the top (40) wins and claims the stake pot.
The game is similar in style to another Saussine production, ‘Jeu du Mat de Cocagne’ another race game, this time carnival based and racing three male climbers up a greased pole. The present game was reissued during the 1920s.
The Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris was famed not only for its collections, but for its ménagerie located within the botanical gardens of the Jardin du Roi. Formalised in 1794 after the revolution, guide books for the museum and the gardens soon became popular, published regularly, and which took visitors on a walking tour of the various notable attractions, including cages of ‘ferocious beasts’, an aviary, a monkey gallery, the famous rotunda housing large herbivores, including giraffes and elephants. Bear pits were first created in 1805, and early residents were confiscated from bear trainers, and soon gained a reputation for their ferocity, after two visitors (in 1814 and 1820) were killed having rashly entered the enclosure. Indeed the latter incident prompted something of a public outcry, the first ‘Martin Bear’ (‘L’ours Martin’ so named after Saint-Martin, protector of the poor and ‘bear hunter’) effectively put on trial for his crime. This ‘homicide’, whilst treated by some as a legitimate crime, also became the focus of various parodic pamphlets, putting humanity itself on defence for wrongly ‘oppressing’ others of Martin’s kind, who were only acting according to nature. These tragic incidents nevertheless helped to create public sympathy for the bears, and they became a popular attraction, entertaining generations of families through both their antics and ferociousness. As the present end of the century games suggests, they were still a major attraction, the animal collection seen as a positive way to broaden the horizons of Parisians and those from further afield.

Bibliography: See Paula Young Lee ‘The Curious Affair of Monsieur Martin the bear’, Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies Vol. 33 (no. 4) 2010.

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