Pair of Tole Figures, c. 1830-40

Pair of tole figures, each dressed in traditional costume and carrying buckets.

Switzerland c. 1820-40
13 -" tall x 5" base


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Condition: These rare statuettes survive in fine condition. The male figure is practically untouched; the face, arms and portions of the female's clothing are restored.

For decades, tole figures of this type- a man and woman dressed in traditional rural costume with buckets strapped to their backs- have been thought to depict French grape pickers. In fact, they are neither French nor grape pickers. They're Swiss shepherds and the buckets are for carrying milk.

Constructed like traditional barrels with wooden staves and metal hoops, these are flattened ovals, suiting them for carrying on the back. Notice the bottom is slightly wider than the top, further suiting them for holding liquid. (They would have had wooden lids, but as these figures were intended for dried flowers etc., they probably never had tops.)

Her bright yellow hat, festooned with flowers was a common sight throughout Switzerland. (See photo.)

His costume, which includes a close fitting cap, open vest, stockings and buckled shoes, was also seen throughout region. Note also his mutton chop sideburns!

There was a vibrant tourist industry in the 19th century that stretched from Austria in the east through Bavaria and the Tyrol and into Switzerland in the south and west. Tourists from England and across Europe flocked to this region to escape the dirt and noise of the big cities to admire the natural beauty and the idealized rural lifestyles. Tourists then, as now, bought souvenirs and these figures were undoubtedly made for that market.

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