The Teacher's Spectacles

The College art collections comprise works of sculpture as well as paintings. A particularly fine bronze is entitled 'Lunettes du Professeur' by the French sculptor Emile-Edmond Peynot.

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Bronze sculpture of a French boy trying on spectacles

It purports to show a school pupil who has climbed on a book in order to sit on teacher's chair (or, as his legs seem long enough anyway, perhaps he is stamping down on learning?) Whilst ensconced he ostentatiously tries on the teacher's spectacles, no doubt to hoots of derision from his fellow pupils. It was 1937 the last time the museum published on this item, so let's take a look at how our understanding of the object has changed in the intervening period.

The item was purchased in November 1936 and used to be displayed in the entrance hall of the BOA headquarters in Brook Street. In December 1937 John Sutcliffe wrote in the Dioptric Review that it was the work of E. Peynot. Who he was we have been unable to find out despite extensive search in reference books, libraries and art galleries...the information would be of interest, for he appears to have possessed considerable ability. Sutcliffe studied the rush-bottomed chair and the style of spectacle frame and came to the conclusion that the sculpture dated from circa 1850. In fact we now know that E. Peynot was only born that year and, indeed, had only recently died, in 1932, so it cannot have been all that old a piece when purchased and it is less surprising that Peynot's name was not yet widely known in England. Peynot was certainly noted in his native France for his figurative bronzes, for example a pair of courtesans or an arab cleaning his weapons, with dark brown, gold or green patina, often on 'verde antico' marble bases. On the continent he had found fame early in his career, achieving victory in the Prix de Rome sculpture competition in 1880. In 1922 he was still going strong, adapting his talents to products of the modern age, designing a 'Ballot Trumpeter' mascot for a car bonnet. Peynot's work came to prominence in the 2000s when it started to command high prices....John Sutcliffe's investment of £15 started to look like a good one.

The museum also had an innovative idea for the use of this item. It was proposed that the sculpture be hired out to opticians to display in their windows. Commercial window displays were forbidden by the British Optical Association in the 1930s. By the late 1950s they would be illegal (until 1985). This cheeky figure was considered a good compromise for display as something indicative of what went on inside the practice whilst not actually promoting any specific service or product. Whether any members took up the offer to hire the sculpture's services in return for a charitable donation of a few guineas to the London Refraction Hospital remains unknown....but perhaps it will be less than another 80  years before we find the answer in our archives!

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