STEFANIA LAZARSKA : artist's dolls and birth of Boudoir Dolls

During the 19th and early 20th, Paris was considered Europe’s cultural and artistic leader. Artists, especially Russians and Poles, were coming to Paris to complete their training.

Painter Stefania Maria Sophia Lazarska, born in Varsovie in April 1887 in Poland (Russian passport),  came to Paris before WW1, and exhibited at Salon des Arts Décoratifs in 1913 under her maiden name “Krautler” (Krautlerówna ). She married Thadée Lazarski, born in Cracovia in 1884 (Autrichian passport) and who was working as a chemist in Paris at the time.

When WW1 broke, the art market slowed down, and Parisian artist community found themselves in a difficult situation, especially Polish artists, because of Poland specific situation. In 1914, Poland had been dismantled in favor of Germany, Austria-Hungaria and Russia.

Parisian Polish artists who had a German or Austrian passport got imprisoned or exiled by force, leaving their families without any income. The Polish artists having a Russian passport often choose to join the Foreign Legion so to fight alongside the allies, leaving also their families living in Paris without incomes.

Confronted to this tragic reality, Stefania Lazarska had the idea of making cloth dolls and sell them for the profit of the Parisian Polish artists community.

Evidences published after WW1 in Polish news papers suggest it might have been under the advices of Maria Mickiewicz that Stefania Lazarska has formalized in 1915 her production of toys and dolls by the creation of  “Ateliers Artistiques Polonais” (A.A.P.). It also suggests that it is Maria Mickiewicz who has aroused the interest of famous Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski for the cloths dolls made by Stefania Lazarska’s A.A.P.

The collective book “Grafiki Konstantego Brandela” specifies there was a total of 32 Polish artists occupied by the dolls and toys making (including wood furniture for dolls) for A.A.P.

Invitations cards by Stefania Lazarska in 1916 gives 20 names only.

However, Stefania Lazarska said, in an interview (1) during the 1925 Musée des Arts Décoratifs Exhibit that she started her cloth dolls making business in 1914, and was employing by 1915, 210 Polish artists, 72 of them being painters.

Apart from weekly sales each Friday afternoon at Stefania Lazarska own studio located 17 rue Boissonade Paris, it seems that the first exhibit occured at La Vie Féminine in May 1915, then a second one, a prestige exhibit, occurred on the 21st December 1915, at Germain Bongard’s Studio Gallerie rue de Penthièvre, till the 5th January 1916. The A.A.P. creations were exposed together with Germaine Bongard's own human size cloth dolls créations, made of stuffed cloth too.

Germaine Bongard, painter and couturier (Maison Jove), was the sister of couturier Paul Poiret. Her Gallery was frequented by well know artists such as Jean Cocteau, Paul Claudel, Picasso, Matisse, Léger and Modigliani.

Stefania Lazarska has been the very first artist dolls maker to have been invited to present her cloth dolls in a such prestigious Art Gallery. Paul Poiret was so impressed by those incredibly naïve and modern creations that he decided to encourage his “Atelier Martine” students (1) to start the making of cloth dolls too, those having a strong resemblance with Stefania Lazarska’s own creations.

The first dolls created by Stefania Lazaska had their head made according to Ida Gutsell’s method patented in 1893 and copied later by Margareit Steiff : the two parts of the face are reunited by a vertical seam passing from the forehead to the chin through the nose, to provide a tridimentional head. These early Stefania Lazarska dolls represented women and men dressed in outfits of the provinces of Poland.

The first invitation card for the AAP Exhibit at Germain Bongard’s Gallery shows a couple of new dolls representing young children, a girl and a boy, wearing outfits made of colourful silk. These  new dolls were also selected by Edward Lyman, President of the American Polish Victims’Relief Fund, to represent the so called “Mme Paderewski’s dolls” wich were to be promoted and sold in the United States through the efforts of the Paderewski couple for the relief of Polish war victims. (2)

In the U.S. the dolls were baptized (probably by Helena Paderewska herself) “Jan and Halka”, and their names registered by Edward Lyman at the Library of Congress (Departement of Trademarks) the 15th and 17th August 1915, at the same time the dolls were placed on exhibition in the rooms of the Polish Victim’s Releif Fund in New York.

These dolls show very specific hands, wide open, with five individual fingers, these particularity allowing us to attribute their creation to painter Stefania Fiszer.

Some of Stefania Fiszer’s illustrations representing her dolls with those particular hands have been preserved at the Paris Polish Library. On some of those illustrations, figures some hand writing by the artist herself, giving precisions on the material and colors of fabrics to be used to dress the dolls, also where to buy it. These dolls were particularly appreciated when shown at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Exhibit during May-June 1916, where 80 of them were exposed.

Stefania Lazarska, for her part, also created late 1915, early 1916, a couple of young children dolls, girl and boy. These slender dolls are recognizable by the particular design of their embroidered eyes. Their hands show more often a pointed index finger, but can also be the mitten type for certain. It was those dolls who were chosen by “La Ligue Fraternelle des Enfants de France” to illustrate their cards in 1916.

Polish painter Tadeusz Makowski has, too, created dolls for AAP during WW1. However, to date, the only “Makowski type” doll that has been presented to us can not be attributed to the painter for sure, but it definitely has a family look with Makowski’s self portrait.

Polish painter Fryderyka de Frankowska, and her daughter Tamara, have, for their part, also made dolls for AAP. together with opening a shop Rue des Capucines, where they were selling their artist dolls. It is likely that the dolls bearing the signature “Frankowska” under one of the feet are from this store and not from AAP. Also one has to note that the name of Tamara continued to appear on the list of artists working for the AAP after the opening of Rue des Capucine boutique.

Few other Polish painters working for AAP also worked on their own account :

Nina Alexandrowicz produced in her studio-shop 216 Boulevard Raspail (close to Stefania Lazarska’s Studio) cloth dolls, with a stuffed jersey head, applied felt round eyes and mouth, which have a strong resemblance with some AAP dolls. The distinction is made by the presence of buffers under the feet of the dolls. The sole of the left foot is marked in purple stamp  “N.A.” and the sole of the right foot is marked “Marque Déposée” and “Nina Alexandrowicz”.

Dr Ewa Bobrowska informs us in the collective book “Katalog Grafiki Konstantego Brandla” that painterSophia Piramowicz worked with Stefania Lazarska for the making of dolls. In the same time, Konstanty Brandel tell us the artist also made dolls independently.

Sophia Piramowicz, whose studio was located 4 rue Huygens, actually presented her own dolls at 1916 Musée des Arts Décoratifs Exhibit. Jeanne Douin evoked, in her article about this exhibit, “the strange magnificences princesses created by Mrs Piramovicz”. A couple of those modern dolls were seen at a Polichinelle auction (dolls expert François Theimer) years ago.  They are stuffed skin with embroidery features dressed in silk costume period.

Konstanty Brandel also states that Polish writer Maria Szeliga manufactured dolls, but we have not found any other evidence in this regard.

K. Brandel, who was himself a Polish painter and graphic artist, tells us he painted watercolors representing AAP dolls during WW I period, while sculptors Antoniak and Balzukievicz  created wooden toys for AAP.

We have not yet found a reliable way to identify by an artist name most of the dolls and toys created by artists who worked for AAP.

The production of AAP dolls and toys was continued after WW1 ended.

We find three Stefania Lazarska’s dolls on 1919 Christmas catalog Le Printemps front page. Two dolls, first created in 1915/1916, are baptised “Muguette and Joli- Guy” both names having been patented by Le Printemps the same year. The third Stefania Lazarska’s cloth doll shown on the front page could be Rosette. All show the “pointed finger” Stefania Lazarka used during the 20’s to illustrate her invitation cards and letterheads, some time showing them dressed as Pierrot and Pierrette

One may also found some  AAP dolls  sold under “Mascotte” trademark (patented in 1921) in Parisian stores.

We also find two Stefania Fiszer’s AAP dolls in 1919 Parisian magazine Femina. They are seen  decorating a child’s bedroom sets. One of the doll has dark skin, the other one normal skin. Another S.Fiszer’s doll makes the cover of Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville  December 1920 catalog, together with a stuffed bear probably from AAP. (front page by Polish Illustrator Jacques Jacob Eger).

By 1920, Le Printemps magazine causes a surprise with the cover of the 1920/21 Winter season catalog : one can see an AAP Becassine doll among stuffed toys. Inside the catalog are many cloth dolls created by AAP too.

Frankowka’s dolls were still produced after WW1 too, as seen on Paris stores catalogs and luxury boutique advertisings, such as “Henry à la Pensée” (Paris, Deauville, Biarritz).

It was also in 1920 that Stefania Lazarska submitted to the Almanac of Commerce her first announcement to appear on the 1921 A.C.: Ms. T. Lazarski’s Artistic Workshops, whose new headquarters was at 83 Fbg St Honoré, announced character stuff cloth dolls,  fashion wax figures, stuffed animals and other items of Paris.

The artist noted in the announcement that her dolls were exhibited in Paris at prestigious shows such as  “Salon National des Beaux Arts”, “Salon d’Automne”, Musée des Arts Décoratifs”, “Salon des Humoristes” and the largest art exhibitions around the world.  Stefania Lazarska also stated that her dolls were presented in cinemas , in France and abroad, by Pathé-Journal, Empire, Aubert and Eclair (and Fox in 1921).

This is quite possibly the only  dolls manufacturer in the world who has availed herself of such a prestigious course.

As said before, Stefania Lazarska introduced a new  trademark :  “Mascotte. Le plus bel enfant de France »  (Mascotte - The most beautiful child of France) in 1921. The mark is  found  on  either a medallion metal, or on a paper label. All types of dolls were concerned, from Becassine dolls to Boudoir dolls.


In 1923, Louvre stores presented many  Stefania Lazarska dolls alongside dolls created by illustrator Jean Ray. We find in the following years her creations still present in department store catalogs. We particularly note   her Becassine dolls in various versions, prior to SFBJ Becassine dolls first appearing.

In 1925, Stefania Lazarska participated once more at “Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs” where she presented her  boudoir dolls show on the theme “Bal des Poupées” (dolls Ball ) as well as some dolls dressed in costumes from French regions.

 She explained in an interview to have started her doll business in 1914 and clamed to be “the very first inventor for Boudoir dolls which were copied later on by other makers from France and abroad”. Stefania Lazarska  also stated that Russian artists had asked her to allow them to participate in the creation of artistic dolls in her and that she has agreed to their demand.

Stefania and her husband Thadée obtained the same year their French citizenship. (2)

 In 1931, the artist presented to “Exposition Coloniale Internationale de Paris” new Boudoir dolls dressed in period and historical costumes. Eleven of them are still kept at “Musée du Quai Branly Paris” .

Museum defines them as follow :

Doll 1 is Margaret of Scotland, wife of Louis XI, wearing a “Syrian” cap covered with embroidered white silk . . A brown ribbon  with 6 strass frames the doll face. The dress is blue, embroidered with golden thread, surrounded by a red velvet ribbon

The skirt is embroidered with yellow, blue-gray, silver and pink thread, forming a checkerboard pattern. Ce même tissu constitue le corsage.  Same material is used for the corsage. Golden thead belt  with strass. Doll also wears skirt and pants. Legs are made of stuffed  cloth. 51 cm. 1931

Doll 2 is is wearing a red and offwhite Turkish dress with painted roses and an  “A la Belle Poule” hat . Bust is made of plaster, arms and legs are biscuit. Louis XVI period. 75 cm. 1931.

Doll 3 is wearing an “A la Sultan” dress made of striped Siamoise fabric decorated with golden thread. Brown hair. Louis XIV style. 55 cm. 1931.

Doll 4 represents a Chinese lady from Ballet des Indes Galantes. She has a yellow hat , brown dress decorated with embroidered  white off flowers and red painted flowers.  Sides of the dress are fixed up with blue ribbons discovering a yellow skirt adomed with red flowers. Doll wears a second cotton petticoat, has brown hair and a pearl necklace. Louis XIV style. 52 cm. 1931

Doll 5 is wearing a dress made of “Taffetas des Indes”, with long pink silk sleeves with lace. Hat is “A la Grenade” type, made of blue and white velvet with feather edges.  Blue silk sleeveless coat lined with velvet.  No legs. Louis XIV style. 51 cm. 1931.

Doll 6 is wearing  a « à la Levantine “ off white dress lined with roses,  “A la Creole” hair style, “A la Syrienne petticoat,  a hat composed of five white and green feathers and a lace shawl with roses. Louis XVI style. 50 cm. 1931.

Doll 7 is wearing a dress made of  green, orange and brown Madras embellished with lace around the neck line, a turban adorned with a fushia, red and green ribbon, and a white feather. Directoire style. 56 cm. 1931.

Doll 8 wears a turban with feather and a red and off white spencer “A l’Algérienne” with a yellow and pink Cashemere pattern shawl. Empire style. 48 cm. 1931.

Doll 9  is dressed in Louis Philippe style, with a dress made from a hand painted white off cashemere shawl, a fringed shawl,  a lace belt and an Easter blue turban. A fine rope enrolles the doll neck. Legs are stuffed cloth. 48 cm. 1931.

 Doll 10  is wearing a chocolate Empire dress with black lace with flowers, a shawl “des Indes” with Cashemere pattern, a matching spencer. The hat is “à la Turque” with red pompoms. Petticoat and embroidered long pants. 51 cm. 1931.

Doll 11 is made of bisque and stuffed cotton. She is wearing some green “crepe de chine” pajamas. The stripe of the jacket is gold and silver, so is the belt.  Her Annamite hat is adomed with a sylver stripe and the doll wears a  necklace decorated with rhinestones and cross. 46 cm.1931.

These dolls are not currently on display, but their presentation gives an idea of the incredible diversity and richness of Stefania Lazarska’s AAP dolls.

The designer also exhibited her work in Krakow in 1932. Photos from the exhibition show rare stuffed animals among many dolls of all kinds. Also a few babies we have not find up to day, as well as boudoir dolls and silk mascots which production (in wool) began during WWI.

It seems that the last major event in which Stefania Lazarska took part was the 1939 New York International

Like  other cloth dolls manufacturers who had followed her steps, Stefania Lazarska had to stop her production because of WW2 restrictions on the use of fabric for making toys.

After WW2, Stefania Lazarska continued to work in the Arts appliqués field by decorating luxurious apartments and theatres.

The creator of Artist cloth dolls died in France in 1977.


(1)     Paul Poiret’s “Ateliers Martine” (named after his second daughter) was an Art school of avant garde created in 1911, producing creations from untrained student. The some how “naïve style” output of the school was sold by La Maison Martine, located 107 rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré.

(2)     HR d'Allemagne : La très véridique histoire de Nette et Tintin visitant le village des jouets.

(3) Journal Officiel 23 Juin 1925




- Catalogues, revues et documents d'époque Catalogues, journals and historical documents

- Photos