Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Paper peepshow - Paris. La Nuit

Paris. La Nuit

  • Object:

    Paper peepshow

  • Place of origin:

    [Paris] (published)

  • Date:

    [c. 1860] (published)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from the collections of Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016.

  • Museum number:

    Gestetner 53

  • Gallery location:

    National Art Library

Its structure resembles that of a Chinese lantern rather than a miniature paper theatre. It is made of circular-shaped bellows attached to a top panel with viewing lens and a bottom panel into which prints can be inserted. These prints seem to come from different series, as in addition to views of Paris. The prints, when viewed outside the device in reflected light, show views by daylight of various popular destinations such as the ‘Rue de Rivoli’ or ‘Jardin des Tuileries’. When viewed through the peephole, against a strong source of light, the transmitted light changes them to night scenes in which small holes pierced in the prints become the stars, the moon, or lit windows and street lamps.

In two instances however, the scene is dramatically changed: the tranquil ‘Bains de Dieppe’ with couples leisurely walking along the beach is transformed into a frightening shipwreck scene and in ‘Le tunnel de Rolleboise’ a train bursts into view where before there was only an empty tunnel with some men at work.

The ‘day’ picture is printed on the recto (front), while the ‘night’ picture is obtained by painting the verso (back) side in black and other dark colours. The contours of the train and the lighter areas were then drawn and defined using a kind of sgraffito technique. The dark paint was thus scratched away in places where the light was meant to shine through.

The image of ‘Les bains de Dieppe’ is a little more complex. The hidden picture is painted with dark and light colours on the back of the print and completed by drawing the waves and creating light by thinning the paper in certain areas to enhance the transmitted light. The illusion is reinforced using a painted paper lined to the back of the panel which creates the coloured background.

Physical description

Front panel pierced with a peephole and affixed to concertina bellows.
End panel can be changed by sliding a print inside a compartment at the back of the bellows.
14 perforated prints showing scenes by daylight when viewed outside the device and night scenes when viewed inside with back lighting. This type of prints is also called 'transparency'.
Prints presumably come from different series, as they do not all show views of Paris.
Front panel: through a window with red curtain drawn back, balcony with a telescope erected. Paris sky-line by night with numerous recognisable monuments including Notre-Dame, the Bastille column, etc. A demon with horns holds the title written on two philacteries.
Views of Paris: Rue de Rivoli, Jardin des Tuileries with the Obélisque and Arc de Triomphe, Palais du Luxembourg, Eglise de la Madeleine, Chambre des Députés (Assemblée Nationale), Boulevard des Italiens, Place Vendôme, Palais des Tuileries, Louvre seen from the Pont des Arts.
Other views: 'Arsenal de Toulon', 'Les Bains de Dieppe', 'Londres - La Tamise', 'Constantinople' and 'Tunnel de Rolleboise: Chemin de Rouen'.

Place of Origin

[Paris] (published)


[c. 1860] (published)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 11 cm front panel, Width: 16 cm front panel, Depth: 10 cm whole peepshow extended, :

Object history note

Accepted under the Cultural Gifts Scheme by HM Government from the collections of Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2016.

Descriptive line

Paper peepshow, Paris. La Nuit, [Paris, c. 1860].

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

R. Hyde, Paper Peepshows. The Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner Collection (Woodbridge: The Antique Collector's Club, 2014), cat. 53.




Printed; Sgraffito


National Art Library; Optical toys; Paper Peepshow

Production Type

Mass produced


National Art Library

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.