French painter, producer of puppet theatre and playwright. Paul Ranson was a member of the French Post-Impressionist avant-garde movement, Les Nabis (“Prophets”). As early as 1890, Ranson gave “guignol” (glove puppet) sessions in his workshop with his “Nabi” friends, Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and K.-X. Roussel. At the same time Ranson collaborated with Paul Fort’s Théâtre d’Art where the development of a Symbolist theatre was taking place. These experiments opened the way for an “artistic” conception of puppets.
In 1892, Ranson and his friends created Les Sept Princesses (The Seven Princesses), by Maurice Maeterlinck, in the private rooms of a “Conseiller d’Etat” (government official), with a front (or drop) cloth painted by Jan Verkade, and single-string puppets and décor by Maurice Denis. For the second part, La Farce du Pâté et de la Tarte (The Farce of the Pâté and the Tart, 15th century) was presented in a setting by Vuillard. In 1894, Ranson liberally reinterpreted Paphnutius, a pious drama by the abbess Hrotswitha (10th century), adapted by A.-Ferdinand Hérold, for an audience which included Stéphane Mallarmé and Claude Debussy.
From then on, Ranson also presented glove puppet plays that were comical, obscene, anticlerical and antimilitarist, featuring the character of l’Abbé Prout (imitation of the sound that a fart makes). A typical “salon” (and womanizing) abbot, with red lips and nasal voice, Prout (Fart) added to the outrageous but well-intended comments of his peers, the nationalist duke, Gontran de Percefort, or the coquette, Clotilde de Blanc-Bedon (White Sausage). Seven of these plays were published in L’Abbé Prout. Guignol pour les vieux enfants (The Abbot Prout. Puppets for Old Children, 1902): L’Armoire des Voluptés (The Wardrobe of Pleasures), Le Lis de la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley), Le Subterfuge Culinaire (The Culinary Subterfuge), Le Presbytère (The Presbytery), Le Mariage noble (The Noble Marriage), Sous l’œil de Saint Huron (Under the Eye of St Huron), Le Sabre et le Goupillon (The Sabre and the Brush). In 1903, some were performed at the home of André Fontainas, with puppets made by the sculptor Georges Lacombe, and the show presented by Alfred Jarry. Thus Ranson found himself at the centre of an aesthetic renewal which integrated the art of the puppet into the productions of the Petit-Théâtre des Marionnettes of Maurice Bouchor and Henri Signoret (1888-1892), and the Théâtre des Pantins of Alfred Jarry and Claude Terrasse (1898).
- Jurkowski, Henryk. Écrivains et marionnettes. Quatre siècles de littérature dramatique [Writers and Puppets. Four Centuries of Dramatic Literature]. Charleville-Mézières: Éditions de l’Institut International de la Marionnette, 1991, pp. 262-267.
- Ranson Bitker, Brigitte. “Un nabi ‘fou de guignol’” (A Nabi Mad About Puppets). Paul Élie Ranson. Du Symbolisme à l’Art nouveau [Paul Élie Ranson. From Symbolism to Art Nouveau]. Exhibition catalogue. Paris: Somogy, 1997.