This is a very rare and iconic piece of early advertising, branding the Walter Baker Chocolate Company and standing over 4 feet tall. Much history surrounds this Victorian chromolithographed image on tin sign and the famous “Chocolate Girl”, or “La Belle Chocolatiere”. Portrayed is a beautiful young lady serving hot chocolate.
It’s genesis lies in the original pastel on parchment painting done by French artist Jean-Etienne Liotard in 1745, which is 20 1/2″ wide x 32″ tall. That painting today resides in the museum “Alte Meister” in Dresden.
This tin sign is larger than the original painting, which is one of the main draws; all of the other tin signs, trays and images, are much smaller. I have never seen this large size “La Belle Chocolatiere” (26 3/4″ x 39″).
In 1862, Henry Pierce (owner of the Walter Baker Chocolate Company located in Dorchester, Massachusetts) was so taken in by the painting, that he asked for and obtained the copyright and use privileges to use in marketing and advertising campaigns for the company.
There are two conflicting stories surrounding the inspiration for the original painting. One, is that the lady portrayed was a pretty young maiden in the palace court who impressed the artist with her beauty and appearance. The artist had been commissioned by the Empress to paint portraits of both she and her husband.
The Baker Company tells a more romantic story in a 1913 advertising catalogue.
“La Belle” was none other than 20 year old Anna Baltrouf, daughter of an impoverished knight, who served Prince Von Dietrichstein in a chocolate shop. The Prince of the Viennese Empire fell in love with her, and taken by her beauty, he married her, much to the dismay of the upper crust of the informal societal caste system in place in mid-18th century Austria.
Many items from the Walter Baker Company would comprise a large and varied collection, but this large tin sign, being quite rare, would arguably be the most sought after, and has alluded most collectors. This sign probably hung in a very fancy or prominent confectionery shop, if not in the corporate headquarters in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
The Charles W. Shank Lithograph Company in Chicago was commissioned in 1900 to produce this chromolithographed sign.
The sign measures: 26 3/4″ wide x 39″ high (in frame)
37″ wide x 49 1/2″ high (including the
frame or overall).
The condition is excellent with some spots here and there; the original 5″ wide highly carved gilt wood frame has a metal title plaque provided for by the company mounted at the base, “La Belle Chocolatiere”. The frame has very minor gold leaf touch-up to the bottom and one top edge.