Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Photo added by Interval

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Birth
Dhuizon, Departement du Loir-et-Cher, Centre, France
Death 13 Jun 1871 (aged 65)
Dhuizon, Departement du Loir-et-Cher, Centre, France
Burial Blois, Departement du Loir-et-Cher, Centre, France
Memorial ID 76979292 · View Source
Suggest Edits

Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin was a renowned French magician considered to be the "father of modern magic." Robert-Houdin was born Jean Eugène Robert in Blois, France, on Dec. 6, 1805, to Prosper Robert and Marie-Catherine Guillon. At the age of 11, he enrolled in the University of Orléans, graduating and returning to Blois at 18. Robert, whose father was a respected watchmaker, had a knack for all things mechanical and worked as a watchmaker for a short time. He developed an interest in magic in the mid 1820s after reading a two-volume set called Scientific Amusements and eventually took lessons from a local amateur magician named Maous, who taught him the importance of practice. Although Robert moved to Tours to set up a watch-making business, magic was still his pastime, and he performed at social gatherings as a professional magician. During this time, he met the woman he would marry: Josèphe Cecile Houdin, the daughter of Parisian watchmaker Monsieur Jacques François Houdin, also from Blois. After marrying her on July 8, 1830, he hyphenated his own surname to hers and became Robert-Houdin. Robert-Houdin moved to Paris and worked in his father-in-law's shop, tinkering with mechanical toys and automatic figures called automatons. He still practiced magic, learning the details to many mechanical tricks and how to improve them. From there, he built his own mechanical figures, including an automaton that performed the Cups and Balls, a classic trick in the field of magic. His most acclaimed automaton was his writing and drawing figure, which he displayed before King Louis Philippe and eventually sold to P.T. Barnum. After his wife died in 1843, Robert-Houdin remarried to François Marguerite Olympe Braconnier, who helped care for his three young children. While still performing magic at private parties, Robert-Houdin dreamed of opening his own theater, with a stage as elegant as the drawing rooms in which he was hired to perform. He also thought a magician should dress appropriately by wearing traditional evening clothes. After obtaining funding from Count de l'Escalopier, Robert-Houdin rented a suite of rooms above the archways around the gardens of the Palais Royal and had workmen redesign the old assembly room into a theater, painted with gold trim and donned with tasteful drapes, chic candelabras, and Louis XV-style furniture. On July 3, 1845, Robert-Houdin premiered his 200-seat theater in what he called "Soirées Fantastiques." With each performance, Robert-Houdin improved, and he began to receive critical acclaim for his mechanical marvels and artistic magic. The theater ultimately became a Mecca for magic enthusiasts and a draw for the Paris elite, including King Louis Philippe. Some of Robert-Houdin's most famous illusions were Second Sight, The Ethereal Suspension, The Marvelous Orange Tree, Robert-Houdin's Portfolio, and The Light and Heavy Chest. In 1859, he published the most famous of his books, his autobiography, titled, Confidences d'un Prestidigitateur, translated by Lascelles Wraxall as The Memoirs of Robert-Houdin. In it, he described how Napoleon III's Second French Empire hired him to outwit rebellious Arabs of Algeria by convincing them that French magic was more powerful than theirs. To accomplish this, he pretended to catch a fired bullet between his teeth and demonstrated supposed control over the Arabs' physical strength, using The Light and Heavy Chest. After his mission in Algeria, Robert-Houdin gave his final public performance at the Grand Théâtre in Marseille, then returned to his home in Saint-Gervais, near his native Blois, where he wrote his memoirs and several books on the art and science of magic. He lived happily in retirement for about 15 years until the advent of the Franco Prussian War. His son Eugene was a captain in a Zouave regiment. On August 6, 1870, Robert-Houdin heard news of Eugene being mortally wounded at the Battle of Worth. Meanwhile, Hessians captured Paris, and Robert-Houdin hid his family in a cave near his property. Four days later, Robert-Houdin was to find out his son had died of his wounds. With the stress from that and the war, his health deteriorated and he contracted pneumonia. On June 13, 1871, at the age of 65, he died of his illness. His home in Blois is a publicly owned museum and theater called La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin. Over the years, Robert-Houdin's magic and life have inspired many young magicians, including Ehrich Weiss, whose stage name became Houdini in honor of Houdin.

Bio by: Interval


Advertisement

See more Robert-Houdin memorials in:

Plan a visit to Blois, France?

Advertisement

Advertisement

How famous was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin?

Current rating:

18 votes

Sign-in to cast your vote.

  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Interval
  • Added: 23 Sep 2011
  • Find A Grave Memorial 76979292
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (6 Dec 1805–13 Jun 1871), Find A Grave Memorial no. 76979292, citing Blois, Blois, Departement du Loir-et-Cher, Centre, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .