Breton Shutter Dogs: An e-Book Collection

NOTES: The shutter dog* (arrêt de volet) is a small but not insignificant cultural detail seen on many traditional houses in Brittany where most of this photographic collection comes from (although also seen across France). It is a small device, fixed to the wall of a house, and is designed to hold the window shutter in the open position to prevent it from flapping around in the breeze. In other parts of the world where window shutters are a feature, many different fastening devices are to be found, but in France the 'dog' ('stay' or 'tie back') often shows an animal or human figure, and one of the most popular designs takes the form of the head and shoulders of a young shepherdess, (tête de bergère in French).

Other designs, pictured here, take the form of a sailor (marin), or a horse (some examples towards the end of the book). The 'Turk' design uses a slightly different mechanism. The significance is that the simple, basic mechanism takes on an animal or human form (un personnage), thus symbolising a guarding or protective rôle. They can sometimes be found in pairs (male & female, sailor & shepherdess or mother & daughter) The slide-and-rocker mechanism was invented in 1868 by a Monsieur A Cleuet, a sales rep at the Camion Frères (CF) Foundry, which was then one of the largest in the Ardennes region of France.

The original patented design depicted a chimera but it is the later tête de bergère and marin designs which have been most often adopted or adapted by other manufacturers and deployed throughout France (and beyond). The shepherdess is a recurring motif of the pastoral idyll in French romantic painting, as seen in portraits of Marie Antoinette and her circle. The nineteen year old queen famously ‘played’ at being a peasant girl in le petit Trianon. The marin (sailor) with his beret and striped jersey, seems to be as numerous in my collection but it is the tête de bergère that has come to stand for all the different personnages. Cast in bronze or iron, these ‘dogs’ are sometimes painted to match the shutters, and over time take on a characteristic patina through layers of paint. Even when the window shutters have long since given up the ghost the shutter dog can retain its key position on the wall.

* In English, the term ‘dog’ is used in an engineering sense of being held firmly ‘within the jaws’ of the device