Elisabeth Thuillier

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Letterhead used by Elisabeth Thuillier, with pictures of the medals she'd won.

Elisabeth Thuillier (fl. 1890s-1920s) was a French colourist who ran a workshop in Paris where her employees hand-coloured early films and photographic slides using her plans and colour choices. She is remembered especially for the work she did for the director Georges Méliès.


Thuillier had experience in colouring slides for magic lanterns, and in other kinds of photographic and colour work. Her workforce had started colouring film by 1897.[1] This cinematic work was still new and it was given last place in the following description of her exhibit for the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. Its length reflects the importance of Thuillier's business.[2]

Colours and colouring. Raw materials for tinting. Negative and positive photographs, on paper, on glass, on silk, on leather, on celluloid parchment. Stereoscopic prints on glass, coloured slides. Photochromy and artistic colour photographs. Film colouring for cinematography.[2]

The Exposition jury awarded her a bronze medal.[2]

Thuillier hired more than 200 employees, all women, to handle the film commissions her workshop undertook. In a 1929 interview, she recollected spending her nights selecting colours and trying out samples.[3] Thuillier described her colours for film as "fine" aniline dyes, creating transparent and luminous tones. These dyes were dissolved first in water and then in alcohol. Each colourist was assigned a single tone, tinting specific parts of each frame before passing the film on to the next worker, in assembly line fashion.[3] Some areas to be coloured were so small that a paintbrush containing only a single horsehair was used.[4]

Thuillier and her workers probably used four basic dyes: orange, a cyan-like blue-green, magenta, and bright yellow. These could be mixed to create other colours. The tones produced also changed depending the shade of grey of the film underneath.[5] Some films used more than twenty distinct colours, and all the work was done by hand.[3] The workshop was at 87 Rue du Bac, Paris.[6]

According to Thuillier's recollections, her studio typically produced about 60 coloured copies of each film they took on. For 300 metres of hand-coloured film, the cost was about 6 or 7 thousand francs per copy.[3]


Restoration of original hand-coloured frame from Méliès' Trip to the Moon

Thuillier handled all colouring work on Méliès' films from 1897 to 1912.[7] Thuillier's work on Méliès's films was international; for example, the American distribution company Selig Polyscope negotiated with Méliès to have its prints shipped to France to be coloured by Thuillier's workers.[4]

Her business was also used by Pathé, but she called off an agreement to work exclusively for them when she realised she would have to share authority with a Mme. Florimond whose husband was a key employee there.[7] Another customer was experimental film-maker Raoul Grimoin-Sanson.[1]

The pioneering director Segundo de Chomón was not a client but was introduced to Thuillier's techniques of hand-colouring through his wife Julienne Mathieu. Mathieu (Mme. Chaumont or Chomón) had worked in the Thuillier workshop, as a supervisor according to some sources,[8] as well as acting in silent movies. Chomón soon moved on to adding colour with stencils.[1]

Later life

Thuillier's hand-painting proved to be a slow, expensive way of colouring reels of film, and the world of cinema moved towards using stencils instead of freehand colouring; this was more efficient for multiple copies.[1] The last client for Thuillier's colouring techniques was Georges Dufayel,[3] whose impressive department store Grands Magasins Dufayel housed a cinema and other attractions. In her 1929 interview, Thuillier expressed regrets about the disappearance of her craft.[3]

In December 1929, she was invited to a gala given in Méliès' honour at Salle Pleyel.[9] Several films were shown, including A Trip to the Moon. For this event, "extremely delicate" colour restoration work was undertaken by two of Thuillier's "pupils", according to Cinéa magazine. Since the original negatives had been destroyed, the women removed the colour from old positive copies of the films, made new negatives, then new positives, and re-coloured those.[10] (Thuillier remarked to the press that if she had had sufficient time, she would have done the work herself.)[3] Méliès introduced her in his speech at the gala as an "eminent artist" who did her work with a "remarkable talent".[9] The audience applauded and called "bravo".[11]

Little is known about Thuillier's non-professional life. On her business letterheads she was Mme. B. Thuillier,[6] and was described as a widow around 1900.[2] In the 1920s she withdrew from Paris to "the provinces".[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Yumibe, Joshua (2013), "French Film Colorists", in Gaines, Jane; Vatsal, Radha; Dall'Asta, Monica, Women Film Pioneers Project, Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, Columbia University Libraries, retrieved 16 June 2016 
  2. ^ a b c d Toulet, Emmanuelle (April 1986), "Le cinéma à l'Exposition universelle de 1900", Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine (in French), XXXIII: 182–183, JSTOR 20529217, Couleurs et coloris. Matières premières colorantes. Photographies négatives et positives, sur papier, sur verre, sur soie, sur cuir, sur parchemin celluloïd. Épreuves stéréoscopiques sur verres, et vues à projections en couleurs. Photochromie et photographies artistiques en couleurs. Coloris de films pour cinématographe. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Mazeline, François (13 December 1929), "Mme Thullier nous rappelle… le temps où le cinéma ne manquait pas de couleurs", L'Ami du Peuple . Quoted in Mélies, Georges (October 1982), "Allocution au gala Méliès", Les dossiers de la cinémathèque: 34–36 .
  4. ^ a b Kizirian, Shari (14 March 2013), "The Color of Silents", Keyframe, Fandor.com, retrieved 17 June 2016 
  5. ^ Malthête-Méliès, Madeleine; Quévrain, Anne-Marie; Malthête, Jacques (1981), "Avertissement", Essai de reconstitution du catalogue français de la Star-Film; suivi d'une analyse catalographique des films de Georges Méliès recensés en France, Bois d'Arcy: Service des archives du film du Centre national de la cinématographie, pp. 5–11, ISBN 2903053073, OCLC 10506429 
  6. ^ a b Gaudreault, André; Lacasse, Germain; Sirois-Trahan, Jean-Pierre (1995), "À Montréal, des sujets hauts en couleur, dès 1897..." (PDF), 24 images (78-79): 79–84 
  7. ^ a b Yumibe, Joshua (2012), Moving Color: Early Film, Mass Culture, Modernism, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 84, 166 
  8. ^ "Des trésors de films dans le domaine public. Europa Film Treasures", La Revue des Ressources, 29 January 2013, retrieved 16 June 2016 
  9. ^ a b Mélies, Georges (October 1982), "Allocution au gala Méliès", Les dossiers de la cinémathèque: 34–36 
  10. ^ "L'Activité cinégraphique", Cinéa: 26, 15 December 1929 
  11. ^ a b Bessy, Maurice; Duca, Lo (1945), Georges Méliès, mage, Paris: Prisma, p. 194 

External links

  • Demonstration of Thuillier's colouring process at francetv.fr (in French)
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