Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Unfolding Pictures: An Unusual Handscreen, 1820

Silhouette Handscreen:
"Lady with a Broom."
French, 1820
Turned and carved ivory handle,
linen gauze, paper and card.
Found at Frogmore House, 1979
"Probably Purchased" by Queen Mary
The Royal Collection
Though fans have been a part of daily life since the earliest of recorded times, the handscreen (a relative of the folding fan) became a popular accessory in the Seventeenth Century and continued to be utilized well into the late Nineteenth Century.

A handscreen, or face-screen, has its roots in the designs of rigid hand-fans. Essentially a decorative panel (usually of linen-covered card, paper or painted canvas) mounted on a turned stick, the handscreen served to shield a lady’s face from the direct heat of the fire. Cosmetics, until recently, were largely wax-based. The heat of the fireplace would often cause a lady’s make-up to run. When not in use, handscreens would often be displayed as decorative items on the mantelpiece.

Given their dual nature—both practical and decorative—handscreens, by the Nineteenth Century, were often created as interesting novelties. This handscreen from 1820 is constructed of painted linen gauze over paper, atop a carved ivory stick. It is distinctive because of the two figures in silhouette which have been cut from black card. By means of a lever on the reverse of the screen, the figures are made to move, giving comedic life to a scene of a woman with a broom beating a portly fellow who holds fire tongs and a shovel.

The creator of this interesting novelty is unknown, but certainly French. The handscreen was found in 1979 among several unusual items which had been tucked away at Frogmore House. The only notation of its origins is that it was “probably purchased by Queen Mary.” Not only is it a charming antique, but it’s also further evidence that Mary of Teck, the Antiquities Magnet, was like a magpie—furnishing her nest with pretty little things.

No comments: