Friday, April 1, 2011

Victorian Face Screens

A cluster of Face Screens I arranged on the dining room table.

A bunch on both sides of my closet door.

   Ladies of the 19th century liked to be thought of as fragile ladies.They compared themselves to delicate flowers and emphasised  their delicacy and femininity.They aimed to look pale and interesting paleness could  be induced by drinking vinegar and avoiding the sun and fresh air. Sometimes ladies discreetly used a little rouge on the cheeks-but make up was  frowned  upon-in general, especially during the 1870's.When social etiquitte became more rigid ,a pale skin was a mark of gentility .It meant that a lady could afford not to work outdoors,getting suntanned, which was considered vulgar and coarse. Parasols were used to protect the complexion when in the sun. Rooms were shuttered with dark heavy velvet curtains to keep out the sun's rays. Fine blue lines would sometimes be painted on the skin to increase the appearance of delicate translucent skin- showing veins. Face Screens were used to keep the face from becoming red from the heat of the fireplaces.

These are all  pairs.

    Most cosmetic products available were still either chemically dubious or  found in the kitchen amid food coloring like berries and beetroot. Burnt match sticks were used to darken the eyelashes and geranium and poppy petals stained the lips. A product called " paper powder" came in books of colored paper and pressed against the cheeks or nose,the leaves of powder removed shine from the face. Ravaged by age,a high carbohydrate diet,very little  exercise,combined with living in a dirty polluted atmosphere and sickness like smallpox, all made for the decline of a ladies beauty.

Carved bone handle-(cattle-bovine-species)

Victorian Needlepoint Bead work. 

Paper Mache'

      It must have been hard in those days and I can see where  the term, "A True beauty", came from. If through all this a lady could still be consider,beautiful, she must have truly been so!! So often when you  see portraits of ladies of this period there skin is painted to look almost white. Now we see why.
   I have heard lots of stories about why the Victorians made and used Face Screens. Often when I tour a Historic Home and they have one, the tour guide will say it was to keep there makeup from melting from the heat of the fire. Once in awhile a lady would be forced to wear a heavy makeup. Some times after having smallpox the face would have heavy pits, and  wax mixed with  baking flour would be used to  hide these marks. I would say that the fire place fire would have to be so hot to melt this wax based makeup, that the face would also be burnt. So I can hardly believe this tale. Now,it does make sense that the lady did  not want her face to be red and the fire might do that, so a face screen would be held between her face and the fireplace. I like to use this example when I guide a tour at My  Old Historic House. think of a hot dog roast when you were a child. You had to stand close enough to the fire to cook the hot dog, and your face became very warm and flush and you would often hold your hand between your face and the fire. This is what a face screen would do.

Hand painted on a heavy paper like card board surface.

Hand painted on tin or some type of metal.

   Face Screens were very popular in Europe, where social class was very much alive and taken very seriously. In American, ladies who had traveled to Europe might be aware of this trend. Most Face Screens   were made by hand in small cottage industry  factories.Handles were made of  painted and gilded wood, metal,bone,ivory and sometimes  sterling silver and real gold. These handles were sold and the frames were made of needlepoint and attached. Some factories did produce face screens, especially in the Orient, where they were often made of Paper Mache'  and then hand decorated.

They really knew how to paint. I love the poly-chrome colors.

    I don't know why I have a thing for them. I found my first pair at a small antique tag sale in St.Louis. I thought they were fans to cool a lady. I have to admit, I was a little slow and backward about such things in my early days of collecting. After learning what they were, I became more and more aware of them and started to collect them. I don't see them a lot around these parts. I do find them on Ebay and other online auctions. I am afraid they are to expensive for me these days, but I guess I really have enough. I loaned them out a few years back when a mini series was made in St.Louis. It was a period production and the beginning was set in the middle 1800's. The series was called, "A Woman of Means."
     I hope you enjoy the   Face Screens as much as I have enjoyed  collecting them. Come by any time for a tour of My Old Historic House, I will leave the lights on and we will build a big fire in the fire place and all have a Face Screen Adventure. And don't forget Sissy Dog, she will meet you with a jump and a kiss. And don't forget the June Issue of Victorian Homes Magazine is coming out in the next week or so and it will have a 12 page feature of My Old Historic House.I hope you'll get a copy and visit us there.Should be on news stands by the end of April!