Folk Art

Rare American Theorem Painted Face Screen or Fan - 1
  • I am so pleased to offer this fabulous and rare survivor.  In the second quarter of the 19th century, theorem painting allowed young girls in schoolgirl academies to design and paint still life compositions by using a group of stencils which could be laid upon velvet, cotton, silk, satin, or more rarely, paper.  Once the stencil grouping was complete, the young lady could paint each individual component inside each stencil with depth and toning not before achieved in America by the use of stencils.  Before the introduction of theorem painting, stencils were used primarily for wall and floor designs.  The use of stencils for painting allowed schoolgirls and young wives to make "fancy pieces" for their own homes as well as gifting to friends.  The painting teacher would trace designs onto drawing paper that had been coated on both sides with linseed oil to make it transparent and then varnished so that the "horn paper" was stiff and the paint would not soak through.  The instructor would then cut the design stencil with a pen knife.  Students could pick from the teacher's stencils, arranging them on their own backing (velvet, cotton, silk, satin, or, more rarely, paper) to build her own composition.  The stencils would then be weighted down and paint carefully applied stencil-by-stencil to produce a still life or sometimes even more elaborate scenes such as mourning or Classical-genre paintings.  The final painting was usually embellished with some hand-painting, even if just a few tendrils coming from grapevines.  While most theorems were meant to be framed, the painting technique was also used to decorate pincushions, purses, belts, table, bed covers and, as here, hand-held face screens (to protect ones tender face from the heat of a nearby hearth fire (in current days, referred to as fans).

    This face screen is a fabulous theorem on velvet with an imposing still-life of fruit.  Apples, peaches, a pear, plums, grapes, berries and either a melon or a winter squash fill the screen in a well-designed composition.  The velvet is glued to a paste-board backing with salmon-colored paper on the backside.  Delicate gold foil edges the beautifully shaped face-screen.  A slender turned wood handle is attached to the face screen with hand-cut nails or brads.  As you can see in the photos, the top of the handle is missing on the front of the screen.  There is overall toning and a moisture stain in the lower right at the edge.  A small amount of the foil edging is missing--a miracle that so little is missing considering how delicate this foil really is.  There is a small amount of warping to the top 3/4 of the fan, but I've carefully worked most of this out.  The pasteboard was frayed at the furthest rounded left edge, but I've repaired this with archival glue.  These are extremely small apologies for such a rarity.  The screen is 12 3/4" tall, including the handle x 9 1/2" at the widest point.  I have two of these fans in my collection and this one is, by far, in the best condition of the three.  I covet these fans and have surprised myself by offering this one for sale.  I can't keep everything....but if you love it, grab it while it is available!

    This is a wonderful example of American schoolgirl art.  Circa 1830.

    (#4958)     $2500

    Please see Theorem Painting in America for more information on this wonderful form of American folk art.