Nineteenth century ladies were all about hats. They wore indoor bonnets and outdoor bonnets. Big hats, little hats, silk hats, straw hats. Hats were the fashion and a city of any size had a millinery shop to cater to ladies’ desires for hats. Hats are certainly best displayed on something head-shaped and about 1820 the French began to make papier mâché heads that were pretty, lifelike, could be displayed in the milliner’s window and even had a whole in back where scarves, flowers and other hat adornments could be kept close at hand. These milliner’s heads have been highly collected since early folk art collector Elie Nadelman added them to his important folk art collection. Nadelman was a Modernist Art sculptor. His interest in Modernist Art led him back to the Modernist Art’s foundation: American folk art. Nadelman’s great collection was displayed at his own Museum of Folk Arts in the Bronx. You can see Nadelman’s papier mâché milliner’s head as well has two wooden carved milliner’s heads at the New York Historical Society Museum & Library in New York City and at http://www.nyhistory.org/exhibit/milliners-head-0. Pure folk art is what these wonderful pieces are.
Of course, milliner’s heads are a natural to display with wallpaper covered bandboxes, of which many were made for and used as hat boxes. Shelburne Museum has certainly shown us how beautiful the colors of bandboxes coordinate and enhance with milliner’s head. If you have a chance to visit Shelburne, don’t miss the Hat and Fragrance Gallery with its wonderful collection of bandboxes, milliner’s heads and hats.
This is a really lovely French milliner’s head in really good condition. It was either kept in a box and away from dust or has been cleaned because it is the least grimy head I’ve ever had. Her blue dress is beautifully accented by a brown painted tassel design. She has rosy cheeks set off by her black painted hair, blue eyes and red lips. Most papier mâché heads have suffered flattened and rubbed noses and this lovely lady does have a dent on her nose but it’s far better than most. There are just a few dings which you can see in the photos. There are two dings at the northwest and northeast corners of the scarf opening in back and a split at the southeast corner. This is negligible considering how mandy objects and hands were in and out of these compartments on a daily basis and the fragility of 180+ years of age. The head is 14 ¾” tall x 7 ½” from tip of nose to back of head x 6" at the widest part of base. Circa 1835 and I’ve got lots of beautiful American bandboxes and even a bonnet to help you complete your collection with a great display!
Reference: Carlisle, Lilian Baker, Hat Boxes and Bandboxes at Shelburne Museum, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont, 1960.