This sublime and elegant work still has the original maker’s details and appears almost untouched by age. The thick curls of the hairwork blend seamlessly into the hair artwork, creating several sentimental symbols.
Featuring two kinds of table and palette-worked hair, this French piece shows magnificent dimension in the willow, forget-me-nots and the over-arching hair, which is locked together in an eternity knot at the bottom.
This piece is important for several reasons, one being that it’s a prime example of French hairworking, which never reached the popular heights (due to more transient fashion on the Continent) as it did in the UK and US, but was largely popular for a time in the 1850s.
French hairwork, and the jewels that encompass the hair, tend to be of a higher quality and more delicate than their English counterparts. Mourning culture, while popular, did not reach the heights of popularity that it did in England and the expense and quality of the jewels were farther removed from the poorer classes. Hairwork weaving is as grand in its construction, as with middle European hairwork, with a higher propensity for matching necklace / bracelet / earring sets.
In 1858, fashion magazine La Belle Assemblè referred to the French hairwork artist Limmonièr in a revolutionary light. La Belle Assemblè expands on the association with hairwork as a sentimental device and identifies it as a jewellery construction material in its own right, not simply “in which some beloved tress or precious curl is entwined”.
“(Old styles) gave the appearance of having been designed from a ‘mortuary tablet’. Have we not all met ladies wearing as a brooch, by way of loving remembrance, a tomb between two willow trees formed of the hair of the individual from whom their crêpe was worn, and which from its very nature must be laid aside with it? But the new hair jewelry made by Limmonièr is an ornament for all times and places. He expands it into a broad ribbon as a bracelet and fastens it with a forget-me-not in turquoise and brilliants; weaves it into chains for the neck, the flacon, or the fan; makes it into a medallion, or leaves and flowers; and of these last the most beautiful specimens I have seen have been formed of the saintly white hair of age. This he converts into orange flowers, white roses, chrysanthemum and most charming of all, clusters of lily-of-the-valley.”
Hair bracelets advertisement
La Belle Assemblè provides a very good advertising spiel for Limmonièr but also provides an insight into how the French perceived hairwork in 1858. By the latter half of the 19th century, hairwork was nearing a phase of unpopularity in France, though this article shows how hairwork was removed, or was attempted to be removed, from mourning and memorials.
Courtesy: Sarah Nehama
Dedication: TC 16 Novembre 1851