Japanned Fire Screen
54 x 15.5 x 15.5
Fire screens were invented in the 18th century as a way to keep the heat of a fireplace off one's face when sitting in front of a hearth. This object – a late 18th-century fire screen – is specifically a pole screen, meaning the screen itself is smaller and adjustable, and mounted on a tripod base. Not only a utilitarian item, fire screens quickly became a popular decorative object in middle and upper class homes. This fire screen is decorated in the Japanned style, a European imitation of East Asian lacquerwork that began in the 17th century. Japanned objects are traditionally made from heavy black enamel, with gold designs and imagery utilized to create high contrast. The screen, which stands on a sugar-barley twist stem, is papier-mâché, a substance that is made by combining mashed paper with glue and other hardening agents. Similar techniques were used for centuries in Asia and Africa, before French artists and craftsmen began experimenting with the process in the 18th century. The technique took off in Europe, and quickly became a popular choice for household furnishings. Papier-mâché fire screens were often gilded and inset with mother-of-pearl to achieve a jewelled effect, both techniques that can be seen here. This Japanned fire screen primarily features imagery of a number of buildings, surrounded by foliage that gracefully traces the contours of the object. Bursting with visual interest, this item serves as a conversation piece, be it paired with a fireplace or not.
At this time in England, British astronomer Sir William Herschel (1738–1822) officially discovered the planet Uranus in 1781, viewing it from his back garden through a homemade telescope. The name Uranus references the ancient Greek God of the sky of the same name, although the planet was briefly called “George’s Star” in honour of King George II (1683–1760). It is the only planet whose English name is derived directly from a Greek mythological figure. In recognition of his achievement, Herschel was awarded an annual stipend of 200 pounds, on the condition he agree to move to Windsor so that the Royal Family could look through his telescope.