Dressing mirror

c. 1830 - c. 1860
Wood, papier-maché, lacquer, paint, mother-of-pearl, gilding, and brass
35 × 31 × 14 in. (88.9 × 78.74 × 35.56 cm)
Decorative Arts and Design
Wendy and Emery Reves Collection - Belle Chambre, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, The Wendy and Emery Reves Collection
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

During 19th-century Victorian era England, craftpersons made a wide range of furniture and objects that were decorated with dark lacquer, mother-of-pearl, and paint. Some of the furniture, especially that constructed of papier-mâché, was innovative in terms of its material and shape. The vogue for this decorative style lasted well into the mid-19th century. In 1860, for example, the two main centers of production in England, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, employed between 1,000 and 2,000 craftspersons making this line of furniture and related objects.

The sizable group of 19th-century English papier-mâché furniture is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Reves furniture acquisitions. During the 1960s, when Wendy Reves was building the collection, the ornate Rococo Revival style was poorly regarded by collectors, so the collecting of such pieces was extremely avant-garde on the part of Reves. Working through galleries like La Boutique du Village in Paris and Stair & Co. in London, Reves gathered together more than twenty examples, most of which are now at the Dallas Museum of Art. The collection is especially noteworthy because of its wide variety of forms like this dressing mirror.

The base and crest of this dressing mirror are exuberantly, ornamented with westernized views of Asia, a decorative style known today as chinoiserie. Since the initiation of regular trade with China in the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans had been fascinated with imported luxury goods like tea, porcelain, and silk. Simultaneously, Westerners also fantasized about what Asian cultures were like and developed an entire decorative style known today as chinoiserie. The pagoda-like structures seen here had been used on European furniture for 200 years before they were applied to this piece.

The construction of this dressing mirror is complicated. The base is made of papier-mâché from sheets of paper. By allowing the paper to dry over a mold, the maker achieved the curve of the base's skirt. Since greater strength was needed to support the heavy mirror glass, wooden uprights were used. Because all these materials expand and contract at different rates, thereby causing damage, few complex pieces such as this survive.

Adapted from

Dallas Museum of Art, Decorative Arts Highlights from the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1995), 43 and 58.