A Good French c.1890 Wax Shop Display Mannequin Head of a Lady

Origin: French
Period: 3rd Republic
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1880-1900
Height: 9 inches
Depth: 8 inches (all approximate and at maximum)

The beautiful wax-work modelled head, in painted translucent wax with implanted human hair and glass eyes survives from late nineteenth century France.

Condition wise the head is in very good order with only a small section of loss to the collar. It can be free standing and remains in original condition throughout and does not require any form of restoration.

Mannequins have fascinated mankind for centuries. Indeed, these glorified coat hangars have a genealogy that goes back to ancient times. When Howard Carter opened King Tut’s tomb in 1923, he discovered an armless, legless, wooden torso, made exactly to the pharaoh’s measurements, standing next to the chest that held the ruler’s clothing. Dating from 1350 B.C., it may have been the world’s first dress form.

With their keen appreciation for style the French introduced the first full-bodied mannequin in 1870. Such was the allure of the then-wax figures that window shopping quickly became a form of entertainment; millions came to stare at a make believe world frozen in place.

The most realistic mannequins of this era were those of wax, like this example, and like today’s mannequins, they mirrored the times. Though their false teeth, glass eyes and real hair, implanted with warm needles a strand at a time, had a definite taxidermist’s air about them, they sported the full bosoms and broad beams of the gay ’90s woman. Waists were wasp thin, not surprising at a time when women were willing to suffer for their beauty to the point of having their lowest ribs surgically removed to achieve an appropriately modified midriff. At least for the mannequins it was painless.

Hailing from a time when shop display was quite simply a work of art, this wonderfully haunting piece perfectly conveys and preserves the idealised image of the late Victorian woman.