victorian hummingbird firescreen

The Victorian era.  A time where taxidermised kittens and bunnies were arranged in anthropomorphic forms, and birds (also taxidermised) encased in glass domes, classed-up almost every retail establishment.  Something about the almost macabre extravagance of taxidermy is reminiscent of the stylings of that era.  If you are one to embrace a bit of vintage furnishing, this unique piece would be a piece to show off.

This fire screen isn’t simply any antique taxidermy piece.  In fact, it was created by Henry Ward, patriarch of the renowned Ward family of taxidermists – one that kickstarted the trend for privately owned taxidermy in the Victorian era.  This particular work was thought to be at the pinnacle of his masterpieces and is miraculously still preserved rather well given its age.

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Its date of manufacture is estimated to be between 1840-1860, with high Victorian stylings of the time.  It stands at 130cm by 140cm with a depth of 512cm.

Within the two-sided glazed frame are over 100 hummingbirds, of various different species, frozen in time.  The vibrancy of their wings is considered to be quite well maintained, retaining their almost lively iridescence.  The frames are set atop two scrolling foliate feet with casters, and at the very top sits a double-sided initialed shield adorned by a royal cornet resting on a pillow.  The whole image is rather extravagant, even without the birds.

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Picture an English household done with the bitter winter, and the fireplace no longer stoking a flame.  In place of a regular fire screen, this piece with colourful birds and nests, and the ironic idea of life, beckoned the warmth of spring.  In Singapore’s year-round summer, this piece can be a feature all year round.

The screen is currently privately owned by the seller in Amsterdam.  It is going for $357,678 (S$482,542) on the 1stDibs website.

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