Embroidered Fire Screen

A large wooden pole sitting in front of a fireplace with purple and white tiles. The circular part of the screen is embroidered with birds and flora.
Fire screen in the Library

Country of Origin: Likely  
Year: ca. 1870 
Materials: Linen, wood, wool   

Decorative pole screens served an important function in the 19th century: The tall thin screens shielded people’s faces from the direct heat of the fire. In the 18th and 19th centuries both men and women wore makeup to hide blemishes. The cosmetic preparation worn was thick and made up of wax and sometimes white lead. The lead was toxic, especially when warmed, and the heat from a fire could be life threatening. A pole screen protected the face from intense heat and prevented the wax from melting and the cosmetics from interacting with the skin. Additionally, for women a beauty standard of the era was not to look tanned or flushed, and a well-placed fire screen could help keep the body warm while adhering to beauty standards.  

Pole screens were fitted with sliding panels that could be enlarged or diminished as needed, often with embroidered decoration that came in a variety of shapes and sizes – oval, heart-shaped, rectangular, etc. This piece has a linen back and used cross stitch and tent stitch to create an intricate pattern of birds and florals.