Mrs Charlotte Munn

A Portrait in Hair, 1770

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This fascinating and unique profile has been entirely stitched using two shades of hair to depict a lady wearing a brocade dress sprigged with flowers, a finely worked lace shawl and a patterned cap trimmed with concertinaed ribbon. A label on the reverse names the lady as ‘Mrs Munn’ and credits the portrait worked around 1770 to ‘her grand daughter Mrs Berkeley of Biggin’.

Research shows the sitter to be Charlotte Mills who was married to James Munn, a carriage decorator and landscape painter. They had two children: Paul Sandy (the well-known watercolour artist) and Charlotte Elizabeth who married Charles Berkeley of Biggin Hall in 1797. One of their sons was Miles Joseph Berkeley, a vicar and one of the founders of the science of plant pathology. His wife, Cecilia Emma Campbell (1814-1881), was the talented creator of this painstaking portrait. She lived at Sibbertoft Vicarage in Marker Harborough.

The hair picture is set with a verre eglomise surround in a decorative giltwood frame with an inner beaded border. Whilst the portrait is in fine condition, there is loss to the black paint of the surround and small flakes are scattered across the portrait. These are really only apparent when viewed under magnification and, should the frame be opened, could easily be brushed or gently blown away.

From the eighteenth century, hair was popularly used in jewellery and pictures as a manifestation of sentiment, be it love or grief. Professional hair workers, such as Elizabeth Chilcot who worked at her father’s jewellery shop in Bath during the 1770s, offered portraits and landscapes in chopped hair. The work was time-consuming as reflected by Elizabeth’s fee of £3 3s (equating to about £500 in today’s money) for a portrait worked in hair.

Item Ref. 7119

Size: framed, 295 x 275mm

Exhibited: Northamptonshire Sewing Prize Scheme Exhibition 187-?