The Feathered Headdress

Mrs Sarah Harrington, 1770s


The fashion during the late eighteenth century was for hair to be piled high with the help of animal wool pads. Dressing the hair was a lengthy and costly process so a lady’s head was typically only “opened” (this was the term used) every couple of months by which time the untreated wool could be pretty pungent! The fashion remained in vogue nonetheless until the mid-1780s with the hair being topped with feathers, ribbons or even more elaborate structures like a basket of fruit or even a bird’s nest!

This lady’s hair is not dressed extravagantly high though and is just topped with a single feather. The hairstyle together with the ribbon necklace that is tied in a bow at the back of her neck gives the profile an attractive elegance.

Working during the eighteenth century, Sarah Harrington specialised in ‘hollow-cut’ silhouettes where the profile was cut out of white paper but it was the surrounding paper that was retained and backed with either black paper or silk. This profile, cut from laid paper, is typical of her work and is set in the original turned frame with an inner gilded border. A difficult to decipher inscription on the backing board appears to read

Picture ?? / Mrs Harrington / G F F ? / [further initials]

The silhouette is in fine condition; the frame has an old scuff mark at the top and some dulling to the gilt border. (The print shown is for illustrative purposes only and not part of the sale.)

Item Ref. 6215

Size: framed, 125 x 104mm (4⅞ x 4⅛")