Trailing Ribbons

Sarah Harrington


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 actual 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, a bird’s nest or a model sailing ship!

This lady’s hair is dressed with trailing ribbons. Her hairstyle together with the ribbon necklace tied in a bow at the back of her neck gives the profile an attractive elegance.

Working in the late eighteenth century, Sarah Harrington favoured hollow-cut silhouettes where the profile is cut out but it is the surrounding paper that is retained and backed with black paper. This technique was more popular amongst American silhouette artists.

The silhouette resides in the original turned wood frame with an inner crenellated gilt border. The backing board is inscribed ‘Mrs Turner’ and on a worn paper label, possibly in the artist’s own hand, ‘by Harrington’.

Working between 1774 and 1787, Mrs Sarah Harrington successfully patented her method of producing profiles in 1775. She travelled as far north as Newcastle and Chester and was a regular visitor to both Oxford and Cambridge where she was assured of a steady and lucrative clientele amongst the university freshmen and graduates. She herself was well-educated and advocated the education of women, even giving geography lessons to young ladies. Her work can be easily recognised by the inclusion of an eyelash on her sitters coupled with the bust-line termination.

Item Ref. 6216

Size: framed, 122 x 102mm