I recently visited one of my favorite New England towns, Salem, Massachusetts, and stumbled upon this fabulous, early American, hand-painted, dressing screen. It is a decorative item now on display at “Sophia’s Gifts of Artistry & Elegance,” www.sophiasofsalem.com. I spoke with the shop proprietor, Marie Cardillo, and we both learned something new.
The screen is made up of four panels. It measures approximately 5 ft. long X 4 1/2 ft. high. I estimate the painting was done during the Federal Era, circa 1830. Usually, we think of early American hand-painted furniture as having the solid “country blue” or red. It is rare to find a piece so that is so decorative and creative. Being in New England at this time was an exciting period. It was the peak of the great ships trade with the Far East and Europe and US ships were able to bring back exotic items to the new country. When this piece was made, this pioneering nation’s independence was less than one hundred years old. Whomever painted this screen must have had knowledge about mythology as well as possibly astrology. We know that the famous sea captains of that time had a depth of knowledge of the stars and astronomy in order to navigate their ships.
The lady reclining is Venus Victrix. She reads a scroll while the lamp of knowledge burns by her side. Up in the sky is Cupid the God of Love and son of Venus. He flies towards the clouds with two doves suspended by ribbons attached to his wrist. A crescent moon shows in the sky. The imagery and symbolism in this piece could be interpreted on several levels. I thought that this was an interpretation of a famous painting perhaps. I believe it to be a collaboration of images created by a primitive artist.
The owner of the piece, Marie, said that she acquired the screen along with the shop in 2004 and it was her “good luck charm.” I think it is quite lucky too. I could see this as the center point of an antique show, displayed with other painted furniture. Given the antiquity and rarity of this piece, I could see it realizing a value of $2500-$3500 for the collector.