Fire screens were a necessity before the introduction of central heating. When homes were heated primarily through burning wood in fireplaces, fire screens were instrumental in blocking sparks from flying about rooms, and acted as protection from the heat of fires for anyone sitting close to the flames. Although fire screens were originally purely functional items, they quickly began to serve an additional, decorative purpose. This fire screen dates from the 18th century, and is an example of a horse, or cheval, screen. Horse screens are named for the two feet that sit on either side of the wide screen, and are decorated with a variety of materials, including embroidery, paper mache, stained glass, and painted wood. Fire screens of this era were either made by the woman of the house, or purchased from an artisan. Screens of this nature were considered luxury items, as they would be placed in front of an unused fireplace, for aesthetic purposes. Due to the affluent nature of these objects, few remain today. This fire screen consists of an intricately hand-crafted walnut frame, detailed with a layer of gilt. The front of the screen displays a cream, blue, and orange silk image featuring foliage surrounding a central figural screen. A layer of velvet covers the edging and backside of the screen. This piece would be a fantastic addition to any living space, with or without an unused fireplace.
At this time in history, part of Sir Robert Walpole’s (1676–1745) art collection was sold to Catherine the Great of Russia (r. 1762–1796) in 1779. Walpole, Britain’s first prime minister, amassed an admirable collection of Old Master paintings, including works by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641), Nicholas Poussin (1594–1665), Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), and Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). The majority of these paintings subsequently went to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia where they remain housed to this day.