The Art Of Modelling Flowers In Wax Was Brought Into England

I consequently subjoin an extract from Miss Strickland's Life of Mary

Beatrice, second consort of James II., A.D. 1686.

"The beautiful imitations of natural flowers in wax which have

lately afforded an attractive exercise for the taste and ingenuity

of many of our youthful countrywomen, were first introduced into

England by the mother of Mary Beatrice, as a present to her royal

daughter; as we find by the following passage in a contemporary

letter from a correspondent of the Lady Margaret Russell, which

gives some information relative to the ornamental works then in

vogue among ladies of rank, in the court of Mary Beatrice.

"'In gum flowers, Mrs. Booth tells me you and she is to doe

something in that work, which I suppose must be extraordinary. I

hope it will be as great perfection as the fine WAX WORK ye queen

has, of nun's work, of fruit and flowers, that her mother did put up

for her, and now she has 'em both for her chapel and her rooms. I do

not know whether they be the four seasons of the year, but they say

they are done so well, that they that see 'em can hardly think 'em

other than the real.'"[A]

[A] In the collection of private family letters of the Duke of

Devonshire, at Chiswick Lodge: copied by courteous permission of his


From the year last named until 1736 I have been unable to trace any

knowledge of this elegant art.

When wax flowers were again introduced by an Italian, they were clumsily

manufactured in comparison to those seen in the present age of

improvement; for I had the opportunity of inspecting some of their

"miserable remains" but a few years since. Still I must acknowledge I

discovered some taste and much ingenuity in their construction, and am

not too proud to own that I benefited even by examining these very

inferior productions. I feel quite satisfied that the art of wax flower

modelling is almost still in its infancy. It is no longer regarded as an

amusement only. It is enumerated with other accomplishments essential to

female education. It assists botanical studies, and promotes the views

of flower painters, either in oil or water colours; even in drawing, wax

flowers will be found excellent auxiliaries, far preferable as copies to

the even surface of plates. I have myself been much gratified by

furnishing flowers in wax to some of our first flower painters, who have

assured me that they have proved of great utility, in cases where the

evanescent properties of the flower of nature prevented the possibility

of committing their similitude to canvas ere their beauty had faded. It

affords me no small degree of satisfaction also, that my flowers were

found useful as copies for some of the beautiful carved work in the late

great and ever memorable Exhibition. I have also supplied them as

illustrations to botanical lectures.

In thus referring to the utility of wax flowers, I am reminded of a

partially unfavourable prejudice which has lately sprung up, from an

article which first appeared in a Manchester paper, and which was

subsequently copied into The Times, and other papers. It is possible

ladies may be induced to abandon this delightful amusement, upon reading

such a statement as the subjoined extract:--

"THE DANGER OF MODELLING IN WAX.--Few persons, especially, perhaps,

of the many young ladies who are now practising the very pleasing

art of modelling fruits, flowers, &c., in wax, at all suspect the

great danger in which they are placed from the poisonous nature of

the colouring matter of the wax which they handle so unsuspectingly.

The white wax, for instance, contains white lead; the green, copper;

the yellow, chrome yellow and vermilion--strong poisons all; while

many other kinds of wax are equally poisonous, and, therefore

dangerous. There are very many persons who are aware of the intense

sufferings, for very many years past, of Mr. W. Bally, phrenologist

and modeller in wax, in which latter branch he has laboured for 24

or 25 years, three of them as teacher of the art, at the Manchester

Mechanics' Institution. Mr. Bally has been at times completely

paralysed, and is now and has long been very nearly so, especially

in the hands and arms; and he has also been afflicted with extensive

ulceration of the throat, and has almost totally lost his voice.

Both himself and his medical adviser, after a long attention to his

symptoms, are satisfied that the primary cause of his affliction is

the extent to which the subtle poisons in the wax with which he has

worked have been absorbed into his system through the pores of his

hands, while the disease has been generally strengthened, and one

part of it accounted for, by the occasional application of his

fingers to his lips while at work. Mr. Bally says, that he has known

several cases in which young ladies have been attacked with partial

paralysis of the hands and arms, after having devoted some time to

the practice of modelling; but at the time he had no suspicion of

the cause. As all the requisite colours can be obtained from

vegetable matter, and as the use of mineral colouring seems to lead

to such deplorable results, the subject should be carefully

investigated by those working with coloured wax."--Manchester


It is not my intention to contradict an assertion so boldly set forth. I

have no doubt the editor of the Manchester Examiner had some grounds

for the article; but I think it right to state that which I can

prove--namely, that the wax artistically manufactured by me is so

perfectly harmless, that for the last fourteen years I have had it in my

hands, upon an average from twelve to fourteen hours every day (Sunday

excepted), and never in the slightest degree experienced any

inconvenience or ill effects.

The small portion of colour I introduce undergoes a chemical process,

which neutralizes entirely any deleterious properties appertaining to

the few colours required to be used. It is quite unnecessary to

introduce white lead at all. I was assisted by a practical German

chemist to prepare borax, in such a manner, as to entirely supersede

white lead. Now most of my readers will be able to testify how perfectly

harmless must be borax, it being one of the drugs so constantly used

with honey, and recommended by the faculty as an excellent remedy for

canker in the mouth. I am, as I have previously stated, the daughter of

a medical man, and am perfectly acquainted with the danger attending the

absorption of mineral colours into the system: under these

circumstances, it is not likely that I should myself use that which

would be injurious. Ladies, who desire to enjoy the recreation of wax

flower modelling, may indulge in the amusement with perfect safety, if

they purchase the wax of me. At the same time, I wish it to be perfectly

understood, that I do not insinuate, or attribute aught against any

other person or persons who prepare wax for sale.

I DECIDEDLY OBJECT to the dry colours being rubbed into the wax with the

fingers. I invariably apply the colours with a brush. It must be

injurious to close the pores of the skin, even were the powders so used

innocuous; but to say nothing of the danger of the method alluded to, it

is a most dirty occupation, and ladies would not like to see their hands

dyed with carmine, Prussian blue, or chromes. Such a method of tinting

is likely to prejudice ladies against the work altogether; besides

which, it renders the flowers much more fragile. The only time I ever

use dry powder is in the form of bloom (peculiarly prepared arrowroot),

which I throw on lightly, but never rub in. Having endeavoured to prove

that there are no dangerous results likely to accrue from this pleasing

occupation, I will proceed to shew