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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

Next: The Advantage Of Wax Modelling Over Other Fancy Work

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