Rare Victorian - Carved Bust Arms Not Jenny Lind

Carved Bust Arms Not Jenny Lind

jenny lind note Carved Bust Arms Not Jenny Lind

072371 1 lind 713919 Carved Bust Arms Not Jenny Lind

If you haven’t read the first part of this series on proving/disproving the Jenny Lind association with the carved arms on Renaissance Revival furniture, you can read it here.

This may take a few posts to get through, so let’s discuss why the majority of people I’ve communicated with recently agree that these arm carvings are not Jenny Lind, but we first need to know a little bit about her life.

Jenny Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish Opera singer, often referred to as the Swedish Nightingale due to her beautiful voice.  After a performance in 1838, “Der Freischütz”, she became wildly popular throughout Sweden and the rest of Europe for the period of about a decade.  P.T. Barnum subsequently promoted her in the U.S. for 93 concerts where she earned approximately $250,000.

Barnum hyped her talent so much to the American public that “Lindomania” followed and she licensed her name for association with household items: beds, cribs, pianos, and music, among other things.  The furniture generally associated with Jenny is of spool design.

It appears that the peak of her popularity was in the middle of the 19th century and the craze had subsided due to her relocation to Europe and raising a family in the 1850s.  She continued to work sporadically, but not in the fever pitch that had occurred before.  Her last performance was in 1870.

Could the carved bust furniture have been a later, resurgent example of “Lindomania”?

I spoke to Alessandra Wood, assistant curator at the Barnum museum which has in it’s collection many Jenny Lind household items (you can see examples of Jenny Lind items here though not from the Barnum Museum).  After speaking with colleagues, the museum is leaning towards the carvings as not being of Jenny.  They had not previously heard of this association with parlor furniture arms.

“Looks nothing like her!”

That’s a refrain I’ve been hearing for the past few days from people writing and speaking to me.  Many of your comments in the first post also are pointing in directions other than Jenny.  One such person I spoke to was Peter Avrea, a 30-year collector and researcher who offers the advice to Google Jenny Lind and compare her profile to those on the carved bust arms.  He thinks like me.

So let’s do a hard comparison.  The female depictions surrounding the furniture arm in the center are those of Jenny Lind.  the most important observation is that Jenny generally kept her hair cut short just below the bottom of her ears.  The carved furniture arms seem to universally have much longer hair.

jenny lind faces1 Carved Bust Arms Not Jenny Lind

It is rare to see a depiction of Jenny with long hair such as this one from the 1850s:

I have not done exhaustive research on whether Jenny Lind took on an opera role that would have classical head ornamentation and longer hair, so there is always the possibility that she had one of these roles, but the rest of the reasons why it can’t be her outweigh this possibility for me:

  • The presence of short hair on Jenny for most of her personification in imagery vs. the long hair on the carvings.
  • Her absence of popularity approaching and up to the time of the American centennial when a lot of this furniture was produced.  There just isn’t a compelling reason for her depiction during this timeframe.
  • The narrow shape of the carved face and prominent nose does not represent the frequently depicted cherubic and rounded attributes of Jenny’s face

It just doesn’t look like her.  So, what are your thoughts on this analysis?

Coming up soon … So who IS this meant to depict if it isn’t Jenny?

Share on
  • R. Joseph Wiessinger - May 20, 2009

    I believe the busts are intended to represent a stylized view or version of a woman such as Lady Liberty/Columbia. The Centennial of the Nation is being celebrated by depicting Mother Liberty/Columbia. No actual real person is characterized by these carvings. In Egyptian Revival furniture of the 1880’s, the female head carvings are just a representative overview of what an Egyptian woman might look like given the hair ornamentation, the dress and the profile of the woman’s face.

  • RareVictorian - May 20, 2009

    yes, I expect to be headed in that direction in the next installment. I just want to push Jenny Lind out once and for all, if possible, first.

  • james - May 20, 2009

    Well, i dont think one can push out jenny lind on the evidence presented in this post.

  • james conrad - May 23, 2009

    HEY, where did all the posters go? Considering Jelliff was married & had 6 daughters, isnt it possible the bust is one of them?


  • RareVictorian - May 23, 2009

    John Jelliff retired from active participation in the company in 1860, so these arms which were carved 10-15 years after that were likely not under Jelliff’s design specification, though not out of the question as he continued to “consult” with Henry Miller who ran John Jelliff, Co.

    I’ve always speculated, but can’t prove, that the arms were made by another manufacturer and bought by Jelliff, Hamburger, Schrenkeisen…

  • james conrad - May 24, 2009

    John, you could very well be right. I went back and re-read the Dietz Rebuttal and he makes a pretty good case that Jelliff likely wholesaled high end product to Schrenkeisen. Though the highly secretive guild system in europe never really took hold in america the “trade secret” part did & its often frustrating in researching who did what and why.

  • R. Joseph Wiessinger - May 24, 2009

    There is a wonderful article in “The Magazine Antiques” May 1999, by Anna Tobin D’Ambrosio, where this high style, mass produced furniture sold or made by various makers is discussed. Possibly some is actually made by the firms or some is just purchased and then resold by them with their name tags on the articles. Makers discussed are Kilian Brothers, Schrenkeisen, Mallard, and Jelliff. A reading of this article may shed some light on the matter.

  • james conrad - May 24, 2009

    Joseph, heres the letter Dietz wrote in reply to Anna Tobin article in MA, worth a read.


  • AP - June 4, 2009

    Cowan’s is selling a daguerreotype image of Jenny Lind and her husband in its June 24th sale. Another interesting comparison (although at an older age).


  • susan perun - May 22, 2013

    I have some John Jellif chairs ( they are large). One looks like a woman’s head ( with bust line) but a similar looking one, much like most that are shown with the long hair, I think is actually a male. I know he did obviously looking men, but my pair of similar chairs.. have different heads.. one with a more masculine nose and no bust.Men back then wore high collars and had long curly hair too!

  • Michael - July 12, 2017

    I wish more people on the site. I can’t stand the whole Jenny Lind head debate. I have a magazine from the 1870s illustrated price guide , which has all sorts of artificial wood and wood work applications for furniture , that has this head in it. And it’s called Grecian lady. There is no Jenny Lind it has nothing to do with Jenny land. And I’m infuriated want to go to museums and they prefer to this head as being Jenny Lind. It’s a Greek head has nothing to do with Jenny Lind. I can email of screenshot of it if someone would like 🙂

Leave a reply