Rare Victorian - Jenny Lind She Ain’t

Jenny Lind She Ain’t

jenny lind arms Jenny Lind She Aint

jenny lind arms Jenny Lind She AintI’ve longed referred to these female busts as “Jenny Lind” due to the prevalance of this belief in the marketlplace. People know which arms you are referring to when you describe them as Jenny Lind carvings.  It has never sat well in my stomach to be completely true and I’ve always wanted to know who this woman really was meant to depict.

I’ve come across some information that may solve this mystery for me once and for all.  One of you may debunk my theory in the end, but that is a good thing.  Let’s get this settled once and for all time.

I occasionally run contests here on Rare Victorian and I’m going to use this occasion to give away a copy of the book, “19th-Century America: Furniture and Other Decorative Arts” .  It’s release commemorated the hundredth anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Here’s how the contest will work.  Put your guess in the comments section as to who this carving is intended to depict and if it matches my theory (and I don’t get major dissension on said theory), that person wins the book.

I will share what I found in the coming days.

19th century furniture decorative arts Jenny Lind She Aint


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  • R. Joseph Wiessinger - May 16, 2009

    Since the furniture discussed is about the mid 1870’s, I’d guess that all the hoopla over the centennial celebration of the country (1876) is focused on the values and wonderful opportunities we have here in the US> So, my guess goes to the mythical figure of Lady Liberty. Lots and lots of furniture of this period has heads or masks of women and I believe them to be portrayals of Lady Liberty> JOE

  • james conrad - May 16, 2009

    I’ll guess Jenny Lind, swedish opra singer (1820-1887)


  • Jennifer McKelvey - May 16, 2009

    I also vote for Lady Liberty, but I have also heard these referred to as Columbia….like the Columbia Pictures Torch Lady logo. Miss Columbia is meant as a personification of these United States of America.

  • woodwright - May 16, 2009

    Is it the Queen of Sheba? (I already have that book).

  • monkecmonkedo - May 16, 2009

    I’ll guess Helen of Sparta/Troy given that you interchangeably see a male figure on chair arms as well. Often female-armed furniture has a male figure on the center medallion and vice-versa. I’ll also bet that the mystery man could be Menelaus or Paris. Troy was rediscovered in the 1860’s-1870’s, so I assume that helped to spark the Neo-Grec Movement.

  • Bart - May 16, 2009

    My guess isn’t going to count as its already been submited but I always thought it was Helen of Troy or a female warrior of Troy.

  • stever - May 17, 2009

    hi john—

    you already know my guess…. the head of columbia.

    patriotism personified through art forms in daily life!
    i cannot wait to hear your new information.


  • james conrad - May 17, 2009

    IT’S a Bird, A Plane, noooooooo, it’s WONDER WOMAN!

  • Tom - May 17, 2009

    Queen Victoria?

  • max - May 17, 2009

    Although probably Columbia, I think serious consideration should be toward Greek Revival i.e. Athena or equivalent.

  • RareVictorian - May 17, 2009

    Anyone an expert in historic costumery? I’m trying to eliminate some concerns in my theory. The large central tassel and the “bib” (for lack of a better word) beneath it. What eras would that be appropriate for?

  • ThePeacockRoom - May 17, 2009

    I’m not an expert, but I have some experience working with historic costume and textiles. The “bib” would probably be more properly termed a “jabot” and would have been found in both male and female attire at various times from the mid 1600s on. A combination of jabot-and-large-tassel doesn’t ring any bells off the top of my head, but if you need a look-up re a specific time-frame or period, I do have a fairly extensive library of costume references at my disposal.

  • james conrad - May 18, 2009

    Well, according to
    ” nationally known collector and researcher Peter Avrea” the bust is Columbia.

  • RareVictorian - May 18, 2009

    I would like his perspective but can’t find much of Peter Avrea on the web to find him…

  • james conrad - May 18, 2009

    Yeah, i have bumped into this problem before, trying to locate a furniture historian or decorative arts scholar can often be tough going.

  • james conrad - May 18, 2009

    • RareVictorian - May 18, 2009

      Spoke to Peter. Just had a great long conversation with him. One more person I’d like to talk to…

  • james conrad - May 18, 2009

    lol, and the plot thickens…………

  • woodwright - May 19, 2009

    The suspense is killing us John – anxious to hear your theory.

    James Conrad’s search posted above for Peter Avrea reminded me a neat little trick to find a word or phrase on any page (i.e. Peter Avrea) w/o having to scour the page looking for it. When searching for a word or phrase on a page – hit the F3 key and it will bring up a box marked”Find” – type in the word or phrase (i.e Avrea) you are looking for and it will take you straight to it (it will be highlighted) – makes it very easy to find something on a page. Can do the same thing w/ the “Edit” then “Find on this page” at the top – but F3 is faster. This is also very handy to use in your e-mail program – hit F3, then “advanced find” – great to locate an old e-mail quickly. woodwright

  • 1881victorian - May 22, 2009

    Just for fun, here is a different guess… Minerva (Athena — I agree with max). I think that carved busts may have also been used in European furniture, which begs the question, “why Columbia?”. – Jason

  • Sunnyp7 - August 24, 2009

    When I read this post by Jennifer who said, “I also vote for Lady Liberty, but I have also heard these referred to as Columbia….like the Columbia Pictures Torch Lady logo. Miss Columbia is meant as a personification of these United States of America,” I remembered that one of the dealers who sold me the balloon back chairs referred to the furniture as in the style of Jenny Lind or Miss Columbia. After reading the posts from the group, I am leaning towards Miss Columbia.

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