Painted fire screen with Robinson Crusoe and Friday
The object is a papier maché, handheld fire screen with a painted narrative scene from Daniel Defoe's, Robinson Crusoe. The screen is oblong in shape with a bracketed outline, mounted on a turned gilt and gesso wooden handle. Surrounded by a gilt swag and floral border, the scene shows Crusoe and Friday sighting a ship. Standing on a rocky outcrop by the sea, Crusoe points toward the vessel in the distance, while Friday peers through a telescope and waves a white flag. The dark blue sea appears rough, as the sun parts the stormy sky above the ship and figures. Two seagulls flutter in the foreground against the dark sky. The back of the screen is unmarked with a plain black ground.
- Creation: 1800 - 1850
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is located at the George Peabody Library and may require a special appointment to access it. Contact Special Collections for more information.
Conditions Governing Use
Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.
Biographical / Historical
The painted scene is derived from an episode late in the story that takes place in October 1686. Crusoe and Friday are awaiting the return of Friday's father and the Spaniard from the mainland, where they had sailed eight days earlier to rescue the Spaniard's countrymen, when Friday spots a ship and wakes Crusoe. Crusoe grabs his "Perspective Glass," climbs to the top of the hill, and sees an English ship anchored one and a half leagues from the shore. A longboat reaches the shore carrying eight mutineers and three prisoners. Crusoe and Friday rescue the prisoners, overthrow the mutineers, restore the Captain, and secure the ship (Defoe, ed. Keymer, 209-29).
Contemporary illustrations emphasize Crusoe's rescue of "the Savage" Friday from cannibals and Friday's willing enslavement, where he submits, kneels, or places Crusoe's foot upon his head. In the fire screen, however, Friday's role as "Companion" or "Assistant" appears to be highlighted above his role as "Servant" or "Slave" (Defoe, ed. Keymer, 171-2). The two stand side by side, as Friday makes use of the telescope. The white flag alludes to their initial hope that the ship would contain Friday's father and the Spaniard.
Sources: Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, ed. Thomas Keymer (Oxford, 2007), esp. 209-229. David Blewett, "The Iconic Crusoe: Illustrations and Images of Robinson Crusoe," in The Cambridge Companion to Robinson Crusoe, ed. John Richetti (Cambridge, 2018), pp. 159-190.
Biographical / Historical
Fire screens were used to protect a sitter from the full heat of a fire in a fireplace. They could be handheld or set into a base or piece of moveable furniture. Common subjects for decoration include floral patterns, still lives, and landscapes. Narrative scenes are less common. The fire screen is typical of papier maché wares produced in the West Midlands in England in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Source: Yvonne Jones, Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c. 1740–1940 (Antique Collectors’ Club, 2012).
0.36 Cubic Feet (1 flat box (17.5 x 3 x 11.75 inches))
Language of Materials
The object is a papier maché, handheld fire screen with a painted narrative scene from Daniel Defoe's, Robinson Crusoe. The scene shows Crusoe and Friday standing on a rocky outcrop sighting a ship. It is derived from the October 1686 episode in the story, where an English vessel carrying mutineers and prisoners approaches the island. The fire screen is typical of papier maché wares produced in the West Midlands in England in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Purchased from Maggs Brothers in April 2022.
The screen measures 24.0 x 20.5 cm with a handle of 16.0 cm.
Processed by Brooke Shilling in November 2022.
- Guide to the painted fire screen with Robinson Crusoe and Friday
- Brooke Shilling
- 2022 October
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