Chinese hand-embroidered silk shawl, c.1920
Fine hand embroidery was an art form in China before Marco Polo arrived there in the 13th century. Chinese export goods were still popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As interest waned after the 1920s, so did the quality of hand work. Modern copies produced in China today are of inferior quality.
The shawl was fashioned from medium weight ivory silk crepe. Each corner of the square shawl is exquisitely hand embroidered with an exotic tree and a garden of flowers in matching silk floss. The shawl is bordered all around with a 13"-wide border of hand-knotted silk fringe.
This type of shawl was a favorite evening accessory of the 1920s flapper. It would be a beautiful wedding accessory for an informal ceremony; or you could wrap yourself in the medium-weight shawl à la Pavlova.
The greatest ballerina of all time, Anna Pavlova, was also a fashion idol in Paris before WWI. A ballerina who danced with Pavlova in the Ballets Russes once reminisced that Pavlova used to drape a large shawl "in the Spanish manner...They took the place of dresses for her. It became very popular, and many imitated her."
Birds and flowers are common in embroidered designs. A Tree (of Life), however, is rare. Here, the hand embroidery has been carried to the utmost refinement of delicacy. The wonderful verisimilitude brings to mind a saying of Lysippus (350 BCE), the finest sculptor of antiquity, who said that "an artist should imitate, not the work of other artists, but nature itself."
The condition is almost excellent. There are a few very tiny, pale spots. They are difficult to detect; they do not spoil the appearance.
It measures 90" square, including the fringe.