bettyannwinters.com, fiber art
THE AWAKENING, “Le Reveil de l’Amour” by Perrault, Paris Salon, 1891.
Photo courtesy of Artifacts from the Old Main building of Illinois State University
She has graced the wall of my bedroom for more than half a century now. I grew up with her calm presence, and my mother, now 93, did too. We lovingly call her “Mom’s Angel,” but she is known to the world as THE AWAKENING, “Le Reveil de l’Amour” by French artist Leon Jean Bazile Perrault. The artist beautifully painted this little towheaded angel; blush pink roses and pastel songbirds surround the child as he lies peacefully on a lush forest floor.
The First Clue to The Mystery
It was by chance that I began to learn the fascinating history of my Mom’s Angel. One day while scrounging through thrift stores looking for treasures to use in my art projects, I found something I liked. It was a pale aqua-colored glass jar, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. The top once held a lid that screwed on, and the raised letters on the side said FREE SAMPLE. Without realizing it, I had found a little piece of history, a link to the mystery of the Angel on the Wall.
A Mellin’s infant food jar sold for $10 in 2019.This small jar was from the 1890s and once held a free sample of Mellin’s infant food. Mellin’s Food Company of Boston, Massachusetts, was the maker of Mellin’s Food for Infants and Invalids. At that time in history, making and selling packaged baby food was groundbreaking. Mellin’s food was in powdered form, so the mother would need to mix it in hot water to liquefy and then add cold milk before feeding her child. Prior to this time, people made all their baby foods at home.
A Connection is Made
As I continued to search the web for information on the jar, I came across page after page, site after site on all kinds of glass jars, bottles, and containers. Then, all of a sudden, up pops an image of Mom’s Angel! I gasped, “What is Mom’s Angel doing in my search for a baby food jar?” In all my years, the only place I had seen that beautiful angel was on the wall of my bedroom. It seems that Mellin’s Food Company was using artwork to advertise its product. They chose work that represented well-nourished, healthy children, and in this case, the artwork of an angelic child.
The 1893 World’s Fair Clue
In 1891 at the Paris Salon, Perrault’s painting of Le Reveil de l’Amour was on exhibit. After the exhibition, Doliber-Goodale Co., Boston, the manufacturers of Mellin’s Food, purchased it. At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the original painting of THE AWAKENING, “Le Reveil de l’Amour,” was shown at the Department of Liberal Arts building in Mellin’s Food Exhibit.
“Chicago World’s Fair 1893” by Boston Public Library is licensed under
CC BY 2.0In the August 31, 1893 issue of The Youth’s Companion, Mellin’s Food Company placed an advertisement which included THE AWAKENING, “Le Reveil de l’Amour” by Perrault, Paris Salon, 1891. It also had a lengthy, detailed description of the artwork. At the bottom of the advertisement was an offer to receive a free reproduction of the original. All that was required was 6 cents to cover postage and handling, along with a name and address. The Doliber-Goodale Co., Boston Company, would happily send out a full-color print measuring 14 inches by 18 inches, with no advertising on it. It was perfect for framing and hanging on the wall!
To Trade or Not to Trade
I also found out that a few years later, in 1895, the Mellin’s Food Company used Perrault’s Le Reveil De L’Amour in a different form of advertising: trade cards. It was not uncommon for companies to use beautiful images to represent their products. The trade cards were printed on heavy paper about the size of a postcard.
With the advancement of printing, by the mid-to-late 1800s, a new printing process was developed called chromolithography (a multi-colored lithograph.) This technology allowed printing to be mass-produced like never before with images that had incredible detail in a wide variety of bright colors.
During the Victorian Era, the collecting of trade cards was a popular hobby. The cards were traded among friends and were often placed in keepsake books, much like the scrapbooking and photo albums we use today. By the end of the century, the trend was passing, and in its advertising place came the printed magazine. Today trade cards, a form of ephemera, are still very popular with collectors for the artwork used and the historical representation of a time past.
Mystery Happily Solved!
One thing I love about research is all the twists and turns that take place–the unexpected results, the discovery of something genuinely serendipitous. In my uncovering The Mystery of the Angel on the Wall, I learned many things.
While she will always be “Mom’s Angel” – the Angel on the Wall, to me, there is a new richness in her presence. What once was a family heirloom passed down from generation to generation has taken on a new life, one of its own—a life with a broader history. And I am happy.
Betty Ann Winters is an avid organic gardener, educator, and fiber artist. With an inquisitive nature and a spirit that needs to create, she is always looking for possibilities and new projects. She finds inspiration and peace in the gardens and woods surrounding her home & studio in the foothills of the NC Mountains.
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