Pairs of Victorian woolwork pictures are difficult to find. Often one was lost or damaged over the years; in other cases various heirs may have chosen to split them up. The fact that these two are still together after some 170 years tells us something about how important they were to the family that owned them and passed them down.
In one of these, a lady is seated on a garden bench with an exotic bird perched on one hand and an elegant white dog at her feet. She is dressed in a flowing, blue skirt with a grey bodice, white collar and cuffs, and a blue bow at her neck. On her bodice there are clusters of ribbon-like stitching that were done in silk floss. Silk floss was also used to embellish the dog, the feather of the hat and the flowers.
On her head is a perky brimmed hat with a large white feather. Her hair was done in pettipoint in neat curls that frame her face. Her hands, face, hair and the bird were all done in pettipoint. The rest of the piece was done in tent stitch. The style reflects the Victorian fondness for trompe l’oeil imagery. Although she is placed in a garden, she is viewed through a window-like circle of leaves and flowers. This circle resembles a piece of jewelry worn around one’s neck. The placement of the large flowers surrounding this vignette shows the talent of a skilled designer. The flowers resemble dogwood roses with small rosebuds surrounding each flower.
The color palette used is exceptionally pretty, with a harmonious combination of light and dark sage green, pinks, corals, royal blue, and browns. These are all intensified by the black and olive green background behind the window into the garden scene. The border consists of a twining branch with acorns spilling from it at varying intervals. The garden, as viewed through the window, has a slight oriental feel to it.
The picture showing the handsomely costumed gentleman playing a lute shows him also seated in the same garden as the lady. His elaborate custom includes a large-brimmed hat, pantaloons with white stockings, boots with buckles and huge bows, and a long, pocketed jacket with billowing sleeves. The face, hair, hands the buttons and pocket on the jacket, and the bows on the boots were all done in pettipoint. This picture has silk embellishment in parts of the man’s costume and the flowers surrounding the window in the garden.
In this picture, the trompe l’oeil does not have as fancy of a window, but it still functions as a window into the garden scene. This window is plain with an octagon-like shape. The surrounding border was done mainly in the dogwood roses blooming around a single branch that twines and circles the window.
The color palette in this piece complements that of the other. The effect of the trompe l’oeil effect, the vibrant wool colors, the pettipoint features, and the charming and romantic central motifs all come together to create strong and exciting images.
On the back of both of the black backing boards is the same very old label that reads: “Established 1846. F. Casson. Gilder. Picture Frame Maker, Print and Picture Dealer, Restorer & Re-Gilder. 20, Bond Street, and 11, King Edward Street, Hull. Dealer in Artistic Materials of Every Description.”
In addition both backs offer a glimpses into the family history as there is a hand-written inscription on each: “Worked by Mary McKinson in the middle of the 19th century.”
Both woolworks are housed in routered ebonized, antique wooden frames with molded, gilded slips.
The condition of both woolworks is superb, with nothing at all to remark upon. The color retention is phenomenal for pieces of this age. The yarn has kept both its color and its soft sheen. The condition of the frames is excellent, though there are some minor losses and dents on both.
At 23-1/4 inches wide by 22-1/2 inches high (including the frame), the one with the gentleman is slightly larger than the other, which is 21-1/4 inches square (including the frame).
Pair of Victorian Mid-19th Century Figural Woolwork Pictures