In the 18th and 19th centuries it was regarded as fashionable among the upper classes to have a black servant and they sometimes feature in the paintings of these times. I personally have found only a few needlework pieces from these centuries that included servants. This piece, dated 1844, was completed 11 years after the passage of the Act of the British Parliament banning slavery, but the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle classes in the Victorian era preserved and expanded the concept of having servants around for everyday tasks.
This piece, as opposed to other Victorian works that more often featured dogs and children, shows a different side of the household. The servant, dressed in a colorful costume of a red jacket, striped pants and red hat, brings an air of formal 18th century life in large estates, complete with lakes, follies and large gardens. The elements that make up this wonderful large piece of woolwork embroidery add to the relaxed atmosphere of 18th century England.
The work was done in fine stitches of tent stitch that closely border on pettipoint, if not pettipoint, indeed. Because it was worked in fine wool yarn on a tightly woven linen ground, the detail is exceptional. The dogs themselves are outstanding, occupying a large part of the composition. But I feel that the garden itself is one of the principle attractions in this Victorian needlework picture.
This woolwork picture is housed in its original hand-stained pine frame that was made to resemble maple. There is a wide wood and gilded slip, as well as the original steel hooks from which to hang it. The glass is bubbled and wavy, adding another early element to the piece. The condition is excellent. Like other Victorian pieces, there is a certain degree of fading, which one would expect from a piece that is 173 years old. However, most of the colors show good color retention. There are no stains and no insect damage.
On the back is a label that reads: “Sarah Savin Bushnell, July 8th 1844.” I have no doubt that this is the original paper label from this piece. This is a stunning, rare, large and wonderful piece of early Victorian needlework. It would certainly make a strong decorative statement in any room you choose to hang it.
It measures 33-3/4 inches wide by 29-1/2 inches high, including the solid frame that has a depth of 2-1/2 inches.
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