Pairs of woolwork pictures are challenging to find. This delightfully charming and wonderfully decorative pair artfully captures in pettipoint the activities of early 19th century domestic life.
The woman sitting at her spinning wheel spinning yarn in an archway covered with twining grape vines is elaborately costumed in a blue bodice, a white apron and a red skirt with black decoration along the bottom. On her head is a pretty little ruffled bonnet. The black interior of the house helps accentuate and define her figure as she happily works. The spinning wheel has bobbin twist legs and a pole attached to capture the newly spun wool yarn. To the right of the spinning wheel, and perched on the railing of the stoop, is a small bird with red breast and black-tipped wings.
The picture is done in soft camel colors, ivory, reds and blues. The colors harmoniously blend with each other. The blues of the grapes dangling above the woman’s head and in the archway make for pretty accents in the composition. There is some amount of silk floss that was used to highlight both the apron and the folds of the bodice.
The whole woolwork is housed in its original beautiful bird’s eye maple frame with a wood and gesso gilded slip. On the back is the original inscribed information along with a typewritten label added later to help clarify the piece’s provenance. The label reads: “This picture was made by Mary Ann Brain (Mrs. Louis Fry’s mother.) It was cleaned and new paper put on back in 1957, but original paper put back (over the new) bearing the date April 1, 1839.” The original inscription, “Mary Ann Brain, April 1, 1839,” was handwritten in black ink and placed in the center of the original backing paper.
The condition of this early piece of needlework is superb. The color retention is remarkable for a piece whose age is 172 years. There is no staining or insect damage. The condition of the maple frame is excellent for its age. There are some cracks in the veneer and a few very minor losses of veneer. But the rich red-brown color and deep, soft patina are very pleasing.
To compliment this woolwork picture is another by the same stitcher, Mary Ann Brain. The typewritten label on the back of this picture is nearly identical to that on the back of the other. There is also the original paper, upon which was written, in fainter and slightly smaller script, “Mary Ann Brain, (?) 6, 1839.” This picture gives us another perspective on early Victorian daily life; this time from a man’s viewpoint. Here we have the spouse sitting on a small bench peeling a potato into an attractive red bowl. He also is dressed in period costume in a baggy pair of brown pants, a brown waistcoat and a cream-colored long sleeve shirt. He sports a brown beard and mustache. On his head is a small, jovial red cap.
Our hunter is next to a fireplace on a wood-boarded floor. He has removed his high black boots, which are now lying in front of the bench and on his feet are black slippers. His guns and hunting bag, along with some small antlers, are hung above his head on a stone wall. On the nearby table is the day’s bag, consisting of two ducks. To his left there is some fabric thrown over a high post in the room. However, one of the most endearing parts of this piece is the man’s adoring brown and white setter sitting right beside him while observing his activities. For his part, our returned hunter is staring intently and bemusedly at his pet.
The colors in this companion piece were worked in the same wool yarns as in the other. Therefore, the two put together go hand-in-hand with each other, not only in coloration but subject matter, fine stitching and even detail. This picture is slightly larger than the other. Furthermore, the gilded slip in this picture is a bit different than that found in the other.
The condition of this one of the pair is exactly as nice as the other; superb. As it was stitched by the same hand, the wonderful degree of competence and expertise in the stitching itself is just as fine. The original bird’s eye maple frame is in excellent condition as well, with only minor losses of veneer. The rich color and deep patina are even stronger than in the other.
With their identical and harmonizing color palette, picture of domestic tranquility and activity, wonderful period frames, high degree of needlework excellence with the fine pettipoint, and overall artistic compositions, this is an exceptional pair of very early Victorian woolwork embroideries that deserve a special place for their display in your interior.
The piece with the spinning woman is 15-1/4 inches square, including the frame. The piece with the hunter and his dog measures 16 inches wide by 17-3/4 inches high, including the frame.
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