No needlework, either of ancient or modern times, (says Mr. Lambert,) has ever surpassed the productions of Miss Linwood. So early as 1785, these pictures had acquired such celebrity as to attract the attention of the Royal Family, to whom they were shewn at Windsor Castle. – Book of Days
Mary Linwood by Hoppner, 1800. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum
Mary Linwood, Partridges after the painting by Moses Haughton, 1798
Mary Linwood was an artist who used needlework as her material. Born in Birmingham in 1755, Mary made her first embroidered picture when she was thirteen years old. She was mistress of a private boarding school, which her mother started, but her lasting claim to fame lay in her needlework art. For nearly seventy-five years Mary imitated popular paintings in worsted embroidery. An enterprising woman, she opened an exhibition in the Hanover Square Rooms in 1798, which afterward traveled to Leicester Square, Edinburgh and Dublin. Four years before her death in 1845, her works were still exhibited in London. She embroidered her last piece when seventy-eight, although she lived to be 90 and worked as a school mistress until a year before her death. In 1844, during her annual visit to her Exhibition in London, she caught the flu and died.
Mary worked with stitches of different lengths on a fabric made especially for her in Leicester. She had coarse linen tammy cloth prepared for her as well. Her long and short stitches looked like brush strokes, with silk for highlights, and many amateurs copiesd her on a smaller scale. A good example of her work is the almost 2 ft square portrait of Napoleon in the South Kensington Museum.
Needlework image of Napoleon
Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte embroidered with coloured worsteds in small short and long stitches By Miss Mary Linwood In gilt frame glazed English Late 18th or early 19 th centy H 2 ft 7 in W 2 ft 2 in Bequeathed by the late Miss Ellen Markland 1438 1874 This is a remarkable specimen of embroidery involving great labour to imitate a painting – A Descriptive Catalogue of the collections of tapestry and embroidery in the South Kensington Museum, Alan Cole, 1888, p.369
Miss Linwood’s worked pictures, exhibited in Leicester square, were for many years reckoned among the sights of London, and although their pretensions to artistic merit are regarded contemptuously by the present generation, they were in one sense undoubtedly wonderful productions. The exhibition contained copies after such masters as Carlo Dolci, Guido, Ruysdael, Opie, Morland, Gainsborough, Reynolds; a list that proves how great was the scope Miss Linwood’s ambition, and how catholic her taste. The whole collection was dispersed at Christie’s room after Miss Linwood’s death in 1845, when the pieces knocked down for sums far below those at which they had been valued a few years previously…Miss Linwood’s pictures, worked with untwisted soft crewel specially dyed in graduated shades on a ground of twilled linen, are really meritorious, nevertheless one cannot regret that their day, equally with that of the Berlin wool Landseers, is overpast and that we have at last learnt the limitations as well as the possibilities of the embroiderer’s delightful craft. – The Collector
Exhibition, Image @Book of Days
Although Mary Linwood’s needlework exhibits were popular during her lifetime, not everyone was enamored with her work. In 1919, Emily Leigh Lowes wrote these rather hateful statements about Mary in her book, Chats on Old Needlework (Embroidery),
The originator and moving spirit of this bad period was Miss Linwood, who conceived the idea of copying oil paintings in woolwork. She died in 1845. Would that she had never been born! When we think of the many years which English women have spent over those wickedly hideous Berlin-wool pictures, working their bad drawing and vilely crude colours into those awful canvases, and imagining that they were earning undying fame as notable women for all the succeeding ages, death was too good for Miss Linwood. The usual boiling oil would have been a fitter end! Miss Linwood made a great furore at the time of her invention, and held an exhibition in the rooms now occupied by Messrs. Puttick & Simpson, Leicester Square. Can we not imagine the shade of the great Sir Joshua Reynolds, whose home and studio these rooms had been, revisiting the glimpses of the moon, and while wandering up and down that famous old staircase forsaking his home for ever after one horrified glance at Miss Linwood’s invention?
Not only Miss Linwood, but Mrs. Delany and Miss Knowles made themselves famous for Berlin-wool pictures. The kindest thing to say is that the specimens which are supposed to have been worked by their own hands are considerably better than those of the half-dozen generations of their followers. During the middle and succeeding twenty years of the nineteenth century the notable housewife of every class amused herself, at the expense of her mind, by working cross-stitch pictures with crudely coloured wools (royal blue and rose-pink, magenta, emerald-green, and deep crimson were supposed to represent the actual colours of Nature), on very coarse canvas.
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