The Painting of the Week 99 is the artwork titled “Hanging Partridge,” which was created by Mary Linwood (1755-1845) and is an embroidered piece based on a painting by Moses Haughton the Elder. It measures 62 x 72 cm and is held in private ownership.
Encountering Mary Linwood At Tate Britain’s Folk Art Exhibition
A recent trip to the Folk Art exhibition at Tate Britain included visiting a section highlighting Mary Linwood, known for reproducing old master paintings in needlework during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Rozsika Parker mentions her work in The Subversive Stitch.
The Subversive Stitch explores the historical trajectory through which the dissociation of embroidery from fine arts contributed significantly to the marginalization of women’s labor, drawing from sources like household accounts, women’s magazines, correspondence, novels, and artworks themselves. An excerpt from the book (pages 144-146) elucidates how Mary Linwood’s needle painting exemplifies this phenomenon, portraying women’s embroidery as an extension of their gender identity.
The Emergence Of Needle Painting And Mary Linwood’s Influence
Women’s desire for their work to have a moral and emotional impact on society contributed to the rise of needle painting, an art form aiming to faithfully reproduce oil paintings through stitching. Mary Linwood, renowned as the foremost practitioner of needle painting, developed a technique using specially dyed worsteds on thick fabric, employing small, short, and long stitches to imitate oil painting.
Her exhibitions, featuring around a hundred needle paintings including famous works by artists like Joshua Reynolds, Raphael, and Thomas Gainsborough, garnered widespread attention. Linwood curated the displays meticulously, setting each piece within carefully constructed environments. Reviews of her exhibitions focused less on the quality of the embroidery and more on the display of femininity. For instance, The Ladies Monthly Magazine of 1798 praised the exhibition for its portrayal of feminine qualities:
The exhibition showcases remarkable ingenuity and tireless dedication, standing as an achievement equal to, if not surpassing, any previously seen in the country. The refined taste, discernment, diverse selection, and subtle shading achieved in pieces are unparalleled, rivaling the finest works produced by brush and paint. Particularly noteworthy is the Lodona by Maria Cosway, which exemplifies exceptional skill in rendering drapery. For aspiring needleworkers, this exhibition serves as an outstanding educational opportunity to study and master the intricate art of needlework.
Reception And Legacy of Mary Linwood’s Exhibition
The Morning Post noted that a significant indicator of Miss Linwood’s success was the attendance of not only ladies but also “Great numbers of Noblemen and Gentlemen” at her exhibition. However, The Library of Anecdote focused more on Miss Linwood’s personal attributes than her artistic achievements, emphasizing her as an exemplar of the “force and energy of the female mind” devoid of any perceived unfeminine traits.
These reviews underscore how society often regarded women’s embroidery as reflecting their gender, subjecting it to gendered expectations and judgments. This perception constrained embroiderers and diminished the value of their work when it diverged from prevailing notions of femininity. Following Mary Linwood’s death in 1845, interest in her work waned, culminating in the rejection of her collection by the British Museum and its subsequent dispersal.
In addition to her achievements in needle painting, Mary Linwood is credited with inventing “black and white” embroidery, which aimed to replicate prints and drawings using fine silk and sometimes even human hair. Typically, country houses served as the primary subjects for these “black and whites.”
According to The Library of Anecdote from 1839, Linwood stumbled upon this technique by chance, describing how she discovered it by copying prints that caught her eye using black and puce-colored silk on white sarcenet fabric. The description portrays the process as a serendipitous and effortless endeavor, where Linwood’s mere touch with the needle brought her figures to life, akin to the spear of Ithurial.