Early 19th-Century Boston Neoclassical Needlework
I got it about three or four years ago from a friend of mine. He had inherited it. I know it came down through the family, and they were from Boston, and I helped him with some legal work with regard to the estate, and he asked me if I'd like it, and he gave it to me.
What kind of research have you done on it?
Very little. I looked on the Internet and I knew that it was a needlepoint, and I had made contact with a person somewhere back east and they weren't able to tell me very much about it. I told them what it had said on it, and the lady indicated that there was no way to know who Sarah Johnson was, and it was a very common name.
It's a needlepoint picture, but more importantly, it has a painted background, so that if we look at the face here and this background in here, that's actually done by a painter...
...and we don't know who. There's apparently one person working in the Boston area who did this and he worked among the various schools, and he would paint in the backgrounds, and so they'd have a kind of basic print design they were working from. Then it would be turned over to the girl to do the needlework. Now, what really attracted me to this piece is that this is one of the cleanest and most perfect examples of Boston Neoclassic needlework I've ever seen. What we have here is: first, we have the original frame, which is always a plus. Second, we've got here the original eglomise liner, which is that reverse painting on glass. And of course if we're in any doubt about what the subject matter is, we have here, "The Parting of Hector and Andromache, Wrought by Sarah Johnson." Now, this is a famous scene from the “Iliad” by Homer, and we're in the Neoclassic Age when everyone is looking back to the classics, always trying to illustrate the virtues of the classical life, and here we have him, and of course he's not in classical Greek, but beautifully done with the plumes and the rest. A beautiful painting of his armor, and then we have metal work in the threads, just fabulously done. Great graphic image. Very, very strong. The colors are just fabulous. One of the things that you really get scared about with a piece like this, because it's on silk, is that the sun will take out these beautiful blues and greens, but the colors are still very strong. The second thing that's very problematic with these painted silks is that the silk can very easily crack and tear, and literally the weight of the needlework will start to tear away at the fabric. But, I mean, look at this. There's absolutely no tearing.
Everything about this is in absolutely mint condition. We don't know who Sarah Johnson is.
We don't know who painted the background. We know she was in one of the Boston schools from the early 19th century, sometime, we say, about 1800 to about 1815. So we've got everything we want in terms of condition, rarity, and most importantly, quality. If I was selling this object, I would feel very comfortable putting a price tag of between $20,000 and $25,000.
So that was an awfully nice gift from your friend.
It surely was. I can't believe it's worth that much.
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Last Tango in Halifax
Enjoy the third season of this award-winning series that celebrates life and love