English, early 18th century
In contrast to the often luxuriant, muscular forms that characterize seventeenth-century English crewelwork, this early eighteenth-century crewel embroidered curtain demonstrates a refined sophistication that reflects a blend of European and Oriental sensibilities. During this period, exoticism—especially Chinoiserie—was very fashionable and clearly informed the overall design of this panel. In this exceptional example of finely worked crewel embroidery, intricate flowers of fantastic inspiration twist and turn on elegantly winding branches, while serrated leaves occasionally caress or entwine the sinuous floral vines. Here and there, a fanciful bird with colorful plumage flies close by to inspect a blossom, or lights on a bending leaf. The graceful pattern, full of variation and liberated from any truly discernable repeat, underscores the Asian influence; the asymmetrical composition and color scheme relate to wallpapers and painted silks produced in China for export, and influences of Indian chintzes of the period can also be seen.
Soft, muted pinks, deep reds and multiple hues of green and blue create a harmonious palette for this tour
de force of crewelwork. Twisted, plied worsted wool threads were used to embroider the three joined linen panels; single-ply yarns were also employed for especially delicate details. The variety of stitches, expertly manipulated by an amateur embroiderer, delights the eye and imparts subtle complexities to this curtain. Leaves are worked in many combinations of stitches; some are formed of spiky blanket stitches, others are delineated in fluid stem stitches. Speckling, diminutive crosses and detached chain stitches add interest and seemingly endless variation to the voided surfaces of outlined leaves. Many leaves are completely shaded with long and short stitches, and in some instances portions of the leaves are solidly worked while others are defined and filled with decorative stitches. The embroidery techniques used to create the floral abundance also add to the repertoire of stitches: rows of closely spaced blanket stitch and buttonhole filling create lacy petals and latticed centers, while satin stitch chevrons grace other flowers.
John Stalker and George Parker’s influential Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing, published in 1688, may have inspired the fantastically rendered Chinoiserie birds that decorate this panel which was originally part of a bed set. Of the four crewelwork curtains that survive, two are in private collections; a workbag, also in a private collection, is embroidered with identical vines and flowers that grow from a small mound. A comparable curtain in the collection of the National Museums of Scotland (A.1964.508) is embroidered with similar flowering vines, leaves and birds.
74” H x 49.5” W