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British, dated 1709

Elizabeth Newman’s bed curtains illustrate the qualities that mark crewelwork as a distinctive highlight of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British needlework. With fresh colors and a sense of exuberance, her design takes the Eastern influences of the Tree of Life, long-plumed birds and exotic flowers and makes them quintessentially British. Yet within the framework of traditional crewelwork, Elizabeth Newman adds her own distinctions—the hillocks are composed of wide yellow and green bands; densely worked three-dimensional grapes hang from vines; and, in addition to the expected deer, fox and birds, there appears on one curtain a blue horse with a bristling mane posing at the lower edge. The second curtain features a white horse and the inscription "Elizabeth Newman her work 1709."

The differently colored horses reflect the design distinctions found throughout the pair. While the composition of both curtains have identical overall appearances, attention to the details reveals the embroiderer’s skillful play on variations of color, stitches and techniques within the repeated motifs. The lively colors—greens, yellows and pinks that retain their original brightness—demonstrate the rich palette of wool yarns available in the early eighteenth century. An extensive repertoire of stitches and geometric filling patterns learned by Elizabeth Newman in prior needlework exercises is utilized in her crewelwork with great success. Highly decorative leaves and tendrils, accented with clusters of grapes, hanging pears and numerous animals appear on both curtains, yet each displays individual characteristics.

Bed hangings were among the most important furnishing fabrics in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British houses. Serving as a focal point of a family’s interior social realm, the hangings provided privacy and warmth while displaying status. Needlework of this type was made at home, rather than by professional embroiderers, and as such represented the talents and industriousness of female family members within the domestic sphere. As was typical, Elizabeth Newman worked a complete crewel bed set—in addition to this pair of curtains, two narrow curtains and a valance also survive, all in excellent condition. On April 19, 1720, Elizabeth Newman married Daniel Fromanteel. The crewelwork, as well as other embroideries by Elizabeth, was passed down to their daughter, Martha, and then descended through several generations of the family. A full provenance is available.

78.5" H x 73" W each

Pair of Crewelwork Curtains, British, dated 1709
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