Linwood, Mary (1755-1845)

Mary Linwood, 1755-1845, painted c. 1800 by John Hoppner. Mary Linwood, 1755-1845, painted c. 1800 by John Hoppner. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London, acc. no. 1439-1874.

Mary Linwood was a renowned embroideress who specialised in the technique of needlepainting, whereby oil paintings and other illustrations are exactly copied in embroidery against a painted background. She was born in Birmingham, and by 1776 she was exhibiting her work to the Society of Artists in London.

Eleven years later, in 1787, she was introduced to Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) at Windsor Castle, and subsequently Linwood started to show her work at the Pantheon, Oxford Street. In 1798 she mounted an exhibition of her work at the Hanover Square Rooms in London, and this exhibition was to go to Scotland and Ireland.

The exhibition returned to London and was shown in Mary Linwood's own gallery at Leicester Square (Savile House), where it would remain until her death in 1845. The exhibition was the first public display to be illuminated by gas light. Her success is clear from the fact that she could commission John Hoppner to portray her. He was for some time the principal painter for the Prince of Wales, who would later become King George IV.

One of the first paid commissions for John Constable (1776-1837), the famous landscape artist, was to paint the background to one of Linwood's embroideries. And at some time the Russian Tsar offered a fortune for her complete collection, but his offer was rejected.

View of Mary Linwood's Gallery, watercolour c. 1810. V&A acc. no. P.6 - 1985.

The Times of London, on 28 March 1831, praised her work: "The forms and expression of the figures discover the power of Michael Angelo, and the whole effect of the piece is almost magical, and beyond the power of the pencil."

The last few years of her life (she sporadically visited her 'museum' in London, which must have been losing its attraction over the years. Charles Dickens addresses her in "A Plated Article": "I myself was one of the last visitors to that awful storehouse of thy life's work, where an anchorite old man and woman took my shilling with a solemn wonder, and conducting me to a gloomy sepulchre of needlework dropping to pieces with dust and age.."

One of her needlepaintings is that of Napoleon Bonaparte, whom she met personally in 1803.

See also Mary Knowles, another famous eighteenth-century English craftswoman, and anti-slavery activist, who excelled in creating needlepaintings.

Digital source (retrieved 6 November 2016).



Last modified on Tuesday, 08 November 2016 10:56