Friday, June 8, 2018

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Never Just Crewel

Lady Emily Southwell, the heroine in my Lady Emily Capers, dreams of being an artist. That was a nearly impossible goal for a young lady in nineteenth century England. Even the few female painters of the day were barely recognized by their peers, much less the public. That’s one of the reasons I was so delighted to discover a lady who not only spent her life as an artist but commanded the attention of royalty in several countries!

You would not have thought Mary Linwood would become an artist. Her father died when she was young, and her mother ended up starting a private girl’s school, where Mary would teach until a year before she died at the ripe old age of ninety. But Mary’s passion wasn’t teaching. Like many young ladies of that age, she embroidered. But what she embroidered surpassed nearly anything of its time.

You see, from the tender age of 13, Mary created “paintings” with her embroidery. By varying her stitches, she made each one look like a brush stroke. She used crewel wool on painted silk and copied old masters so well that one of her copies sold for more than the original!

She was toasted by the aristocracy, courted by royalty. Queen Charlotte invited her to Windsor to display her work. In 1803, Napoleon invited her to France, where he awarded her the Freedom of Paris for artistry. She displayed her paintings in Russia, met Catherine the Great and the Tsar. She amassed a collection of more than 100 pictures, many of which she displayed for years in a long gallery at Savile House on Leicester Square from 1809 to 1845. Charles Dickens even toured the place. She completed her final piece at age seventy-eight.

Quite a stitch in time.

If you’d like to see some of her paintings in detail, try the Story of Leicester website

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