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“Fame Decorating Shakespeare’s Tomb” was originally a painting by Angelica Kauffman in 1772. Kauffman was one of Europes leading female portraitists during the neoclassical movement of the late 1700s. Many of her paintings were made into etchings and distributed around the world. Shakespeare’s Tomb is perhaps her most famous work.
It was common for women to embroider during the Georgian and Victorian periods. They started with samplers and often graduated to more challenging imagery depicting classical, biblical and historical scenes. With the popularity of mourning jewelry and art growing it is no surprise that Kauffman’s painting became a desirable image to imitate. Another common depiction seen in embroidery during era is Charlotte mourning over the grave of young Werther from Goethe's poem The Sorrows of Young Werther.
In the United States, mourning embroidery was less driven by the arts but by the death of George Washington in 1799. After Washington's death Samual Folwell, whose wife ran an embroidery school in Philadelphia, created a series of designs for women to embroider over to honor him. Other artists followed suit and created what we know as mourning pictures.
Our embroidery depicts a woman leaving flowers at Shakespeare’s grave, just like Kauffman's original painting. She is dawning a vibrant blue and red robe, surrounded by abstract plants and foliage. Her face and arms are drawn with graphite. Beautifully framed with black and gold reverse painted glass by W.A. Smith, who ran a shop in Nottingham, England between 1871-1888. While we know when this embroidery was framed, in the late Victorian era, it is possible this embroidery is older than the frame.
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