Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Romance of Knitting

Winding Up (Alternate Title: Courtship) (1836)
William Sidney Mount (American, 1807-1868)
Oil on wood panel, 18 3/8 x 14 15/16 inches (46.67 x 37.94 cm)
Gift of the Enid and Crosby Kemper Foundation
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Kansas City, Missouri

With February upon us, and St. Valentine’s Day approaching, I chose a romantic painting with knitting to start the month. Is this, however, another three needle painting like some of the others I have discussed in this blog? The knitting, on the stool behind the girl, appears to be a tubular object – a stocking, undersleeve, long cap, perhaps? Three needles on the knitting are clearly visible but the fourth, and, possibly, a fifth, may be loose and lying on the stool, under the knitting. There are two long dark lines in the middle of the stool but I think they are decorative elements like the work around the side edges of the stool. I can also just see another light line just to the left of the knitting coming out almost over the front of the edge of the stool - could this be another needle peeking out from under the knitting?

The young woman is winding wool that she will use to continue work on the dropped knitting as there is no ball of wool on the stool and only a strand of yarn from the knitting, waiting to be joined on, can just be seen hanging over the edge. She appears to be holding another skein of blue yarn on her arm. I have not read analyses of this painting so I may be repeating what has already been written but I see the skeins and the knitting as highly symbolic. The names of the painting, Winding Up and Courtship should, perhaps, be listed in reverse order. The courtship seems to be at an end, winding up, and the couple, bathed in warm daylight but snug inside of the house, are situated by the hearth, which is suggestive of home and passion. The young woman, dressed in a gown of red (a color of love) and in her apron, engaged in creating clothing, is thus visually promising a future as a dutiful wife. Her knitting, tossed down on the stool, is, however, a progressive object begun, as is her adult life. The wool of her work is hanging over an edge, waiting to be attached to another ball just as the young woman has also reached a possible precipice in her life but seems to be, from the expression on her face, inclined towards the ultimate attachment. Her suitor, who is assisting her with winding her light coloured (natural, undyed, white (the colour of purity)?) wool, will not only help her to complete what she is knitting but the story of her life, this continuation suggested by the second blue skein waiting to be wound up. Could the sharp points of the needles and the dangling strand of wool also be foreshadowings of unpleasant things to come? Let us hope, instead, that the ball of wool that is being wound will soon be attached to that dangling strand on the stool and the future joined life of the two young people in the painting will be as secure and firm as the knitting on the needles.

Click on the painting for a larger view and for an even better image, click on this link: http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/full.php?ID=21893


Alwen said...

I found it here:


The elements that jumped out at me were the crumbling plaster on the hearth and the wall beyond her head. When I zoomed in on the stool - hey, I have a stool just like that! (The circles on the left edge of mine are not decorative, though - my stool is an old dowel-back chair that had its back broken off.)

I wonder - there are things in the fireplace that look like scythe handles, which would burn up if it were lit.

In close-up, he has been whittling while she knits. On the floor by his foot is a piece of wood and little shavings.

Ooo, and look, her foot is almost touching his!

One More Stitch said...

Everything sees something different at first! Thanks for pointing out the whittling. I wish I had noticed that when writing the piece!

This painting, The Sportsman's Last Visit is another favourite of mine:


I was looking at it with an 18th century re-enactor, and I zoomed in on the workbox and he on the gun.

Mountainrose said...

Well now.. if I get a half of chance to go to the Nelson before leaving the Kansas City area, I'll try to get a better peek at this intresting piece. It could just be my monator but it seems awfully dark to me. I can't see much detail right now (could be my own eyes on that problem)