The Washington Family
Origin: America, Probably New England
Overall (Unframed H x W): 22 x 20 1/2in. (55.9 x 52.1cm)
Framed (H x W): 25 3/4 x 25in. (65.4 x 63.5cm)
Silk thread and paint on silk, gilded wood frame
Gift of the John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, Fund, Inc., through the generosity and interest of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, 3rd, and members of the family
Acc. No. 1979.601.7
This slightly rectangular needlework picture is based on THE WASHINGTON FAMILY by Edward Savage and shows George Washington and family seated around a table with Billy Lee, a slave, to the right.
At the far left, George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson, stands behind a globe in a stand. The globe is worked entirely in satin stitch and has some details added in red. G.W. Parke Custis is shown wearing a brown suit with a cream waistcoat. He is holding a book in his left hand, which is stitched, but his hands, face, and hair are painted. The reserve for his face is shaped slightly differently and is larger than the painted face—the extra space is painted in with a dark color. He is standing in front of a marble column portrayed through cream satin stitches with chain stitched curled lines over the satin stitches to give the marbling effect.
To the right of George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington reclines in a red chair. The cushion is given dimension through small sections of satin stitches in varying directions. Washington is shown wearing a blue coat with gold epaulettes, a cream waistcoat and breeches, and dark brown riding boots with spurs. His left hand is relaxed on the table and his right hand is draped over the back of his chair. His legs are crossed at the knee. His clothing is worked entirely in satin stitches, except for the fringe of his epaulettes, which are worked in French knots. His hands and head are painted.
Behind George Washington is a large swath of gold and red curtain swags. The swags are given dimension by both shading and stitch direction. Each one is edged in gold fringe, which is worked in satin stitches alternating with French knots. The lowest swag is painted instead of stitched.
The table, at the center of the scene, is draped in a blue tablecloth with gold fringe. Washington’s hat, black with gold edging and a cockade, sits beside Washington’s hand. A map covers the rest of the table’s surface.
Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly), Martha’s granddaughter, stands behind the table to the right wearing a cream, high-waisted dress. She is pointing to places on the map with both hands. Her arms, face, and curly brown hair are painted.
Martha Washington sits in a high-backed, gold chair with floral detailing to the right of the table. She is shown wearing a cream gown worked in satin stitches with blue shading, and black shawl. The shawl is given the appearance of netting by stretching black threads across the entire expanse in a cross-hatch pattern. She is also wearing a large hat worked in the same color as her gown. In her right hand she holds a closed fan, which she is using to indicate a point at the center of the map. She is also pointing toward the map with her right hand. Her face and arms are painted.
Behind Martha stands Billy Lee, Washington’s personal slave. He is shown wearing a cream coat with gold collar and cuffs. His hand is stitched, but his head is painted. Behind him is a tree worked entirely in French knots.
The group is placed on a carpet of small squares, each with a flower in its center. The squares are outlined with running stitches is black and cream for most of the length, but black and pink underneath G.W. Parke Custis. The landscape behind them is entirely painted and shows a river.
The piece is in a 3-inch wide, gilded wood frame with simple moldings.
STITCHES: Back, chain, French knot, running, satin
Label:This embroidery executed in silk threads on a silk ground with watercolor was copied from an engraving entitled "THE WASHINGTON FAMILY./ George Washington, his Lady, and her two Grandchildren by the name of Custis," which was published in London in 1798 by Edward Savage and Robert Wilkinson. Savage described the work as combining symbolism and naturalism. For example, Washington appears in his uniform representing his military career and his presidency is suggested by the papers on the table. Martha Washington holds a map of "The Plan of the Federal City." George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis, the two grandchildren of Martha Washington by her first marriage and adopted by the Washingtons after their father died, represent the future of the new nation.
In the engraving the floor appears to be squares of marble, but the unidentified maker of this embroidery worked a colorful carpet as did at least two other schoolgirls from Massachusetts.
Provenance:Owned by Katrina Kipper (dealer), Accord, MA;
Purchased by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller for use in Bassett Hall, 1936;
Given to CWF, 1979.
Mark(s):No marks or inscriptions.