Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
A RARE AND IMPORTANT SILK- AND METAL-ON-LINEN NEEDLEWORK PICTORIAL
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT NEW YORK COLLECTION
A RARE AND IMPORTANT SILK- AND METAL-ON-LINEN NEEDLEWORK PICTORIAL

WROUGHT BY MARY RUSSELL (B. 1779), MARBLEHEAD, MASSACHUSETTS OR BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND, DATED 1791

Details
A RARE AND IMPORTANT SILK- AND METAL-ON-LINEN NEEDLEWORK PICTORIAL
WROUGHT BY MARY RUSSELL (B. 1779), MARBLEHEAD, MASSACHUSETTS OR BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND, DATED 1791
signed and dated Mary Russell workd in the 13th Year 1791 along lower edge
18 ¼ x 21 ¾ in.
Provenance
Mrs. Edward C. Williamson
Sold, Sotheby's, New York, 24-25 October 1986, lot 171
American Hurrah Antiques, New York
Literature
Betty Ring, Let Virtue Be a Guide to Thee: Needlework in the Education of Rhode Island Women, 1730-1830 (Providence, 1983), p. 225.
Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850 (New York, 1993), p. 136 (cited).
Robert Bishop and Jacqueline M. Atkins, Folk Art in American Life (New York, 1995), p. 102.
Exhibited
Providence, The Rhode Island Historical Society, Let Virtue Be a Guide To Thee: Needlework in the Education of Rhode Island Women, 1730-1830, 6 November 1983 - 22 January 1984 (Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 24 February - 20 May 1984; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 19 July - 23 September, 1984).

Condition Report

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

Mary Russell’s exceptional needlework is one of only five known extant “black-background” samplers. These exceedingly rare samplers are all worked on a background of expensive black silk, and were wrought in schools in Marblehead, Massachusetts and Bristol, Rhode Island. These samplers often include a male figure playing the flute, couples interacting romantically, and bucolic country imagery. Many of the samplers also include a lower panel for the maker to stitch her name and age.

Although the exact connection between samplers made in Marblehead and Bristol remains a mystery, it is possible that the young girls who made each sampler shared an instructress. Earlier samplers made by girls at Anne Usher’s school in Bristol suggest that Usher was the first to teach the black background style from 1774 to 1793. Patty Coggeshall’s circa 1792 sampler, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 14.26, fig. 1), is thought to have been stitched while Coggeshall was Usher’s student because of its inclusion of a black-background, the figure of a musician, and a long-tailed bird in flight. Russell’s sampler includes these same three compositional elements as well as the figures of Venus and Cupid seated in a chariot. The clear similarities between Coggeshall and Russell’s samplers may suggest that Russell may have also made her sampler at Usher’s school in Bristol.

Supporting an attribution to Anne Usher’s school, the maker of this needlework may have been Mary Russell (1779-1851) of Providence. Her parents were Joseph Dolbear(e) Russell (1756-1786), who fought in the Revolutionary War as an Aide-de-Camp to General Sullivan, and Joanna Scott Jenckes (1762-1835), a distant relative of Sarah Jenckes (1773-1844), whose 1786 sampler is thought to be the earliest known example from Usher’s school (Sotheby’s, New York, 20 January 1996, lot 1073). Furthermore, Mary Russell married Benjamin Munro (1777-c.1810), a Providence merchant, and though his ancestry cannot be ascertained, he was most likely a relative of Margaret (Munro) Coggeshall (1744-1809), the mother of Martha (Patty) Coggeshall whose sampler embroidered at Usher’s school is illustrated in fig. 1.

There is also a Mary Russell of the right age listed as living in Marblehead. Born in 1779, she was the daughter of Capt. John Russell, Sr. (1728-1811) and Miriam Rhoads (1730-1817). This Mary Russell died in 1793, just two years after this sampler was stitched. Captain Russell was one of the patriots who rowed George Washington across the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. Given the Russell family’s prominence in Marblehead, it is also possible that Russell was taught by a schoolmistress based in that area. The eminent Marblehead instructress of the time was Martha Tarr Hanover Barber. Barber ran a school for girls from 1789 to 1791, during what was the greatest period of sampler production in Marblehead. Many girls who created black-background samplers had familial ties to Marblehead. Both Hannah Hooper and Sukey Jarvis made black-background samplers and married into wealthy Marblehead families. These concrete affiliations prove beyond a doubt that women located in Marblehead possessed stylistic and technical knowledge regarding black-background samplers, possibly suggesting the presence of a teacher in the region who employed the technique.

More from Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver

View All
View All