I’m not. I’m being good in preparation and training, and also because I’ve been trying to do as much work as possible before being rendered incapable of typing by surgery – the curse of the self-employed. Boo, hiss. I’m in a gap between jobs right now: just delivered one, waiting for the next to ping into my inbox.
I worked for several years at the National Gallery in London before I went back to working for myself, and I’ve been spending a shining hour finding paintings of other people knitting, and not just the usual suspects. My time in Trafalgar Square left me with an exaggerated appreciation of less well-known paintings, even to the extent of being able to walk straight past something remarkable and focus on something which definitely was not; a form of visual exhaustion, I think.
But my first choice isn’t one of those. And she’s not knitting, of course – this is Leonardo’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder, from Drumanlarig Castle (there are other versions of the same theme, also in private collections). The yarn winder Jesus is holding acts as both a symbol of Mary’s domesticity and a foretelling of the crucifixion. I’ve always found this a slightly odd painting; Mary seems to be oddly flat, not really a three-dimensional representation. There’s definitely something weird about her.
This next one is a bit closer to us in time.
It’s Ivan Petrovitch Argunov’s 1768 Portrait of Countess Tolstoy, from the Museum of Russian Art in Kiev. I love the colours of the knitting (even though I’m not quite sure what it is – sock? Mitten?). I bet you need something to distract you when you’re sitting for a portrait, and it might just as well be your knitting. You don’t necessarily expect to see it included in the finished work, though.
From a countess to some ordinary women, and Welsh women at that:
William Dyce’s Welsh Landscape with Two Women Knitting, in the National Museum of Wales. Plus it’s a Snowdonia landscape. Not that I’m in the slightest bit biased – no, I’m not; it’s the Conwy valley and I’m miles from there. Dyce probably painted this in his London studio using sketches he did on his visit to Wales in 1860, and it’s extraordinarily detailed – reminds me a bit of some of Ruskin’s close-up drawings of rocks and plants. The women, incidentally, appear to be knitting stockings. That was a valuable way of adding to the household income, and was often the only thing that stood between some families and destitution.
This next one is a bit less serious. Well, for me it is – and it’s the first one by a female artist (hooray).
Young Woman Knitting by Berthe Morisot, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, though not, I think, on show. (Reserve collections are something I tended to bang on about – probably because the Nat Gal had everything on show. More possible for somewhere like the NG, which has a comparatively limited collection in terms of numbers, than for somewhere ginormous like the Met.) Anyway – it’s a lovely afternoon; what better way of spending it than sitting outside with your knitting?
Now for another female artist, Evelyn Dunbar. She worked as one of the official war artists in the UK during WW2, and I just love her work. In fact, she was the only woman in the group of salaried war artists, and I’m not surprised. Her wartime paintings are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, and the best known are probably her unsentimental depictions of land girls.
(I’ve got to share this one, even though it’s not knitting or a land girl – it’s her wonderful Putting on Anti-Gas Protective Clothing – well, I think it’s wonderful –
with one woman helping another into an anti-gas suit. You can tell that Dunbar flourished as an illustrator. Ahem. Sorry about the diversion. Back to sticks and string.)
In 1940 she produced this:
It’s called A Knitting Party, and the women are evidently knitting for the troops (as I mentioned in an earlier post, even though wool was eventually quite severely rationed, you could get supplies if you were part of a knitting group producing garments for the services).
And apart from the hats, the comfortable seating and the general lack of beer, it could be our knitting group. Well, almost. And now my inbox has pinged, and I have an exciting book on business to edit. Ah well, back to the real world.