Among the impressionist works by Monet, Renoir and their contemporaries, and the equally famous van Gogh works that together draw 3.5 million visitors to the elegant Musée d’Orsay every year, a sharp eye – a needle crafter’s eye – will find delightful details in a number of interesting works in the Orsay collections.
On a recent return visit to the Musée d’ Orsay I just happened to notice a particularly engaging work by Edouard Vuillard of two women sitting in a verandah. With heads bent in concentration, it was their pose that alerted me to their activity; embroidery. I stood admiring the painting feeling the sense of serenity that stitching brings me too. The painting, done in 1912, is called La Veranda du Coadigou a Loctudy, Marcelle Aron and Marthe Mellot. The woman wearing the yellow dress is the actress Marthe Mellot and Marcelle Aron is dressed in white.
As I wandered further my needlecraft radar seemed to be finely tuned as I noticed several works that convey so much about the nature and the place of needlecrafts in times past.
Located near Jean-Francois Millet’s famous work The Gleaners is another of his paintings. A small scene of a young woman in peasant clothing and sturdy shoes, sitting on the ground knitting is titled La Tricoteuse; une bergere assise, tricotant. Knitting in the round on double pointed needles she has her knitting with her to do while she takes a rest from her work in the field tending animals. What is she knitting, something practical that she needs for herself or her family?
At the other end of the social scale needlework items feature as decorative details in a large painting of the elegant Marquis and Marchionness de Miramon and their two children painted in 1865 by James Jacques Joseph Tissot. The Marchionnes is wearing a fabulous grey, silver-striped gown that shimmers with the suggestion of silk. It’s hard to resist the temptation to reach out and feel the fabric! On the table in the right foreground a piece of fabric and embroidery notions – a pin cushion and threads – are haphazardly arranged next to a pretty red, blue and gold work basket, out of which tumbles more fabric. The fine threads and materials convey that this needlework filled a different purpose than that of the shepherdess knitting.
Upstairs, rooms 29-37 are filled with works by the impressionist in-crowd of the late 19th century, including in room 35 a lovely work by American artist Mary Cassatt of a young woman hand-sewing outdoors in the fresh air. Impressionists celebrated with paint strokes the natural beauty and pleasure of ordinary activities and scenes. Sewing in the garden, surrounded by flowers…………how pleasurable. The feeling is conveyed exactly in this painting; you can feel the warmth of the sunshine and almost hear the bzzzz and chirrup of insects.
Please let me know in the comments if you have seen other works in the Musée d’Orsay on the theme of needlework, or at other museums. I’m keen to know in case I ever find myself in the right place to see them.
– Keiry B
Musée d’Orsay – 1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Paris 75007. Open daily, except Monday. First Sunday of the month entry is free. Location of the stitching story paintings:
La Veranda du Coadigu a Loctudy, Edouard Vuillard, Room 67, Level 1
La Tricoteuse; une bergere assise, tricotant, Jean-Francois Millet, Room 4, Ground Floor
Portrait du marquis et de la marquise de Miramon et de leurs enfants, Jean Jacques Joseph Tissot, Room 11, Ground Floor
Jeune fille au jardin, Mary Cassatt, Room 35, Level 5