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The Winthrop Earle family of Milton, Massachusetts, was struck twice by death in the fall of 1807 (see Inscribed). It is natural to assume that the four remaining Earle family members, seen in this picture flanking a tomb, were recorded shortly after the deaths in 1807. However, logic, fashions, and childhood development suggest another scenario. The surviving Earle daughter, Almira, was only seven years old when the double deaths occurred and probably did not yet possess needlework skills sufficient to accomplish this sophisticated picture. Second, both Almira and two of her younger brothers, Theodore (1801–1821/22) and Otis (1805–1830), are depicted here as young adults, not children. Finally, the style of apparel worn by both sexes dates to around 1815 or shortly thereafter, suggesting the picture was also completed at this time. Almira may have executed this work at a New England girls' school. It follows a compositional formula also seen in many related examples: the mourners are placed in a familiar, if somewhat artificial, landscape with a weeping willow tree, and scattered about are a church, several public buildings, and waterways.
Technical notes: Silk taffeta ground; silk and silk chenille embroidery threads; watercolor. The embroidery is worked in split, stem, satin, back, and French knot stitches.
Book excerpt: David B. Warren, Michael K. Brown, Elizabeth Ann Coleman, and Emily Ballew Neff. American Decorative Arts and Paintings in the Bayou Bend Collection. Houston: Princeton Univ. Press, 1998.
Descriptive Medium: Silk taffeta, silk and silk chenille threads, and watercolors