Polychrome silk embroidered apron, c.1725-1750
Our exceptional 18th century decorative apron is hand embroidered with polychrome silk floss and bronze metallic floss. The scalloped edges are trimmed with corded floss. The background cloth is of cream colored silk taffeta.
18th century fancy silk aprons were not meant to protect the gown from dirt and wear. Shorter than utilitarian aprons and lavishly hand embroidered, they were worn by well-to-do ladies as a symbol of status and wealth.
Purchased from an American collection, this magnificent apron is probably English. It could have been imported, ready made, to the Colonies in the 18th century; or else acquired later by an American collector.
The Jacobean floral pattern is expertly executed in shaded tones of rose (puce and salmon pink) and green with couched bronze metallic accents within the olive green petals. The textural interest is created by the contrast of satin stitch—some padded—to a variety of fancy-fill stitches. The apron fullness is unpicked at the waist.
The consummate modeling or shading of maize yellow into puce green in the outer petals stamps the apron as a masterpiece of costume art, a sublime example of satin stitch technique. I have never seen such fine work.
The gold standard for the modeling of color in art is of course the work of Raphael (1483-1520). In 2010 the V&A Museum exhibited four of Raphael's Sistine Chapel tapestries alongside his "cartoons," huge drawings he created as models for the master weaver. The cartoons reveal the modeling, nuance, and range of color seen in Raphael's masterpieces.
Like weaving, embroidery faces constraints in modeling color compared to the freedom that painting enjoys. Nevertheless, the level of achievement is very high indeed in this superb decorative apron. This treasure of embroidery art is an amazing value for a 280-year-old decorative apron from George Washington's time (b. 1732). When this masterwork is displayed properly, it will make an indelible impression!
The condition is very good. There are a few breaks in the silk cloth near the edges at the waistband; and also a few small pale stains. These are very minor flaws. The embroidery is remarkably intact.
It measures: 37" wide by 17 1/2" long.