10152 An exhibition quality Victorian Berlin wool and bead work panel of exceptional size, a view of the Lion Courtyard in the Alhambra Palace, surrounded by a naturalistic wreath of flowers in vibrant colours of wool, silk and bead work, within an architectural frame with columns and a cornice, the details worked in beads of glass, brass and steel, mounted on the original panelled, softwood board.
Width: 71.25 ins (181 cms)
Height: 40 ins (102 cms)
To some modern eyes, the passion for Berlin wool work tapestry in the middle of the 19th century seems misplaced at best, but to others it is a joyful expression of the spirit of discovery and the thirst for knowledge and novelty.
From the 1830s, print sellers in Berlin supplied coloured designs with marked stitch squares and colour references, along with all manner of coloured Merino wool. These were transposed to a canvas backing and worked by lady needleworkers, becoming the most popular pastime for private ladies from 1830 until 1860. By 1840, fourteen thousand designs were in circulation, the centre of this craze being Wilks of Regent street and later Helbronner also of Regent street, who supplied the printed designs as well as the wools, beads and canvases.
The very large scale of our panel indicates that it would have been made for display at the trade exhibition booth of a Berlin wool work supplier. The centre panel with deer strolling around the ruined Alhambra courtyard with the famous Lion Fountain in the background would certainly have appealed to Victorian romantic taste. The remarkable architectural frame replicates the shop front style display stands seen at the major Exhibitions throughout Europe. A quick calculation of the stitch density indicates approximately 450,000 stitches in the panel, mostly in wool but perhaps 20% worked with very time consuming beads requiring individual threading. This panel was certainly the product of a professional needlework workshop to the commission of an unknown retailer.
The use of imported French glass, steel and brass beads to enhance the three dimensional impact of the piece would have added greatly to the production cost and time involved. It is this expert craftsmanship which truly distinguishes this piece.
For further reading, please see Lanto Synge, Antique Needlework, Blandford Press, 1982 (p. 133-139)