Saturday, May 1, 2010

Has Mending Ever Been So Elegant?

Mending, Edmund Tarbell, 1910

Three years before the International Exposition of Modern Art—the famous “Armory Show”—in Chicago, which introduced the United States to 634 works from Goya to the Cubists, Edmund Tarbell painted Mending. Tarbell, as did many American artists, resisted the turn to abstract art and continued to paint interiors reminiscent of Vermeer and the painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Tarbell's interiors were those of New England--sparse, restrained, not particularly comfortable, but elegant.

I don't like to mend at all but this painting might inspire me to. Nowadays, inundated with relatively cheap clothing, when something rips or tears, we replace it; we don't mend it. But mending used to have its own entire day in the housewives' weekly calendar:
Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

Clothes were worn til they literally wore out, and then the remaining cloth was recycled into quilts and other items.

Here we see someone who is clearly not of the working class doing her mending with considerable concentration. The composition draws us immediately to the girl's face. As is often the case, the painting of a woman sewing is also a painting of a individual in contemplation, deep in thought, either about the problem at hand or about something else that we cannot know.

Meanwhile, the light falls upon her and the room from the window at the left. Tarbell himself is concentrating on capturing the play of light bouncing off objects of color and the color this creates in the air. With the exception of the girl's black skirt and the black table legs, no part of the paint surface is purely the same color. The painting is in constant motion, as color shifts from one hue to another and into the next color.

The light also halos the head of the subject and is how we are drawn to her face in concentration.


Carla Gade said...

Beautiful picture. It does make one wonder.


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