Once more, we’re turning to an artist’s rendering of a sewing topic for exploration and analysis, and this time, it’s coming with a couple of twists. Before we dive into those twists, let’s go ahead and introduce you to the painting that’s the focus of today’s post.
The Painting: The Lace-Maker
The Artist: Vasilii Andreevich Tropinin
The medium: Oil on canvas
The year: 1823
This is an eye-catching piece, and one of the most immediate concepts that separate it from works that have already been explored on the blog can be noted in its title. The topic isn’t just sewing stitches or making repairs, but rather the very specific task of making lace, which might require different tools than general sewing. The woman in the painting isn’t using a regular needle, clearly, which provides a unique view into the world of sewing.
In fact, this entire painting is varied from some of the ones that historically came before it since it’s showing an average woman tending to the lace’s creation rather than someone from high class (“Vasilii Andreevich Tropinin: The Lace-Maker,” n.d.). This woman looks like someone you might see working on a sewing project in the comfort of home, and that quality creates a similarity between the average viewer and the painted woman. You can relate to her because it’s so akin to your approach—sewing in your own home.
Both of these aspects are showcased specifically in the painting—the tools and the woman—through the triangular configuration that’s been noted on other artistic works. Within the triangle of focus, you have the woman and the tools she’s using, allowing your eye to primarily be drawn right to them.
It’s about the passion, not the project
It’s also worth noting that we don’t see much of the actual lace being made. We see the woman. We see her working. But the project is mostly facing toward her, so our view of it is limited. It can be interpreted that the lace-maker herself and the process of making the lace are, to the artist, more significant than the actual project.
By extension, you could continue this logic to assume that the woman in the work is a beginner or early lace-maker, and that the process doesn’t need to be tarnished by seeing a newer lace-maker’s mistakes and missteps. This notion can be argued as mirrored in the idea that her hands look dainty as she tends to the process, which might lead the viewer to assume that she’s treading lightly into the field. She isn’t gripping the tool firmly, and the overall result can look like the carefulness and hesitance of a beginner.
Personality and disposition
One could argue as well that the smile on her face is another detail that brings this new-lace-maker quality to life, as if the woman is happy to give this process a try and perhaps pleased with her progress. Unfortunately though, her face is the main spot where the argument could shift in favor of the woman being very secure in her craft, as if she’s done this again and again over the years. There’s no uncertain furrow in her brow or any lines of tension on her face like you might expect from someone struggling to get the hang of such an activity. Rather, she looks calm and relaxed, and that mind frame can be labeled as out of place for a new lace-maker being caught on canvas.
If you consider that detail—that her face is so free of lines of tension—the other elements can suddenly take a new turn as well. Maybe those hands aren’t dainty with hesitance. Maybe they’re loose from comfort with the process, like the casual grasp she has is enough to professionally finish the task. If you decide on this method of logic, the project being pointed toward the woman can mean that her comfort with the task is what’s supposed to be shown. You don’t need, from that point of view, to see the project. The woman is too at-ease with the process to be creating anything less than successful through her endeavors.
Light and shade
This notion of comfort can be seen in the lighting of the painting as well since, for the most part, everything is well-lit and in the spotlight. Other than the shady corners at the top, the space under the table, and the area underneath the platform the project is on, little is dark about this work. That sustained level of lighting speaks to an overall bright experience, and the similarity of color throughout adds to that calmness. No hue drastically sticks out, and other than the handful of dark places, nothing severely falls into the background in regard to those hues. Everything is neutral or placid enough in color to create an overall image of cohesion and balance.
With all of these elements combined, it’s sensible to interpret this as Tropinin’s attempt to showcase an average woman tending to a very specific task with so much expertise that she’s calm and tranquil throughout the experience. It’s a primarily bright experience that she feels comfort in, with little dynamism about the process due to her ease with the task while she works on a project that the viewer doesn’t need to see to know it will be a success.