Mary Linwood was born in Birmingham in 1756 and at the age of nine moved with her family to Leicester after her winemaker father went bankrupt. Her mother started a private boarding school for girls at Belgrave Gate where Mary would later reign as schoolmistress for 50 years.
Beyond educating the minds of young ladies, Mary was renowned for her needlework reproductions of works by the masters. Her first known work of note was when she was thirteen, and her work gradually earned the attention of the royals earning her several exhibitions.
Mary worked with worsted wool, in crewel style, on linen tammy cloth. Her pieces were full size reproductions covering a broad range of styles and subjects. In addition to reproductions, Mary also produced portraits including Napolean (see here) and Lady Jane Gray. Mary used both long and short stitches to replicate brushstrokes and silk thread for highlights, solidifying a style that was called “needle painting.”
Her first exhibitions of work were held in London at the Pantheon then in Hanover Square in 1798. These exhibitions including thirty nine pieces of work. It was during the course of her many exhibitions that Mary met many distinguished people including the Russian Royals and Talleyrand who later introduced her to Napolean.
Mary was also a playwright and musician of some note continuing her broad works until her late 70s. She retired as schoolmistress at the age of 89, a year before her death from the flu. Mary never married, and was said to be the last known person to travel by sedan chair.
Mary was a regular tourist attraction, mentioned in Curiosities of London and Mogg’s New Picture of London and Visitors’ Guide to its Sights in which the writer observed: “This beautiful style of needlework is the invention of a Leicestershire lady, and consists of fifty nine of the finest pictures in the English and foreign schools of art, possessing all the correct drawing, just colouring and light and shade of the original pictures from which they are taken; in a word, Miss Linwood’s exhibition is one of the most beautiful the metropolis can boast and should unquestionably be witnessed, as it deserves to be, by every admirer of art”.