Visiting The Grave
This touching 19th-century needlepoint scene depicts a husband, wife, and daughter visiting the grave of a child, marked by a tall cross intertwined with the wispy foliage of trees and bushes in the peaceful English countryside. With the Industrial Revolution and accompanying disease, poverty, and poor living conditions in urban centres, came the omnipresence of death in Victorian daily experience. The reigning monarch of 19th-century England, Queen Victoria (r. 1837–1901), further popularized the ritualizing of death and social mourning practices as she entered into an extended grieving period following the loss of her beloved husband Prince Albert (1819–1861). Mourning images became immensely popular subjects for needlework and other artistic mediums and a demand for death-related memorabilia grew, as a means to soften the pain of loss. Jewellery containing the hair or teeth of a deceased loved one was especially popular as many believed it kept them connected to the living, preserving their memory and presence. The connection between material objects and grief also featured in popular literature of the period, such as the novels of Charles Dickens (1812–1870) and the Brontë sisters, as well as both fine and low art. Spiritualism and occultism became of great interest to Victorians and the wealthy found it an entertaining pastime to hold seances in order to connect to the mysteries of their vision of a paradisiacal beyond. In this scene, the notion of paradise is represented by the setting and inclusion of nature, a universal symbol of rebirth, while the child emphasizes family unity and meditates on the future.
At this time in history, the Great Exhibition of 1851 at London’s Hyde Park was an arena in which the many marvels of the Industrial Revolution could be showcased. One of these technological developments was the sewing machine which, though somewhat limited in its earlier form and functions, became very convenient in the fabric and manufacturing industries. It was also used by women in their needleworking, which was considered an essential skill in a woman’s education and homemaking responsibilities, and as a business and leisure activity with aesthetic prestige of its own.