Thursday, April 23, 2009

Eunice Pinney Mourning Pictures

By: Michelle Murdock, Curator of Exhibitions During the early 19th century, women painted and embroidered countless scenes honoring departed friends and relatives. They were an expression of the universality of death and a belief in eternal life with a promise of heavenly reunion. Frequently an important part of the curriculum in female seminaries, these mourning pictures derived from late 18th century European and English design sources and typically included grieving figures, funeral urns, and weeping willows.
The daughter of a wealthy resident of rural Connecticut, Eunice Pinney was well-educated and had an unusual exposure to culture for her day. She is believed to have taken up watercolor painting in her thirties and derived many of her subjects from literature such as Goethe’s “Sorrows of Werther,” Homer’s “Iliad,” and the Bible. Over fifty known works survive, most of which were painted between 1809 and 1826. They are particularly important because they are the work of a mature woman, rather than a schoolgirl.
Nine of Pinney’s known works are memorials. Three are in the Fenimore Art Museum collection. (A fourth work in the collection depicts two women sitting in chairs in an interior setting.) In one of the mourning pictures, she prepared a memorial to herself when she was 43 years old, leaving space on the tombstone for her age and year of death. She also rendered a memorial to her sister, Diadama Pinney, and an unusual undedicated memorial picture. She left space on the tombstone for someone to write the name, age and year of death of the deceased person.

Top: Memorial for Diadama Pinney, 1816. Fenimore Art Museum Collection, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0351.1961.
Center: Memorial To Herself, 1813. Fenimore Art Museum Collection, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0075.1961
Bottom:Undedicated Memorial, ca. 1815. Fenimore Art Museum Collection, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0076.1961

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