The Affectionate Heart


Not on view

This boldly designed watercolor on velvet represents a very fine example of the practice of making stencil patterns on fabric or paper, which came into vogue in England in the late eighteenth century. It soon arrived in America and reached its peak of popularity in the 1820s and 1830s. There were many contemporary treatises on the process of making pictures with stencils, and was known as "theorem painting," with each stencil being a "theorem.’ It was also called velvet painting, Oriental tinting, and Poonah painting, after Poona, Bombay, where it was thought that the technique originated. Theorem painting was considered a woman’s pastime, and became part of the curriculum in young ladies seminaries.

While most of the patterns for theorem paintings represented still lives of flowers and fruits, often in a basket, this example is more creative, and responds to English romantic poetry of the eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries. The urn shaped flower pot bears a stanza from the poem entitled "The Affectionate Heart," by the 18th century British poet and landscape gardener William Shenstone (1714-1763). It was published in the British paper Morning Chronicle, December 23, 1799, and signed "Joseph Cottle." Shenstone had a modest career as a poet, but excelled as a landscape gardener, and ranked alongside such noted landscape gardeners as Capability Brown.

The artist of this work was likely a school girl in Britain or North America. She uses the romantic themes of the Shenstone poem as inspiration for her composition.

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