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“Charlotte at the Tomb of Werter”

Place Made:
Baltimore Maryland United States of America
Date Made:
silk on silk, frame is poplar
WOA 10 3/8; DOA 1 1/16
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: round silk on silk embroidery commemorating Goethe’s novella “The Sorrows of Young Werther” in a poplar frame. Embroidery is lined with linen; both layers (silk and linen) are nailed to backboard with (primarily) wrought nails.

Embroidery depicts Charlotte at the tomb; woman to left of monument is holding a book and is dressed almost completely in white with a cape trimmed with ribbons in various shades of pink; face, hair, hands and book are drawn and painted with white; to her right is the tomb of Werter, a draped square urn with a flame finial the whole on a marble plinth streaked with blue; willow branches shade the tomb and two daffodils (?) are blooming in the lower right; several tree trunks are behind Charlotte; perimeter of embroidered picture is back-stitched.

Round molded frame is poplar painted black with a delicate beaded molding around the outer edge; narrow carved inner liner shows evidence of gilding; backboard has label of framemaker.

LABEL NOTES: While the maker of the embroidery is unknown, the maker of the frame is believed to be James Smith of Baltimore who, according to an ad in THE BALTIMORE EVENING POST on July 13, 1792, “MOST respectfully informs the public in general, that he is commencing business in the picture frame making, and gilding line…. Pictures, prints, drawings, and needle work framed and glazed.” In a 1793 ad in the MARYLAND GAZETTE, Smith boasts that “His BLACK OVALS are esteemed in point of polish, durability and cheapness, as preferable to most that are seen.”

According to the MESDA files, James Smith was in partnership with George Smith (carver, gilder, print seller, etc.) by 1795 until the death of James in 1797.

The scene depicted in the embroidery picture is one from J.W. von Goethe’s novella “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” in which the protagonist falls in love with Charlotte S., a beautiful young woman whom Werther escorts to a ball in the hamlet of Walheim. Charlotte is betrothed to someone else, however, and when her betrothed, Albert, returns to Walheim, Werther becomes so frustrated that he leaves Walheim to take a government post with an ambassador. He continues to think about Charlotte and eventually returns to Walheim to try to win her affections away from Albert, but Albert and Charlotte have already been married. Werther’s despair over the loss of Charlotte and over his failure to help a peasant convicted of murder leads Werther to take his own life.

The clothing Charlotte is wearing in the needlework picture resembles the clothes Werther describes her as wearing during their first meeting. Charlotte is described as a “lady of middle height, with a lovely figure, dressed in a robe of simple white, trimmed with pink ribbons” (Dole, Nathan Haskel ed. THE WORKS OF J.W. von GOETHE. Boston: The Wyman-Fogg Company).

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund