Art Appreciation Series: Iain Biggs RWA on Jane Saxelby
We asked our artists to share their favourite works from our Permanent Collection. Here is Academician Iain Biggs' pick:
It may seem a bit perverse, but this is my favourite work in the RWA’s collection. I’ve been fascinated by it since Tristan Pollard, RWA Curatorial and Technicial Manager, showed it to me during a tour of the works in the collection in April 2017 and, later, kindly photographed it for me. Perhaps it’s because nobody seems to know who Jane Saxelby was or why a twelve-year-old’s sampler is in the collection (I love a mystery of that sort and have spent far too long online trying, in vain, to solve it). It’s also, of course, because this piece, made in 1841, somehow seems to anticipate the work of someone like Paul Klee. But there’s another side to this seemingly simple work. An expert on samplers I contacted told me that they were often made to demonstrate needlework skills so as to help girls who wanted to go into service to find a post. This is, of course, the sub-text of the message of ‘willing’ subservience provided by the text on the sampler.
The image has been sitting in my art ‘to do’ box since 2017 but I still hope to make a response to it one day.