Here we have a scene from the 18th century that was not uncommon. Fortune tellers were usually part of gypsy caravans that traveled throughout England since the 16th century. Historically, gypsies earned livings doing agricultural work, but from around the middle to the late 19th century, they started using wagons that incorporated living spaces.

Like many itinerant groups, they moved around offering various services, including buying and selling horses, providing fun fairs, offering cures for a number of ailments, and telling fortunes. In this fabulous early needlework, a lady is getting her fortune told by presenting her palm to the gypsy. This was a popular form of entertainment in Georgian times. My guess is that she has inquired about her marriage chances. Two other ladies, resting on a fence, are enjoying the telling. On the right are two children and a dog watching over a pot on the fire. The older girl seems to be thinking to herself, “I can’t believe she’s believing this story.”

The entire needlework was done in fine hand-dyed and hand-spun wool yarn. The amount of stitching is incredible. There are different types of stitches that were used to show the various elements of this picture. The stitcher used a combination of long and short stitches, overlay stitching, crewel stitching outline stitching, and tiny running stitches.

The harmonizing colors are principally teal blue, browns, pinks, and cream. This is a traditional 18th century color scheme. The silk upon which the piece was stitched was painted in watercolor to depict the faces, hands, hair and sky. The painting of the faces was expertly and artistically done to show individual features and expressions.

The piece is housed in its original gesso and gilded frame with its original bubbled and wavy glass. On the back is an old collector’s or shop label that reads: “English needlework. Circa 1780. ‘The Fortune Teller.’” I have had the frame professionally restored.

This fabulous needlework is in excellent condition. There are a few stitches missing in the lower right-hand corner that might have been insect damage; with all the action, colors and detail in the embroidery, these are little noticed. The color retention is exceptional for its age of over 200 years.

It measures 22-1/2 inches wide by 20 inches high, including the frame.


Perry-Joyce Fine Arts

The Fortune Teller, an 18th Century Woolwork Embroidery on Silk

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