Overview

Diego Velázquez ranks among the greatest masters of seventeenth-century Europe. By 1623, the twenty-four-year-old artist was established as court painter to Philip IV in Madrid. For nearly forty years, he was primarily occupied with painting remarkably innovative portraits of the monarch and the royal family. But in his spare hours, Velázquez turned to subjects that interested him personally; The Needlewoman is among those works.

His observation of the optical effects of light on the forms he painted caused Velázquez to abandon the tenebrism -- or extreme contrast of lights and darks -- that characterized his earlier works in favor of a softer style. Here, no area is obscured by darkness. The artist used a gentle light and deep, but translucent, shadow to reveal each plane of the face, to sculpt the swelling bosom, and to suggest the repetitive motion of the hand.

Because the painting remains unfinished, the steps in the artist's process are visible. He began by priming the canvas with a gray-green base. Next, he indicated the main forms of the composition, sketching them in with darker paint, then brushing them in with broad areas of opaque color, and finally, building up the face -- the only area that appears to be finished -- with transparent layers of glaze, giving it the effect of flesh seen through softly diffused light.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

In the artist's possession at his death, 1660. Probably Pierre-Armand-Jean-Vincent-Hippolyte, Marquis de Gouvello de Keriaval [1782-1870], Château de Kerlévénant, Sarzeau, Morbihan, Brittany.[1] Madame Christiane de Polès [d. 1936], Paris; sold 5 July 1926 to (Wildenstein and Co., Paris);[2] consigned to (M. Knoedler & Co., New York);[3] by whom purchased 9 March 1927;[4] purchased on same day by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.;[5] deeded 12 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1989
Velázquez. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1989-1990, no. 81, 216, pl. 29 (in Spanish version: no. 61, repro. 357).
2001
Velázquez: Il suo terzo viaggio in Italia [Velázquez: His Third Trip to Italy], Palazzo Ruspoli, Rome, 2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
2006
Spanish Painting from El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2006-2007, unnumbered catalogue, repro.

Bibliography

1935
Mayer, August L. A Portrait by Velázquez. Francisca Velázquez, Daughter of the Master (The Woman Sewing). New York, [1935].
1936
Mayer, August L. Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Pictures and Drawings. London, 1936: 132, no. 558, pl. 189.
1941
_Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 207, no. 81.
1942
_Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 216.
1942
Sánchez Cantón, Francisco J. "Como vivía Velázquez: inventario descubierto por D. F. Rodríquez Marín." Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 15 (1942): 79.
1943
Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique. Paintings and Drawings of Velázquez. Complete Edition. London and New York, 1943: 25, no. 77, pl. 93.
1944
Sánchez Cantón, Francisco J. Review of Veázquez by E. Lafuente Ferrari. In Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueologia 17 (1944): 136.
1945
Cook 1945, 80-82.
1945
Sánchez Cantón, Francisco J. "New Facts About Velázquez." The Burlington Magazaine 87 (1945): 293.
1945
Soria, Martin S. Review of The Paintings and Drawings of Velázquez by Enrique Lafuente Ferrari. In The Art Bulletin 27 (September, 1945): 214.
1948
López-Rey, José. Review of Archivo Español de Arte (1940-1946). In Gazette des Beaux-Arts 33 (January-June 1948): 60-61.
1949
_Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 46, repro.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 82, color repro.
1955
Pantorba, Bernardino de [José López Jimemez]. La vida y la obra de Velázquez: estudio biografico y crítico. Madrid, 1955: 232, no. 164.
1956
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1956: 32, repro.
1957
Shapley, Fern Rusk. Comparisons in Art: A Companion to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. London, 1957 (reprinted 1959): pl. 114
1959
Kubler, George, and Martin S. Soria. Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions 1500-1800. Baltimore, 1959: 264, 386, nt. 48.
1960
Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 26, color repro.
1963
López-Rey, José. Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre. London, 1963: 331-332, pl. 114.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 168, repro.
1964
Camón Aznar, José. Velázquez. 2 vols. Madrid, 1964: 435-437, repro. 436.
1965
Harris, Enriqueta. Review of Velázquez by José López-Rey, The Burlington Magazine 106 (1965): 426.
1965
Sánchez-Cantón, Francisco J. Review of Velázquez by José López-Rey. In Gazette des Beaux-Arts 65 (1965): 127.
1965
_Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 134.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:204, color repro.
1968
_European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 121, repro.
1968
López-Rey, José. Velázquez' Work and World. London, 1958: 94-95, pl. 133.
1974
Gudiol y Ricart, José. Velázquez: 1599-1660. Translated by Kenneth Lyons. London, 1974: 318, 339, no. 160, fig. 236.
1975
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 360, repro.
1975
Harris, Enriqueta. "The Cleaning of Velázquez's Lady with a Fan." The Burlington Magazine 117 (1975): 319.
1979
López-Rey, José. Velázquez; the Artist as Maker. Lausanne and Paris, 1979: 92, 96, 99, 390, no. 81, pl. 166.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 63, pl. 45.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 242, no. 308, color repro.
1985
_European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 419, repro.
1986
Brown, Jonathan. Velázquez, Painter and Courtier. New Haven and London, 1986: color fig. 178.
1990
Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 116-119, color repro. 117.
1990
_Velázquez. Exh. cat. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1990: no. 61, repro. 357.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 85, repro.
1997
Mittler, Gene A., and Rosalind Ragans. Understanding Art, New York, 1997: 179, fig. 12-3.
1999
Zuffi, Stefano and Francesca Castria, La peinture baroque. Translated from Italian by Silvia Bonucci and Claude Sophie Mazéas. Paris, 1999: 34, color repro.
2001
Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA II: Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, 2001: 74-75, 210, color repro.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 171, no. 130, color repro.

Technical Summary

The painting is on a relatively coarsely woven fabric and adhered to a very coarsely woven, heavyweight canvas. It has been reduced in size along all four edges and later expanded again. A 3/4-inch band of the original surface was once made to serve as a tacking margin, but later returned to the picture surface. Heavy retouching covering this portion of the picture was removed during treatment in 1988. Mild cusping at the edges suggests that the present format is roughly the same as the original. The ground layer is a warm red brown, applied very thinly, leaving the tops of the threads exposed. A sketch of the composition with black paint was laid in over the ground color, and is still slightly visible at the left. In the pillow at the lower left, the ground is exposed. Some pentimenti are evident, particularly around the unfinished hands. Other pentimenti are located in the neckline of the dress and at the lower left of the sitter's hair. The painting is in good condition, although there are small, inpainted losses scattered over the painting and light abrasions, particularly in the background and pillow.

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