Knitting in Art History

People have been knitting for centuries. There’s a rich history to learn about knitting. And did you know that you can see some of that history by exploring art history. The following images from the 19th century show knitting in art history.

knitting in 19th century paintings

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The Tricoteuse

Tricoteuse is the word for “knitting girl” or “little knitter.” Artist William Adolphe Bouguereau seemed to really enjoy working with this subject, since he painted many different knitting girls. One of the most popular is this one from 1879:

knitting in art history Tricoteuse

The girl looks right out at the viewer, and it looks like her hands are still knitting. Any of us who have been interrupted knitting mid-row know this look. Here are some of the artist’s other paintings of knitting in art history:

Tricoteuse Bretonne
woman knitting in art history
knitting girl art history

These are all oil paintings.

Jean-Francois Millet’s Knitting in Art History

Millet is another nineteenth century oil painter who created several works featuring knitters. Two of the best are both called “The Knitting Lesson.” They each depict that age-old tradition of passing down the skill of knitting from one generation to the next:

knitting lesson in art history
jean francois millet knitting lesson

Millet wasn’t the only one to paint this subject matter. There are many examples that show women teaching children to knit.

Millet also painted “The Knitting Shepherdess in different versions:

Jean-François Millet knitting woman art history
Jean-François Millet

These are delightful in that the show the pleasure of just sitting alone, knitting. Even better, these women are getting sunshine and the benefits of nature while they knit.

Knitting in Art History: Women Knitting Outside

Here are some of the other artists who depicted women knitting outside in 19th century art history:

knitting in art history lidderdale

This is an 1888 oil painting by Charles Sillem Lidderdale.

This painting by Charles Sprague Pearce is called "Knitting in the Fields."

This painting by Charles Sprague Pearce is called “Knitting in the Fields.” Also can we talk about that amazing coat the knitter is wearing?

catinou knitting

Most of the nineteenth century paintings of knitters were painted by men. (Or at least, that’s what art history has recorded.) However, there were some recognized women painters during this time. For example, this painting, called Catinou Knitting” is by Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.

Women and Girls Knitting Together In Art History

As we know, knitting doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, even though it’s enjoyable as one. Alternatively, it can be a lot of fun to knit with others. After all, that’s why we all enjoy knitalongs. And even though the Internet wasn’t around back in the 19th century, women and girls certainly did knit together in pairs and groups. For example:

fishergirls on shore homer painting

This is Winslow Homer’s 1884 painting, “Fishergirls on Shore.” Can’t you just imagine the types of things they’re discussing as they walk and knit together?

In the book “The History of Knitting in Art,” by Tulasi Zimmer you can see other paintings of women knitting together. For example, you’ll find Jozef Israels’ “Three Women Knitting By The Sea,” which looks like a delightful way to pass an afternoon. There are also three people picture in the Claude Bail 1972 oil painting called, “An Interior with Marken Girls Knitting.”

Men Knitting in Art History

The aforementioned book shows that mostly paintings of knitters at this time feature women. However, men have always been knitters, and there are two images that reflect this:

rudolf jordan a mean seated in a doorway knitting

This one is “A Man Seated in a Doorway Knitting With His Dog,” by Rudolf Jordan. The other one shown in that book is Cal Spitzweg’s “The Knitting Look-Out,” which depicts a soldier seated by a cannon, looking out across the landscape, holding his green fabric that he’s knitting in his lap.

Get The Knitting in Art Book

knitting in art history book

The book is available on Amazon.

What do you think each of these people were knitting in these images?!

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Marly Bird

The One and Only, Marly

Marly is a knitwear and crochet designer (and yarn addict) that is here to help you learn how to knit and crochet in a way that's fun and approachable.

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