A group of 18th-century embroidered sofa and chair covers and a related conversation piece by Joseph Highmore.
The quality, condition and extensiveness of the group of seat covers greatly enhances the Museum's collection of 18th century embroidered furnishings, and the clear association with Jane Vigor substantially increases its interest. Jane Vigor (1699-1783) gained a particular reputation in the 18th century as a travel writer. She spent some years in St Petersburg as wife to two successive British Consuls, Thomas Ward and Claudius Rondeau, and married her third husband, William Vigor, after her return to England as a widow in 1740. Her published accounts of her time at the Russian Court make several references to her working at embroidery, as an English practice that caught the attention of the Russian Empress Anna, and undertaking projects of an extensive scale. This group of seat covers are embroidered on an unusual worsted ground and with further investigation it may be possible to establish that they were worked by Jane Vigor while still in St Petersburg, adapting Russian materials to her English design and needle skills.
Conversation pieces were small-scale portraits which included close family and friends engaged in domestic and convivial occupations and conversation. This painting is typical of the genre, and although other than Jane Vigor, the identities of the sitters are not certain, their occupations and attributes give a clue as to their interests. Jane Vigor, who was described as 'a fine woman; very tall, and perfectly genteel', sits at the left, holding an example of the embroidery of which she was justly proud. The piece shown in the painting appears similar to the surviving examples of her work, but Jane is not actually working it as she has no embroidery tools with her, and the embroidery would have been fixed to a frame during its making.
The other lady in the painting, probably Ann Vigor, her sister-in-law, is knotting silk thread with a shuttle. On the table alongside the ball of knotted thread is a small bag for carrying knotting supplies, fastened to her wrist with ribbon. Interestingly, although the three men are depicted with attributes common for men in 18th century portraits - books, maps, and a globe - these have a greater significance in this painting. The map is clearly marked 'Russia', alluding to the country in which Jane first met her husband, and in which William Vigor and his brother, both standing, had business interests. The globe refers to their wider mercantile ambitions, and that of the seated figure, who is possibly John Penn (1700-1746), son of the founder of Pennsylvania, with whom the Vigors were on close terms.
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the Victoria and Albert Museum.