embroidered picture

embroidered picture


A stylised picture of a Georgian lady in wide hoops, with applique butterfly wings in three different types to represent the gown, petticoat and cape. Mounted on black paper and framed. Made by a disabled soldier from the First World War. Professor Ann Carden-Coyne (University of Manchester) has researched this piece - see below. Mrs Mary (Hope) Greg (1850-1949), born into a philanthropic family and married into the Quarry Bank Mill fortune, collected artisan crafts including a work on paper made by a disabled man. Mounted onto black card, the decorative portrait of an eighteenth century lady, whose costume is composed of actual butterfly wings.[i] In acquiring the work, Mary Greg expressed support for the redemptive and therapeutic power of handicrafts (Liz Mitchell 2017). It is quite possible that the artist was a disabled civilian who underwent rehabilitation therapy. ‘Spaj’ Atkinson was blind in one eye, deaf and paralysed in one leg after an accident. He gained an international reputation for the butterfly-winged pieces, and is mentioned in the Australian, British and American press of the day.[ii] Collectors of his work included Princess Helena Victoria, Mrs Stanley Baldwin, Viscountess Gage and the Marchioness of Cambridge, and Queen Mary.[iii] The global media attention Atkinson received also suggested the stoicism imposed upon and spectacle generated by the disabled man’s artistic accomplishments. [i] Mary Greg collection 1922.1861 Manchester Art Gallery. [ii] The Evening News, (Rockhampton, QLD) featured him in photographs and described his artistic process of selecting old butterfly collections, using an old microscope to detect parasites and treating the wings in a chemical solution, and then applying them to the designs on paper (March 3, 1931). The works ranged in size from 5ft to 5 inches square. He is quoted as saying he started in 1920 and had made over 1,000 pictures; no two alike. He hatches some butterflies in Devonshire and others are imported from Africa and South America, as well as old collections from the 1870s. A 5ft square portrait of Catherine of Aragon was composed of 2800 wings (The World’s News, Sydney, Sat 21 Aug 1926). [iii] ‘Novel Pictures. Artist Uses Butterfly Wings. Purchase by Queen’, The News, Adelaide, Feb, 1921; the Newcastle Sun, 2nd Aug, 1927. He also made a portrait of Princess Elizabeth with 1800 butterflies costing £39.00, which was shown to the Duchess who purchased it (Toodyay Herald, WA, 3 Aug 1928).

Object Name

embroidered picture

Date Created



size: 18cm x 27cm

accession number


Place of creation

United Kingdom



Gift of Mrs. Mary Greg


© Manchester Art Gallery

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