Canoeing Lithograph on Linen



Illustrations of well-dressed ladies enjoying genteel sports, such as this lithograph on linen, accompanied a rise in popularity of sports participation among women during the final third of the 19th century.  After the Civil War elite women in the U.S., who had more time and energy for leisure pursuits than working-class women, began to participate more actively in croquet, archery, and tennis.

In the 1880s and 1890s upper-class women increasingly explored other physical sports such as horseback riding, bowling, rowing, canoeing, yachting, and skating.  Towards the end of the century, as the growing demand for female emancipation was leading up to the acquisition of voting rights for women, even bicycling and golf became possible pursuits for women.  (For additional historical details see “Women, sport and exercise in the 19th century” by Patricia Vertinsky in Women & Sport – Interdisciplinary Perspectives edited by D. M. Costa  & S. Guthrie, 1994).

closeup canoeing image on linen

This lithograph captures the spirit of the sporting woman at the turn of the 20th century.  She resembles a “Gibson Girl,” a stereotyped look popularized by the magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson from 1890 through about 1910.  Like the woman in this lithograph, Gibson Girls were always impeccably dressed, attractive, confident, and somewhat athletic (  Similarly, this woman with her hair piled high, an hour-glass figure and fashionable clothing, projects enough confidence to steer her own boat, while still conveying appropriate social respectability.

We framed this print in a circa 1900 gold bead lined oak frame (~ 27” square) befitting its time period.

period oak frame

We have had several similar woman sporting pillow covers over the years which were likewise kept in storage or framed and never made into pillows.  The following examples help put into context the one in our current inventory for anyone considering starting a collection or simply interested in knowing more about this genre.

This tennis pillow cover from circa 1890 was made within the time period in which tennis became a popular sport for women.

tennis image on linen

Here are two other pillow covers we’ve owned, one showing a woman rowing a shell and another of a woman paddling a canoe with a double-bladed paddle.

woman rowing - image on linen

woman paddlling with double blade

Both were made post-1900, with the canoeing lithograph bearing the copyright date of 1904 which is shortly after wood and canvas canoes came into use and created a craze for leisure canoeing among men and women alike.

Another pillow which we recently sold shows a woman in a sailor dress, a style that appeared in fashion plates around 1914.  The illustration is embroidered rather than printed, and had a linen back piece attached, so we added filling to make it into pillow as originally intended.

embroidered canoeing image pillow cover

After WWI women were less likely to engage in sporting activities wearing long skirts and other constraining, impractical clothing.  So these earlier images capture a few decades when women were enjoying the liberating aspects of sporting while still adhering to the social expectations of their class and gender. It is fun to glimpse part of the historical continuum of the boating sports we enjoy today – albeit attired casually for the 21st century in spandex, fleece, cargo pants or shorts.

caonoeing lithograph in context


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