The Thread of Life
Researchers Anne Chisholm and Marie Riley
Jack (John) Leigh Wardleworth was born in Prestwich in Manchester on 27 February 1863. His mother died when he was twelve years old. His father and grandfather were both dyers working in Manchester factories during the industrial revolution. John’s father appears to have been upwardly mobile. He later became a yarn salesman and finally, in the 1881 census, he is listed as a picture framer. Given his humble background it seems unlikely that Wardleworth would have had an expensive classical education, which makes the subject matter of his paintings all the more remarkable. His father’s later occupation may well have kindled his interest in art.
Wardleworth appears to have lived in Manchester all his life. In census transcripts he describes himself as ‘an artist in oils’. He shared a home with his unmarried sister, Ada, both before and after his marriage in 1898. Ada also describes herself as an artist but there appears to be no legacy of her work remaining.
Wardleworth is included in the 'Checklist of Painters, c1200-1994 Represented in the Witt Library at the Courtauld Institute of Art' but does not feature in the 'Benezit Dictionary of Artists'. It seems unlikely that he achieved a great deal of commercial success in his lifetime. There is currently no biographical information about him online other than can be gleaned from primary research of parish records and census material.
Other paintings by Wardleworth include:
Scene from a Play (1891)
Scene from Othello
Scene of Three Fates (1891)
Horse and Two Dogs by a Rustic Fence
The Thread of Life depicts the three fates from Greek mythology who determine the lifespan of humans by spinning. They are represented by three women in different stages of life, Lachesis, Clotho and Atropos.
Lachesis, the mature woman sitting on the right hand side, should be measuring the thread of life but is shown with flowers on her knee and holding out a branch of greenery. She is demurely dressed in a loose red gown over a white chemise.
Clotho, the young maiden, stands illuminated in the centre of the picture. She holds a distaff, the stick that holds the bunch of flax to be spun, in the crook of her left elbow and her hands are held in the spinning position. Her left hand holds the thread. She is bare-breasted which apparently signifies ‘nurture’, and has a knot of diaphanous semi-transparent fabric tied around her waist.
The elderly Atropos seems to crouch on the floor in the shadows of the left-hand corner, holding a pair of shears with which to cut the thread and so end a life. She wears a pale brown shift with a dark green cloth covering her head. She is staring gauntly out of the picture. There is a large flowerhead by her side which looks like a sunflower. They all seem absorbed in their own thoughts.
There is also a smaller duplicate unframed version of this painting in the Collection, acc no 193 (oil sketch/gouache)
Blog from Kristen M Hughes @ http://thesojourningspinner.blogspot.co.uk/2013_01_01_archive.html
Baptism Record of John Leigh Wardleworth: St Peters, Blackley,
25 October 1863, Lancashire Online Parish Clerk @
Burial of Anna Eliza Wardleworth, 2 December 1875, St Peters, Blackley, Lancashire Online Parish Clerk @
Marriage of John L Wardleworth and Amy Ashworth,
Prestwich1828 @ http://www.lancashirebmd.org.uk/cgi/marrind.cgi
1851 Census, Prestwich, Piece 2232, p30
1861 Census, Prestwich St Mary, Piece 2976 / Folio 93, p11