Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
I think everyone has some kind of dream in which their worst fears are realized. Apparently, my worst fear revolves around being unprepared to teach an art history lecture. Last night, I dreamed that I went to go visit my past professors at my alma mater. It was the first day of summer term, and I discovered upon arrival that I was slated to teach a course that began that very afternoon! The title of the course seminar was “Washer Women in Art,” and it was supposed to cover all the extant depictions of laundresses. I started to scramble around campus, trying to find materials for the class, but I couldn’t think of any paintings to include in the slide list. I kept thinking, “I can’t think of any paintings of washer women,” and “If any paintings exist, they probably are Dutch from the 17th century.”
Needless to say, I woke up in a panic.
Naturally, I had to find out today if there are any paintings of laundresses. And there are. A lot. (Though not really any Dutch ones from 17th century, much to my subconscious’ chagrin!) Here are a couple of my favorites:
This book points out how the laundress does not wear a hoop skirt or any other fashionable clothing of the Rococo period – Chardin was interested in painting the domestic life of an ordinary French woman.
Greuze, The Laundress, 1761
Denis Diederot said of the laundress in this painting, “She’s a rascal I wouldn’t trust an inch.” The Getty has published a whole book about this painting, comparing this provocative laundress to other paintings of laundresses by Greuze.
Martin Driscoll, The Washer Woman. I was not familiar with this contemporary artist before my quest to find laundress paintings, but I think this work is very nice. You can look at more of Driscoll’s paintings on his website. (Thanks to the Anne P, I also learned that this painting is inspired by William Orpen’s “The Wash House” (1905) located at the National Gallery of Ireland.)
Degas, Laundresses Carrying Linen in Town, c. 1876-78