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Honoré Daumier

French, 1808–1879

Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou (Laundress on the Quai D’Anjou), ca. 1860

Oil on wood (cradled)
11 1/4 x 7 3/4 inches (28.6 x 19.7 cm)
George B. and Jenny R. Mathews Fund, 1964

Honoré Daumier began his artistic career painting Biblical and mythological scenes. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, he began to focus on the world around him, stating that "one must be of one’s own time." Although he made his primary living through caricatures and cartoons of the social and political situation of his time, he also created numerous paintings illustrating life in the city.

Since he did not grow up in a wealthy family, Daumier particularly sympathized with the plight of Paris's urban poor. This painting illustrates a scene he saw almost every day in the neighborhood where he lived on an island in the Seine River—women with their children and bags of laundry climbing or descending the stairs that led to the laundry boats along the docks. The dreary and difficult life they led is, through light and shadow, symbolically contrasted with the more privileged life of the people living in the bright, large houses along the opposite side of the river.

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