About this artwork
This canvas is Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s earliest painting of a laundress, a prevalent figure in the visual and literary culture of middle-class France in the 19th century. The model for the figure was Nini Lopez, a resident of Montmartre, the Parisian quarter to which Renoir moved in the summer of 1876. Lopez was characterized by writer and art critic Georges Rivière as the ideal model, for she was “punctual, serious, [and] discreet.” But while Lopez can be identified in The Laundress, this is not a portrait; her features are generalized and dissolve into a frenzy of brushstrokes. Instead, Renoir depicted a Parisian type—in this case, a young, working-class girl. When he painted this canvas, Renoir had recently finished four illustrations for Émile Zola’s L’Assommoir (The Drunkard), a gritty novel about the downfall of a laundress in the brutal and degrading world of working-class Paris. Renoir’s vibrant portrayal of the laundress in this canvas is markedly different from the laundress’s illustrated appearance, for which the Art Institute has a preparatory drawing.
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir
- The Laundress
- Oil on canvas
- Inscribed lower left: Renoir
- 80.8 × 56.5 cm (31 13/16 × 22 1/4 in.)
- Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection