Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Discussion about The Laundress

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"Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou" (Laundress on the Quai d'Anjou) c.1860 by Honore Daumier

Discussion on "Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou"

The characters and setting: As the child stumbles up the stairs the mother reaches out carrying laundry in one hand and caring for the child in the other. The main focus is the mother and child, however they are the darkest part of Daumier's painting. The light source in the picture is the background. Perhaps conveying the idea that whatever is on the other side of the river or the other side of the city offers more. The other side of the city is light and flourishing while this mother and child "stumble" as they try to get by on living in poverty. The mother's body type is a bit larger and her clothes hang on her. Her sleeves are rolled up, illustrating that she has used her hands to do some type of work. There is no sense of urgency in this painting, its a slow monotone feeling of everyday life for the poor.

The Analysis and Stereotype: Many stereotypes of the poor in France in the 19th century was the assumption that they were useless and could not fend for themselves. However, this picture creates two ironic ideas, one being that the women and her child are indeed struggling but they are surviving. The women has perhaps just finished a load of laundry in the Seine and her child and herself are surviving the harsh world of the poor. The second ides, is illustrated in the way Daumier created this re-life painting. He seems to have noticed the stereotype of the poor and working class yet, he still create them in dark colors where their faces blend in with a blank expression. The dark colors almost create the idea that the mother and child are dirty, their skin color is not the pure white color that the Bourgeoisie have (see "Souers de Charite" for more about dark coloring and the poor). They [the mother and child] live on the streets of Paris in the dirt and filth. Daumier almost makes the statement in this picture that the poor are often thought of as nameless people who walk the streets of Paris. This painting is like many of Daumier's other paintings of the lower class. The faces almost blank with no identity, forcing the viewer to look at the environment around the "main focus". Daumier does an excellent job of this in "Laveuse au Quai d'Anjou".

Another Daumier painting and analysis of The Burden!