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Picturing a World

Laundry drying

I first became aware of Helene Schjerfbeck at the exhibition Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900, but this painting is new to me. I love its combination of garden imagery and a mundane task. Just look at those delphiniums behind the beautifully rendered curves of netting!

Laundry drying is very much a late-19th C topic for painters of modern life. For a version by Berthe Morisot, click here. For Manet, here. For William Merritt Chase, here. For Sargent here. The topic was not special to that era, however. It came out of a much longer tradition of women's work in European art and was depicted in America, too. And then, of course, there's the work itself!
Soon after I saw the Schjerfbeck painting at GurneyJourmey, I was rereading Ursula Le Guin's Tehanu and in Chapter 8 ran across this passage about the heroine Tenar: She washed the sheets, the dishcloths, her shifts and spare dress, and Therru's dresses and laid them out … on the dry grass, weighting the things down with stones, for the wind was gusty, with a late-summer wildness in it.
Maybe I'll give myself the challenge of including an image of laundry drying in a future story.

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