Housewives In Art, Part Four

By Alison November 15, 2010 4 Comments 3 Min Read

Hello Housekeepers, welcome to a brand new week and the fourth in my occasional series on the depiction of the housewife in art.
One of the things I have noticed when I’m trawling the internet for images of domesticity is how very often housewives are portrayed as either grimly determined or quietly contemplative and I got to wondering if this is how we are: whether it is always resentment or resignation that we bring to the act of nurturing our homes and families? While there is often humor to be found in images of groups of women working together, when women are portrayed alone, all too often there is a layer of quiet desperation being described: sympathetic odes to loneliness or to the isolation and exhaustion of the new Mother, and rare is the deep sense of satisfaction and peace that I know to be part of domestic life today. Something which may or may not be a sign of our own times when the physical labor required to keep house is blessedly, not what it was…
First up today is the portrait of Leonie Bouguereau above, painted by William Adolphe Bouguereau in 1850, a painter renowned for traditional technique with almost photographic detail. Much celebrated in his time, Bouguereau began his career painting labels for jams and preserves, and ultimately became famous for his classical portraiture of mythological subject matter and fascination with the female form, making this quietly domestic image of Leonie (a relation, though who I have not been able to discover), unusual both for its un-romanticised subject matter and for its painterly style. For me it is attractive both because of Leonie’s vaguely amused averted gaze and for the spellbinding colour combination that is the apricot of her collar and the blue of her dress…

Next up is “Helping Mother” by Charles Spencelagh, which I rather love if only for the thoroughly modern face of the teenage girl peeling carrots. Painted in 1899, and very typical of Spencelagh’s usual domestically orientated subjects, this girls flushed face and warm brow speak of a steamy winter kitchen and  while her expression is one I can barely place, nevertheless I am delighted to have her as our first Housewife in Training…

On the same theme of housewives in training comes Lanyok (roughly translated as “young girls”) by Hungarian artist Oszkar Glatz in1931.  While the sisters indulge in the gentlest of domestic pleasures I can’t help but swoon over the peasant imagery and the colors that further investigation reveals to be common to much of Glatz’s body of work. Gorgeous. Evocative and decorative.

And finally for today an image from one of favorite artists, Carl Larsson. Though there is a part of me that considers including this talented artists work in my collection of housewives in art, as something of a kop out when I suspect his depiction of family life is so very familiar to all of us, I could barely help myself and thus make no apology for including this gorgeous painting of Carl’s wife Karin  feeding one of their eight children, for numerous reasons: not least of which include the patterns on all of the textiles, the cosy blanket in which the baby is wrapped and of course the sense that somehow Karin is stranded by her obligations to her child: that even the book propped on the table is too far away to read, and that despite all that,  the gentle spread of her hand on the baby’s back says all it needs too, regardless of the far away look on her face.
Till next time Housekeepers and art lovers…


  1. Carlie says:

    Mmmm….I hope this series never ends. I cannot tell you how much I love it. I have been searching for years for a painting I saw once in a gallery called Love and Potatoes which shows a mother and her grown daughter peeling potatoes together for some big meal and the girl is obviously unburdening her soul to her dear, patient mum. Wish I could find it. It'd fit right in.

  2. Deb says:

    Oh I just love them all, with your lovely narrative bringing each painting alive.
    If I have to choose one favourite from these latest paintings it will have to be the two sisters. I sit like that with my lovely girl, teaching her to knit, sew or crochet, just like my mother did with me.

  3. Gill says:

    So glad you included Karin , as it is not one of the" usual" ones. I love this series you are putting together. Doesn't that Hungarian sister look determined that the younger one will do it right! Gill.

  4. martha says:

    Love this series! What is the name of the Larsson work? I am a great fan and had never seen this one. Want to buy a print for a new mom. Thanks.

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