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Henry Robert Morland (1730-1797)
Lady's Maid Soaping Linen
circa 1769
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This portrait is an example of 'genre' painting, where the artist's focus is on images of everyday life. We are shown an unknown maid washing linen. Do you think this is a convincing image of a woman working? The woman's dress and accessories are charming but simple. She wears a soft cap, a plain necklet and her dress is patterned with common flowers though made of silk: she has taken off her sleeve ruffles. She looks out directly at the viewer, her head tilted as if she has been called while working or as if someone has just entered the room.

Is she surprised or did she expect the interruption?
The painter uses the subject to explore subtle variations in colour, tone and texture. The bowl and soap are not symbolic but act simply as formal elements within the composition. There is a studied informality to the image and it is difficult to pin down the subject's expression to one particular interpretation.
Her gaze is familiar, almost intimate, maybe flirtatious? What is our relationship to her? Are we meant to admire her or identify with her position? Who do you think might have bought this kind of painting?
This is an idealised version of work. The maid's hands are smooth and unblemished and her hair tucked up under her hat is smooth and neat. How are working people represented today?
Henry Robert Morland (1730 – 1797) was a minor painter known for his genre and 'fancy' paintings. Perhaps the most obvious reference for this painting is the work of the Dutch 17th-century artist, Johannes Vermeer. Compare Morland's work to Vermeer's The Lacemaker where the woman is absorbed in her task and the tools of her trade are exquisitely observed and illuminated.
Henry Robert Morland (1730-1797)  Lady's Maid Soaping Linen   circa 1769
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 35.5 x 90.2 cm
Holburne Museum: 1978 / 1
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