The Little Laundress (La petite blanchisseuse)
1896, Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947)
lithograph in five colours on China paper,
49.5 cm x 37.8 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
The French artist Pierre Bonnard was brilliant at representing intimate, everyday scenes. This laundrywoman is a beautiful example. The little figure with her big basket creates a simple, touching atmosphere, which is heightened by the little dog.
Bonnard constructed the scene from a series of planes, to which the lithography technique lent itself well. The grey street with its white stones takes up a large part of the image. The silhouette of the laundrywoman stands out strongly against the light background – a pictorial style that derives from Japanese printmaking. The shadow theatre of the print artist Henri Rivière was another source of inspiration. Performances at Le Chat Noir nightclub used figures cut from sheets of zinc, the shadows of which were cast onto a white screen by a bright light. Bonnard and his fellow artists were regular members of the audience.
The Little Laundress comes from the Album des peintres-graveurs, which contained twenty-two prints in a variety of styles and techniques, each by a different artist or engraver. It was offered for sale by the art dealer Ambroise Vollard at 150 francs a copy. Publishing a compilation like this was a way to meet strong demand for prints.