The Cloth Unfolded 1: Linen, Laundry, and Laundresses in 19th-Century Still Life

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(45 minute illustrated lecture – PowerPoint)  Using images from the VMFA permanent collections, Mary Prevo, art historian and museum educator, will discuss her project: the carefully laundered linen table covering in nineteenth-century still life and its function as a measure of middle-class status.  In the hands of artists like Fantin-Latour, Manet, Cezanne and Gauguin cool, smooth and subtly colored table coverings speak of comfort and domestic order. These images also witness to admiration these artists had for Dutch and French 17th– and 18th–century domestic interiors. These pictures also raise other questions: Who was responsible for doing the laundry and under what circumstances? Is the lavish use of the unfolded cloth in still life the other side of an equally pervasive interest the laundress? Do developments in domestic economy and the laundry industry in the 19th-century relate to the images of the unfolded linens, laundresses and ironers, who were described by Alcott and Zola and painted by Daumier, Boudin, and Degas?