The Laundress
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Jean-Baptiste Greuze, French (Tournus 1725 - 1805 Paris)
The Laundress
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Washerwoman
Work Type
c. 1761
Level 2, Room 2220, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Rococo and Neoclassicism in the Eighteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
sight: 39.2 x 31 cm (15 7/16 x 12 3/16 in.)
frame: 62.2 x 52.1 x 7.6 cm (24 1/2 x 20 1/2 x 3 in.)
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Charles E. Dunlap
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

Label Text: 32Q: 2220 18th-19th Century , written 2014
This painting is the artist’s replica of one shown at the Salon of 1761 that received nearly universal acclaim. At first glance, it seems as if the dutiful laundress has been interrupted, and simply looks up from her task to meet the viewer’s gaze. Closer inspection suggests that she may not be a domestic absorbed by her daily activities: she is fairly well attired, and her hands and forearms look as if they have never washed laundry. The artist Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724–1780) identified the sitter, who appears in other works by Greuze, as a professional model. The fixed and unusual directness of her gaze, as well as the seductiveness of her smile — undoubtedly a reference to the contemporary belief that laundresses were promiscuous, unclean, and dishonest — led the renowned eighteenth-century critic Denis Diderot to write, “She’s a rascal I wouldn’t trust a bit.”

Publication History

Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT, 1967)

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990)

Richard Rand, Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-century France, exh. cat., Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1997), no. 30, pp. 157-159, repr. in color

Colin B. Bailey, Jean-Baptiste Greuze: The Laundress, J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, CA, 2000), pp. 20-22, repr. in color as fig. 17

Alvin L. Clark, Jr., "To Delight the Eye": French Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Charles E. Dunlap, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2005), repr. in color p. 5 as fig. 5; checklist no. 6, p. 11

John Goodman, "Sex, gender, and genre", Apollo, Apollo Magazine Limited (London, July 1998), 148, 437, 52-53, pp. 52-53, ill. as Fig. 2 on p. 53

Exhibition History

Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967

Masterpieces of European Art, Busch-Reisinger Museum, Cambridge, 06/22/1985 - 09/15/1985

"To Delight the Eye": French Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Charles E. Dunlap, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/17/2005 - 03/12/2006

Ideal [Dis-] Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, 10/24/2008 - 10/03/2009

HAA 271x The Origins of Modernity: The "New" 18th Century Rotation #2: Large Niche (S426A) Spring 2011, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 03/11/2011 - 06/18/2011

Ancient to Modern, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2012 - 06/01/2013

Verification Level

3 - Good. Object is well described and information is vetted