Laundress and Child

Robert lived in Rome for eleven years, painting ancient ruins that often served as backdrops to scenes of everyday life. The fountain in this sketch was inspired by Roman examples—the artist even inscribed it with an Italian version of his name and location: “H Roberti Rom[a]”—but the scene is imaginary. The boy’s behaviour adds a humorous note.

Robert’s painting Laundress and Child makes playful use of a series of visual puns. The painting shows a laundress, standing with her back to the viewer, arranging a large white sheet across a clothesline. She looks down to her left where a small boy has lifted up his shirt to relieve himself, an action that parallels the flow of water into the fountain on the left. A dog lies directly in the boy’s line of fire, but seems either unaware or unconcerned. The laundress’s straw hat, which echoes the shape of the straw laundry basket on the right of the picture, lies on top of sheets draped on the fountain at the foot of a classical statue standing above the fountain’s spout. The folds of the sheets mimic those of the statue’s toga.

The French artist Hubert Robert was famous for painting architectural scenes that drew upon his experiences living in Rome. Robert signed the picture twice: “H. Roberti Rom” appears, apparently carved in stone, above the lion-headed fountain and “Robert Rome 1761” is scratched into the paint in the middle right of the sheet that the laundress is hanging. Robert lived in Rome for eleven years. Although he did not win the Prix de Rome, the prize awarded to accomplished young artists to study at the French Academy in Rome, Robert’s important connections secured him accommodation at the Academy during his stay in the city. In addition to his architectural paintings, he was drawn to scenes of everyday life, like the one represented in Laundress and Child. The picture has been painted with great confidence and fluidity, its handling reminiscent of the work of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, whose picture The Warrior can also be seen in the Clark’s collection. Fragonard had won the Prix de Rome in 1752, and the two artists became friends during their time in Italy, travelling together to Naples.

Hubert Robert

French, 1733–1808

Laundress and Child


Oil on canvas

13 13/16 x 12 7/16 in. (35.1 x 31.6 cm) Frame: 23 x 21 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (58.4 x 54.6 x 11.4 cm)

Acquired by Sterling and Francine Clark, 1935




Rand, Richard. Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in 18th-Century France. Exhibition catalogue. Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.