Women at work

Women at work

  • The re-entry of the workers.

    STEINLEN Théophile Alexandre (1859 - 1923)

  • The lacemaker.

    TAPISSIER Edmond (1861 - 1943)

  • The Sewer.

    MILLET Jean-François (1814 - 1875)

  • The ironer.

    DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

The re-entry of the workers.

© Saint-Denis, art and history museum - Photo I. Andréani

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Title: The lacemaker.

Author : TAPISSIER Edmond (1861 - 1943)

Creation date : 1889

Date shown: 1889

Dimensions: Height 90 - Width 110

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Nemours Castle-Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojeda

Picture reference: 96DE9947

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

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Title: The Sewer.

Author : MILLET Jean-François (1814 - 1875)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 33 - Width 25

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 01DE5739 / RF 1593

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

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Title: The ironer.

Author : DEGAS Edgar (1834 - 1917)

Creation date : 1869

Date shown: 1869

Dimensions: Height 74 - Width 61

Technique and other indications: Chalk, charcoal, pastel

Storage location: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans website

Picture reference: 85DE25 / RF 28829, RE 1937-25

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Schormans

Publication date: July 2007

Historical context

As soon as he arrived in Paris in 1881, Steinlen, a native of Vaud, approached the anarchist working-class circles which he agreed to regularly illustrate in magazines and newspapers. (La Voix du Peuple, Le Chat noir, Le Chambard socialiste, La Feuille, L’Assiette au Beurre…). He was therefore naturally interested in the world of work and especially in the labor of women, the subject of fierce debates, in France, during the second half of the 19th century.e century.

Image Analysis

The return of the workers is more the work of a talented designer-illustrator than a painter accustomed to landscapes. In this unfinished and small-sized painting, Steinlen lavishly displays colors, like Toulouse-Lautrec, Vuillard and Daumier, whom he then rubbed shoulders with. Very sensitive to the industrial atmosphere of the popular streets of the capital, he resorts to dull or dark hues to express air pollution. The smoke scrambles and dirties the sky; the sun's rays, light beige, have difficulty piercing the purple clouds. Against this veiled setting, women "in hair", whose only white or red blouses stand out against the gloomy environment, display their status as workers through their clothing as well as through their gestures. The presence of a stray dog, at the center of the composition, reminds us that the artist was also an engraver and animal sculptor.


Steinlen began as a fabric designer, first in Mulhouse - a city that became German - where he joined in 1879 as a pattern designer at Schonaupt, manufacturer of printed cretonne and Indian, then he found a similar job in Paris at the industrial Demange. He had plenty of time to observe the workers entering and leaving the factory. In 1905, women were employed on a massive scale in the large manufacture because, the machinery having become widespread, skill and dexterity now took precedence over strength. But, for equal work, they receive, on average, a salary less than half that of men.
Long considered unworthy in French painting, the theme of work therefore ended up entering the Salon in the second half of the 19th century.e century. But the pictorial representation of the worker has little to do with the practices: the painters mainly show the auxiliary trades, traditional, recommended since the July Monarchy by hygienists and social investigators who denounce the workshop as a place of sexual harassment and bad company. In their paintings, the women generally work at home; they appear peaceful, solitary and timeless. They are young but their children, if they exist, are kept out of the picture. The Lacemaker D'Edmond Tapissier does not leave his farm, presumably to be able to feed the chickens that are pecking in the yard, at the back of the field. The Sewing machine de Millet also stays at home to change the clothes. Yes The Ironer de Degas, unlike the two previous models, works standing up in a shop, she is also lonely. In addition, her erect body, celestial blue apron and smooth face express serenity.
These agreed images do not exist at Steinlen. Embracing the Saint-Simonian idea of ​​using pencils and brushes at the service of the humble, the artist travels the streets of the capital to denounce the misery and violence against women. In the foreground, on the left, is a laundress, a broken figure and a mouth twisted in pain, exhausted by a heavy bucket and the huge bundle of linen she holds against her hip. In the background, a mother with her baby in her arms recalls that nothing is done for those who work, that the crèches, barely created, are too few, that the worker must therefore resolve to entrust her new- born to an often negligent nurse or take him everywhere with her, sometimes administering theriac or another drug to make him sleep.
The workers are exhausted but some walk in pairs to express the professional friendship that binds them and that the misogynist elites fear so much. At the time of "back to school", they invade public space. Already forming a compact crowd, they will soon be associated with the struggles.

  • women
  • working world
  • city


Catalog of the exhibition Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1859-1923 Paris-Geneva, Petit Palais-Musée d'Art moderne, 1983 Catalog of the exhibition Requirements of realism in French painting between 1830 and 1870 Chartres, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1983 Catalog of the exhibition Representation of work: mines, forges, factories Le Creusot, CRACAP, 1977 Catalog of the exhibition Images du travail Paris, RMN, 1985 Catalog of the exhibition Le Bel Héritage: Steinlen Montreuil, Musée d'Histoire vivante de, 1987.Catalogue of the exhibition Steinlen, paintings and drawingsSaint-Denis, Museum of Art and History, 1973. Portraits of women: the woman in nineteenth-century paintingCarcassonne, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2001.Francis JOURDAIN A large picture maker: Alexandre Steinlen Paris, Éd. Du Cercle d'Art, 1954. Maurice PIANZOLATheophile Alexandre SteinlenLausanne, Éd.Rencontre, 1971.

To cite this article

Myriam TSIKOUNAS, "Women at work"

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