Saturday, October 03, 2015

Laundresses and Prostitutes

Two exhibitions it would behoove you to see together:
At the musee d'Orsay in the 7th arrondissement
And the laundresses at the musee d'Annees Trente in Boulogne are joined at the hip not just in time and content but by the line RER C, making it a fairly easy run from the d'Orsay to get to Boulogne.
Starting off with the laundress exhibition
This is quite an extensive show
I didn't know laundry was often washed on the rocks under bridges..I guess in case of inclement weather.

The laundresses seem to be having a pretty good time at it don't they?
Was it really the chatty party they show here?
The collection of laundry graphics are superb
Especially for all the bluing products.
Baptismal documents are included in the displays. Baptism gowns, wedding gowns, and shrouds had to be scrubbed and washed to bright white.
The city of Boulogne was the laundry center for the town f Paris.
Laundry works abounded and showed up in early films.
More wonderful graphics of the lovely laundresses
A favorite shot of the whites drying outside on the line in Boulogne.
This print could easily cross-over to the d'Orsay's Splendeurs et Miseres exhibit.
This dance hall could have been there as well. Mentioned in the d'Orsay wall panels, laundresses, shop girls and seamstresses could barely scrape by on their low wages and were often forced to supplement their income by taking to the streets or bordellos.
I missed the Press preview unfortunately so photos are limited but plenty of
Toulouse Lautrec's on the walls. There are many bordello scenes. And portraits of 'Les Grandes Horizontals' Exhibition walls are painted appropriately deep Burgundy red. Even a messy antique bed is displayed to get you in the right mood.
You'll find many fine Manet portraits, including his 'Odalesque', throughout the show.
A rather forlorn Manet café-sitter nursing her absinthe. By the way sitting alone in a café or leaning against a lamppost was a sure sign a woman was available. More info in Elaine Sciolino's story on the d'Orsay show in the NYTimes.
Loved the d'Orsay's absinth glasses(just 7,50€) and the ox blood red cafe cups(26€).
19th century top knots are all over Paris including Lanvin's Spring 2016 collection by the way. Put your hair up PBers. Don't bother looking in the mirror if you want the 'laundress/prostitute' look. For Gucci's 'nerdie-librarian' look add coke-bottle glasses and you're IN.


  1. Loved this post! Traveling to India last year, it was incredible to see dozens of men and boys still doing laundry out on the banks of the river Ganges. The launderers go out in the wee hours to collect laundry from their clients and are beating the items on the rocks by 7:00 am. I was told that it is considered a blessing to have your clothing or sheets washed in the "Mother Ganges".

  2. Things have come so far..I remember our stand up wringer washer in the kitchen..with a hand cracnk..

    Top knots are partout partout partout.
    I can't imagine ironing with that lead...weights..

    1. They had plenty of hand cranks in the exhibit

  3. Maureen9:09 AM

    I saw a fascinating film on TCM directed by the very first female film director, Alice Guy-Blache who was French. It was from 1906. It makes me wonder, seeing these exhibits, if she ever made a silent film about the French laundresses or prostitutes of Paris . She lived from 1873 to 1968, moving to the USA to open her own production company in Fort Lee, N.J. The host said that the pioneer work of women in the very early days of film was more or less swept aside and not recognized.

  4. Even in America, doing laundry was a "big" business. My mother told me that my Grandmother took in wealthier families' laundry during the Depression to make ends meet when my Grandfather was out of work. She also baked breads and sold them to her laundry clients. Growing up as a child, I was taught the proper way to do laundry and iron clothes, sheets, and pillow cases. Somehow, I managed to lose that art!!

    1. Yes. My mother had me stand on a chair so I could reach the cast iron tub and wash my socks using a corrugated washboard. My brother, however, did not wash his own socks. Now those washboard are hung up in modern laundry rooms as art and never used. LOL

    2. I Never learned it Barb!!

  5. Another beautiful set of photos! For some reason, those bluing products intrigue me!

  6. Excellent exhibition! Wish I was there right now! Never seen these images before; very much appreciate this post. Thank You for sharing.

  7. Carol, this was such a fun post. I wonder when the two musees realized that their themed shows would be running simultaneously?

    About those top-knot hair-dos, over here in NYC, variations of this theme mostly seen on young fellas. Not sure what their profession might be.


  8. Lois Bender1:46 AM

    You have to WRITE a book!

    Your observations are a riot ....

  9. Lynne C.1:46 AM

    I have never seen so white. What was in the blue sachet? What a miserable life those women had..

  10. WineWalker1:47 AM

    Good one---working girls one and all

  11. Vanessa1:48 AM

    I love the oxblood red cafe cups! Any idea where I could purchase them?


  12. Kathleen H.2:03 AM

    ooh la it! And the top knots...wasn't it the famous Moulin Rouge dancer "La Goule" (sp?) the one Lautrec painted with the top knot...?

  13. ThAt first photo showing the women bending over the washboards near a bridge makes my back ache! Whart a shame I can't do the fashionable up-do......returned from my travels and exhausted, I had it all chopped off.

    1. I hand wash at the sink...still can't figure out the laundry system here!

  14. Great collection of art work, Carol, including your opening sketch.
    The top knot seems to be getting most of the attention :)
    Almost overnight, it is a men's fashion here. I like them on the women in your post, but on men, I think that they are dumb.

    1. I guess guys just wanna have fun too.


Love hearing from you