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Object details

Woman Ironing
107 × 123 cm
Inventory number: 

More about this work

Domestic sunshine
This looks like a spontaneous snapshot of a chance moment, a domestic scene: Nel – wife and muse of artist Rik Wouters – is looking up from her ironing. We can see a basket of clothes still to be ironed, a brass lampshade, a vase of flowers, and a glass dome on the mantelpiece below the mirror. All of them details in a canvas where the true star is the light, the sunshine and the associated warmth.
In her memoir of the eleven years she lived with Wouters prior to his premature death, Nel describes how he would constantly watch her in the hope of a moment that would spark his creativity. ‘A day was occasionally lost to the ironing, which upset Rik, who felt he was wasting his time without his model.… For want of anything better, he sat nearby so he could draw me in his habitual way, in the hope of spotting some pose or other that would be worthwhile. I have on the same pink linen dress as in The Pink Lane and am standing under the light hanging over the table, on which I iron a blue tablecloth. Rik cries out enthusiastically, making me look up. And yes, he feverishly draws the pose of the woman ironing. The more he looks at me, the more appetising the colours seem, and soon he can stand it no longer and rushes off to the studio to fetch a canvas, easel and box of paints.’
Wouters’ preparatory drawings and watercolours show how he was constantly on the lookout for ‘captivating’ moments in Nel’s daily activities. One such watercolour tells us that Woman Ironing is not actually the spontaneous record of a chance moment. Rik felt that the tablecloth being ironed needed to be bigger, for instance, and to intensify its blue he placed a yellow straw hat in the foreground. The striking expanse of pink, meanwhile, called out for green accents and so a green bowl duly appeared at the front of the table. There are various pink motifs in the watercolour study, but not the dress that Nel is shown wearing in the finished oil painting. Spontaneous or otherwise, Rik Wouters also had his classics in mind. In his case, they included Paul Cezanne and the palettes of Auguste Renoir and James Ensor.

Acquisition history

purchase: Galerie Georges Giroux, 1923

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