barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903)

La vieille aux loques (The Old Rag-Picker)

London, 1858 


20.6 x 14.6 cm 


An old woman sits in a doorway absorbed in sorting rags.

Although the rag picker is shown as poor and frail, her focus and disengagement from the viewer creates a calm and contemplative image. The framing device of the doorway ensures a sense of separation and self-containment. This was one of a group of twelve works that Whistler published as Twelve Etchings after Nature. The images reflected the contemporary trend in French art to focus on ordinary people.

Purchased in 1939 (No. 39.12)

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