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Nicolaes Maes, A Woman scraping Parsnips, with a Child standing by her

Key facts
Full title A Woman scraping Parsnips, with a Child standing by her
Artist Nicolaes Maes
Artist dates 1634 - 1693
Date made 1655
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 35.6 × 29.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lord Farnborough, 1838
Inventory number NG159
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Woman scraping Parsnips, with a Child standing by her
Nicolaes Maes

At first glance, this dark room might seem bare and forbidding but the deep brown of the walls encloses the two figures in warmth and serenity. There’s just enough light to reveal them, but Maes doesn‘t show the window, so the comfortable atmosphere isn’t disturbed. The concentration of woman and child, their gaze directed intently downwards, takes our own eyes to the woman’s hands. She holds a parsnip delicately, scraping it away from her so that the peel lands in the dish in her lap. And we, like the little girl, learn how it should be done.

At this time, Calvinist preachers recommended that ‘the devil should be beaten out of a child’, but genre pictures of this kind showed a gentler attitude towards their education. The painting wasn't necessarily hung on a wall as a lesson in child-rearing, but it would have been seen at least as a picture of domestic calm to be held as a desired end.

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