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The Le Nain Brothers, A Woman and Five Children

Key facts
Full title A Woman and Five Children
Artist The Le Nain Brothers
Artist dates Antoine (about 1600 - 48), Louis (about 1603 - 48), Mathieu (about 1607 - 77)
Date made 1642
Medium and support Oil on copper
Dimensions 21.8 × 29.2 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by Lesser Lesser, 1894
Inventory number NG1425
Location Room 31
Collection Main Collection
A Woman and Five Children
The Le Nain Brothers

A woman and five children are crammed into a small space. It is hard to tell where they are, or what their relationships to one another are; their individual facial expressions, which all feel unconnected, seem to be the main focus.

The bright colours of the children’s clothes stand out against a dark background. The strange position of the woman suggests that the artist found it difficult to fit her into the scene: the perspective looks wrong and the tablecloth may have been added to hide this error. The terracotta jug, the bowl and delicate glass are painted with meticulous attention to detail. The white tablecloth emphasises dignity, but the empty vessels convey poverty.

The fact that the picture was painted on copper with bright, intense colours indicates that it was a luxury object. Perhaps it was owned by somebody who gave charity to the poor, and these are portraits of abandoned children cared for by wealthier benefactors.

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