Lambert painted this work in Paris. Amy Lambert (on the left) is talking to a stout French washerwoman and landlady who has collected a bundle of laundry. Lambert’s baby son Maurice is depicted seated on the floor. He was born on 25 June 1901 and would have been about three months old.
Lambert used a range of brushstrokes to create a lively surface. He was interested in the decorative placement of the figures and in the harmonious balance of tone and colour – a unity of effect. He was also concerned with painting various tones of white against white: the landlady is shown wearing a black-and-white check skirt; there is a white bundle of laundry; the baby, dressed in a white frock, is playing on a white sheet; and there is a white hat box and a vase of white flowers on a table covered by white drapery. The whites, nonetheless, are full of colour, with pinks, blues, yellows and greens added to them.
Lambert commented that this painting was ‘a group composition with my wife and child, somewhat influenced by Whistler with a touch of the Italian Renaissance’ (ML MSS A1811, p.59). The figure of the young mother placed on the side of the composition, wearing a black dress with her face in profile and hair drawn back into a bun, shows similarities to that of the woman at the piano in Whistler’s At the piano 1858–59 (Taft Museum, Cincinatti, Ohio). Lambert had viewed Whistler’s painting in London in 1900 in the collection of the Australian-born patron Sir Edmund Davis and considered it to be ‘a great sincere work of art without any frills’ (ML MSS 97/2). In his use of tonal restraint Lambert also followed Whistler’s works such as The painter's mother 1871 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), painted in harmonies of black, white and grey.
But this painting is more than a formal arrangement of shapes and tones. It captures a moment in the Lamberts’ daily life in Paris. And it presents two different realms of women: the mother with her child and the working woman with her load of washing.