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Nursemaid and Child

Impression: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Number: 42
Date: 1859
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 99 x 134 mm
Signed: 'Whistler' at lower left
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 35
Catalogues: K.37; M.36; T.21; W.34
Impressions taken from this plate  (35)


animal, baby, child, cow, people, landscape, nurse, park, tree, woman.


The title has few variations:

'Nursemaid and Child' (1874, Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876)). 1
'Nurse and Child (near Holloway)' (1881, Union League Club). 2

'Nursemaid and Child' has been generally accepted as the title.

1: Thomas 1874[more] (cat. no. 21).

2: New York 1881 (cat. no. 51).


In the centre foreground sits a child in a dark cloak and light hat, looking back across a grassy field. Behind her, to right, a woman lounges on the grass, facing left. She wears a striped dress with wide trim around the shoulders, and a bonnet with long ribbons tied under her chin. A dark parasol is propped up open behind her. At the far side of the field at right is a steep bank with a fence on top, surrounding a wood with trees and bushes in full leaf. At the corner of the bank at left a man and a woman are walking. Cows are grazing in the distance at far left under a cloudy sky. At lower left are the scraped out traces of an earlier drawing, possibly showing a basket and a broom, or a figure wearing a large hat.


It is possible that there were two different sitters for this etching.
'Ada Thomas' is written in an unknown hand on one impression (). This suggests that the child is Ada Thomas, daughter of Ralph Thomas, Jr (1840-1876) and his wife Ann (née Mallet). She married Theodore Chapman Mould Taylor (1845-1917) in London in 1877; they emigrated to New Zealand where she died at the good age of 97. 3

3: Family records.

Although the 'nurse' has not been identified, she bears a family resemblance to Deborah Delano Haden (1825-1908) as shown in The Slipper 043. In both etching the appearance of the figure was changed.
Wedmore commented on the 'Nursemaid' as follows: 'The straight nose of the nursemaid becomes a nez retroussé - somehow she is a pleasanter young woman, - the line of the mouth is less austere, and several strokes from ear to chin indicate the curves of the cheek.' 4 Cosmo Monkhouse objected:

4: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 34).

'[Wedmore] hazards suppositions which are scarcely regular, and expresses opinions which he should sternly repress. ... The expression of opinion that the nursemaid in the "Nursemaid and Child" (No. 34) is "somehow a pleasanter young woman" in her "second state" is scarcely consistent with a severe attention to his duties as an impersonal and emotionless describer.' 5


'Near Holloway' according to Whistler (). Holloway Park is the largest park in the Royal Borough of Kensington in London.