About this artwork

This informal study of the relationship between a mother and her baby makes a refreshing change from the sentimental interpretations of such subjects favoured by many contemporary Victorian artists. The baby is clearly fascinated by his mother's fan which is held teasingly above him. Orchardson based the scene on his own family life, using his wife, Ellen, and son Gordon, as models. The impression of spontaneity was, in fact, the result of detailed planning through preparatory drawings, and Orchardson's balanced composition reflected the influence of the work of the Japanese printmaker Utamaro. Degas and Sickert were among the painting's enthusiastic admirers when it was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery, London, in 1886.

Sir William Quiller Orchardson

Sir William Quiller Orchardson

Orchardson was an outstanding narrative painter, who deftly used body language and expression, as well as descriptive detail, to communicate feelings and mood. He was also a gifted portraitist. As a mature student of the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh, he joined other talented students of Robert Scott Lauder, with whom he formed life-long and mutually inspiring friendships. In 1862 he moved to London where he shared a house and studio with fellow student John Pettie. His large, meticulous paintings of historical and contemporary subjects were much admired. In 1877 he was elected a Royal Academician and in 1907 knighted.