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Doing Washing



年代不詳, 畫布油彩, 23.9×33.7cm

Date unknown, oil on canvas






    Immersed in the task of handwashing laundry, women crouch over the edge of a riverbank, their reflections mirrored in the surface of the clear shallow water. Working next to each other, they share and exchange tidbits of local news and neighborhood gossip. Children who have come with their mothers wait along the water’s edge, ready to jump in and splash around.






    This painting rekindles fond memories of washing clothes by the riverside, memories which are shared by many in Taiwan’s elder generation. Looking at this painting, you can almost hear the women’s chatter and laughter mingled with the splashing of the water.






Washing clothes by the riverside





    Before indoor plumbing and underground wells became virtually ubiquitous, water used for washing clothes was mostly provided by streams, lakes, or man-made canals. Women throughout rural Taiwan would congregate at natural water sources near their homes to wash clothes by hand. In Chiayi, women could be seen doing so at the local sawmill’s old log pond.





More than just washing clothes





    In keeping with the traditional notion that “a woman’s place is in the home,” the various domestic chores assigned to women did indeed normally keep them indoors. However, washing clothes brought Taiwanese women to a communal space in which they could freely interact. It also created an opportunity—otherwise rare at the time—for them to leave the confines of home and enjoy the company of neighbors and friends.





Washing clothes: from past to present





    During the Japanese era, the rapid growth of Taiwan’s population and industries resulted in the devastating pollution of local water supplies. Gradually, in view of modern hygienic standards, some in the public began to vigorously campaign against the practice of washing clothes outdoors. At the same time, new Western-style laundromats began to open for business in cities, marking the birth of what would become a fully-fledged industry.





A quintessential Taiwanese sight





    To the Japanese, who were accustomed to washing clothes with well water, the sight of Taiwanese women washing clothes along riversides had a certain exotic charm. During the colonial period, multiple collections of “photobooks” introducing the society and scenery of Taiwan were published in Japan. These invariably included photographs of women huddled together in small groups along riverbanks, busy handwashing clothes—images which represented quintessential scenes of colonial life.







Shimoda Masami, Southern Islands Economic Report: Appendix—Korea. Tokyo: Osaka Bookstore, 1929, inserted after page 129.







Women washing clothes as a subject for painters





    A characteristic scene of early Taiwanese life, women washing clothes at water’s edge naturally became a popular subject for local painters. Several of Taiwan’s renowned early artists, including Lee Shih-chiao, Li Mei-shu, and Lan Yinding created paintings of such scenes. These works speak to the great love these artists felt for their home land and the interest they took in society and communal life.





Li Mei-shu, Morning at the Riverside, oil on canvas, 91 x 116.5 cm, 1970.




Pissarro: The Laundry Woman



    西洋美術史上,也有許多作品以洗衣婦人為主題。例如,法國的印象派大師畢沙羅(Camille Pissarro),就喜歡描繪鄉間婦女的洗衣場景。在陳澄波所收集的美術明信片當中,也有一幅畢沙羅的畫,描繪女性俯身在水桶裡搓洗衣物的場景。


    Numerous works from the Western art canon also feature women handwashing clothes. For example, the French Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro enjoyed painting rural women tending to laundry. An image of The Laundry Woman, a painting of this genre by Pissarro, was found among Chen’s collection of artistic images. It depicts a woman bent over a large water bucket, scrubbing clothes clean.


    西洋美術の作品にも、洗濯する女性を主題とした絵画が多数存在します。一例を挙げると、フランス印象派の大家ピサロ(Camille Pissarro)は、田舎の女性たちが洗濯をする場面を好んで描きました。陳澄波が収集していた絵画の絵葉書の中にも、ピサロの絵葉書が1枚あります。女性が身をかがめて、水桶に入れた洗濯物をもみ洗いする様子が描かれています。



The Laundry Woman