When the Day's Work is Done

Henry Peach Robinson1877

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum

In search of the "genuine peasant" type for this genre scene of domestic rural life, Henry Peach Robinson described how he first envisioned this image: One of the best models I ever employed was an old man of seventy-four. He was a crossing-sweeper. I should never have accomplished one of my best works if I had not seen him sitting at a table in my studio, waiting, till I could talk to him. I not only saw the old man there, but mentally, the old lady, and the interior of the cottage...The old man, by his attitude and expression, gave the germ of the idea; the old lady had to be found, and the cottage built, but they appeared to me then quite visibly and solidly. When Day's Work is Done exists in more copies than any other photograph by Robinson. The photograph is a combination print made from six different negatives, a significant technical accomplishment. The negatives were attached in pairs to a sheet of glass for support, and the final image was made in three printings of those pairs. The line between the light-colored wall behind the woman and the dark shadows of the room, a stage set built for the photograph, reveals one of the seams between negatives. This deceptively simple domestic scene required a complicated printing process to accommodate its range of illumination, from the dark foreground to the bright outdoors seen through the window.

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