Rutherston chose a plain-weave linen canvas for this painting. He originally purchased the canvas pre-stretched from the artists’ colourmen Roberson, whose stamp marks the back of the cloth. The canvas was supplied sized and primed with two layers of lead white, probably in an oil medium. There is no visible evidence of any initial drawing beneath the paint film, although it is difficult to discern beneath the build-up of paint.
Rutherston initially appears to have laid in the main compositional elements, possibly with the addition of linear contouring in various tones of warm brown/orange-coloured paint. There is visible evidence of this monochrome painting beneath the baskets, the women’s clothing and the dark green skirting board but it is not possible to discern whether it covers the entire face of the canvas. The artist worked over this monochrome painting applying opaque paint, with much white admixture, in a simple build-up of layers. The paint is well bound in oil medium and probably had considerable gloss when first applied.
The artist used bold, sharply contrasting outlines, in particular to describe the shadows and highlights of folded and draped material to help create the illusion of stiff fabric. Contours rather than varying tones are also used to delineate features. The figures’ flesh, some of their clothing and the basket are somewhat softer in gradation, the artist probably sweetening the paint (see Tate N03847
Rutherston made some changes to the composition during painting by overpainting earlier work with opaque paint, which is visible as raised brushwork at the surface, for example, the skirt of the figure on the left was reduced in length and width, originally covering much of her foot. He also modified colour and in places different coloured paint is visible beneath overlaying layers, where the paint is more thickly built up and wide drying cracks have formed.
After painting, the artist decided to reduce the size of the canvas and had another colourmen, Percy Young, remove it from its original stretcher and re-stretch the painted canvas onto a smaller stretcher. The painting was reduced in width and part of the right side of the painted surface was folded and stapled onto the turnover edge, it was then varnished, probably with a natural resin varnish.
How to cite
Natasha Walker, 'Technique and Condition', November 2006, in Nicola Moorby, ‘Laundry Girls 1906 by Albert Rutherston’, catalogue entry, November 2003, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, Tate Research Publication, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/albert-rutherston-laundry-girls-r1136823, accessed 18 February 2020.