Young women at rest are the focus of this
composition. The young women (primarily placed in groups of two) read, chat,
drink, walk and rest along a stone wall in the lower third of the composition.
They are dressed simplymost with white aprons and in simple solid
color garments. The viewer's eye is drawn to the two centrally placed women
who wear skirts of red and blue, respectively. Balance is achieved by the
inclusion of other red and blue garments placed to the left and right of
the central women. Most wear a heavy clog type shoe, although the woman
right of center is shoeless. The women's hair is pulled back in a netting
and several wear striped shawls over their shoulders. In the lower left-hand
corner, an older woman bends down to attend to some drinks pails. Her dark
and patterned shawl covers her head as well as shoulders.
Tall brick and large windowed buildings serve
as the backdrop for this composition. Two narrow and smoking chimneystacks
dominate the top left. The negative space in between the chimneys balance
the factory building on the right, as another chimney is obscured by the
building. The roofs of the taller building sport what appear to be skylights.
The center of the composition, behind the
two centrally placed young women and enclosed in the perspective of the
lane between the buildings appears a figure in a dark coat and hat. He walks
with a cane, and in the opposite direction of the young women in the foreground.
A later 19th century image, this painting
depicts women factory workers at rest rather than at the laborious tasks
of the cotton mills. As the conventional trends of the time dictated,
pictorial painted images needed to be easy for the eye as well as the
Although not within their place of work
and pictured outside the walls of the cotton mills, the mill girls themselves
appears to portray the Victorian sentimentality of the workplace and a
middle class sensibility of rest. No evidence of hard work is portrayed,
and the reference to the working class is illustrated through the womenÕ
s poses (classical and relaxed), cleanliness, simple garments, hair netting
and bare feet. A sense of camaraderie is portrayed through the placement
of the young women in pairs.
The solid, angular and austere factory
buildings in the background serve as a backdrop for this image. They appear
impenetrable, with their windows darker still. The smoking chimneys give
evidence to the technology of the steam engines that power the speedy
looms, but no evidence is given to the conditions inside the workplacesave
for the netting on the girls' hair (pictured as a reference to the danger
of accidents to the hair.)
Perhaps the most obscure image is the most
important. The tiny central image of a dark and silhouetted man serves
as the center of the young womenÕs universe. The mill owner is the figure
around which their life depends and is focused. The action of the painting
illustrates this as well.
clothing of the working-people (of Manchester), in the majority of cases,
is in very bad condition. The material used for it is not of the best
adapted. Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both
sexes, and cotton has taken their place
the dresses of the women
are chiefly of cotton print goods, and woolen petticoats are rarely
seen on the wash line
the Irish have introduced
previously unknown in England, of going barefoot. In every manufacturing
town there is now to be seen a multitude of people, especially women
and children, going about barefoot, and their example is gradually being
adopted by the poorer English.
Engels; The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844.