This painting is the perfect example of how Swiss painters based abroad adapted their output to local markets. Albert Anker trained at the Vaud-born master Charles Gleyre’s Paris studio in the early 1850s. By the time he came to paint this work in 1875, he was dividing his time between the Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris and his Swiss home village of Anet. His reputation was based on his submissions ot the Paris Salon, where he showed his work regularly from 1859 on, and on sales by his dealers, Adolphe Goupil in Paris and Tooth and Wallis in London.
Anker specialised in genre scenes early in his career, often focusing on childhood. He produced several variations on this relatively limited theme: some painting are set in his home village, with a quasi-ethnographic gaze capturing the picturesque popular with buyers. Others reflect Gleyre’s more academic teaching, being set in Antiquity, such as Les joueurs d’osselets (Knucklebone Players, 1868, Bulle, Musée gruérien). Here, the Little Embroideresses echo the taste for eighteenth-century art sparked by the Goncourt brothers, who wrote in praise of Jean-Antoine Watteau, François Boucher and Nicolas Lancret. Anker here is particularly inspired by the austere realism of Jean-Siméon Chardin.
Anker recorded in his sales book that the sitters wore Louis XV gowns. The girls stand out against the dense, dark background. The wicker basket, silks, lace, cotton, and skeins of wool are all depicted with a virtuoso talent that reaches new heights in the red squares that the younger girl is embroidering under the older one’s watchful eye.
Matthias Frehner, Therese Bhattacharya-Stettler and Marc Fehlmann, Albert Anker und Paris, exh. cat. Berne, Kunstmuseum Bern, 2003: n° 14.
Sandor Kuthy and Therese Bhattacharya-Stettler, Albert Anker, 1831-1910, Catalogue raisonné des peintures et des études à l’huile, Kunstmuseum Bern & Wiese Verlag Basel, 1995: n° 207.