This picture is appropriated from a 1938 painting by Anatol Shulkin called “Fairy Tales.” This image is black and white while the original painting is color. Unlike the original painting, the bottom of this image is very well defined, but the top is has a foggy, dream-like quality. In the image, a young girl holds a doll while a woman holds a book and appears to be reading out loud (probably a fairy tale, given the original title of the image). The girl is dressed nicely and her hair is carefully done. The woman is wearing what I take to be some kind of uniform, perhaps that of a nanny or a maid. The girl’s gaze is directed out of the frame, with a look of daydreaming or disinterest. Shulkin would frequently paint his female subjects this way, their distance masking their inner feelings. The girl is cradling the doll in her hands, away from her torso, symbolizing a detachment from the object.
Issues of class and the politics of childcare seem central to this image. To hire a caretaker for a child is a privilege of the wealthy, and the emotional development of a child being raised by hired help may be of concern. Further, there is an uneven economic relationship between the girl and the woman in this image which is enacted by the posture of the two figures. The woman seems engaged with the girl, but the girl is not paying attention. Rather than focus on the woman, I follow the girl’s gaze out of the picture. The unevenness in this relationship is further elaborated by the shading of the image; the woman’s face is so pale as to be almost obscured.