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Rik Wouters
  • Object number 1932
  • Date (1912)
  • Dimensions 107 × 123 cm
  • Medium Oil on canvas
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Schilderij De strijkster van Rik Wouters

Everyday happiness in Ironing

Ironing is one of Rik Wouters’ most famous works of art. Nel, the artist’s wife, looks up from her task with a carefree expression. She is the painting’s centre of attention. Next to her, you can see a basket of ironing, a brass lamp, a vase of flowers and a glass dome on the mantelpiece. All these objects reflect the intense light. The painter’s house is flooded with sunshine. The canvas positively radiates joie-de-vivre.

Wife Nel as model

Wouters painted the simplicity of everyday life. His works convey a dream of modest happiness that nothing or nobody can disturb. They offer us a glimpse of the couple’s simple lifestyle. Happiness and poverty went hand in hand. Nel was his muse and model. She reads a book, washes her hair, makes herself beautiful, irons, or gazes thoughtfully. There was not a single activity he depicted as a disagreeable and unavoidable chore. The windows are often wide open, with the sunshine flooding in.


Wouters belonged to the Fauvist movement. This style of art from the early 20th century was characterized by bright colours with very little mixing by the painter. Ironing is painted entirely in that style. You see it in the almost transparent brushstrokes in a whirlwind of shades. In the play of colours, Wouters used subtle variations of soft yellow, pale pink and water green. He left the canvas unpainted in several places. This gives Ironing the feel of a watercolour.

Influence of Cézanne and Ensor

Rik Wouters admired the painting of Paul Cézanne and James Ensor. Their influence can be seen clearly in his early work. From Cézanne, he learned to simplify and to paint the essential. His friend, the artist Simon Lévy, regularly provided him with reproductions of paintings. Most of all, though, Wouters liked to be inspired by nature, the observation of which was a constant challenge to him as an Impressionist. He wanted to paint, model and draw all aspects of life.

Wouters at the KMSKA

Rik Wouters was just 33 years old when he died of a painful cancer of the eye. During his short life, he created an extensive oeuvre. And nowhere can you find more of his works to admire than at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. The KMSKA has no fewer than 26 paintings, 19 sculptures, 67 drawings and watercolours, and other items associated with this modern master. Baron Ludo van Bogaert donated his unique collection to the museum. He was a close friend of Nel, the woman ironing.

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