The Attentive Nurse

Chardin, Jean Baptiste Siméon

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa
  • Date of entry: Feb-15-2000
  • Last revised: Feb-16-2000


A woman in apron, cap, and long skirts stands at a small table, the long handle of a pot resting on her left arm. She appears to be shelling an egg for, presumably, an invalid. On the table before her is a plate with another egg on it, a loaf of bread, and a pitcher and goblet. The background is dark, and the image of the nurse and the table seem to glow warmly in contrast. The woman is intent on her task and appears unhurried.


The nurse in this painting is not in a rush; she is carefully preparing food for the person in her care. Given the time period, she is not a scientifically trained modern nurse, but rather a servant or family member of the patient. Much has changed in nursing since this time, but the image of doctor as cure-giver and the nurse as care-giver (and, of course, of the doctor as man and the nurse as woman) remains with many of us. And regardless of our images of nursing, our fears about modern medicine include fears not only about technology, side effects, and denial of access but also about the potential (real?) loss of attention to basic human needs--for nutritious food, attentiveness, a kind touch.

Primary Source

National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection, Washington, D.C.