In this important painting, Edgar Degas represents the city in a theatrical way. His nanny and young child sit on a stage, with Paris’ Luxembourg Garden dotted with strollers – those flashes of pink, ochre, black and white – as a backdrop. The painting marks the changing architectural and social conditions of Parisian life, as the city’s network of old streets and alleys was cleared to make room for the wide, sweeping boulevards (for which the city is now famous) and a series of central points of focus. The city became, as the strollers indicate, a space of leisure and spectacle: of looking and of being seen.
But as with his images of laundresses, prostitutes and ballet dancers, Degas’s painting also pays attention to the contemporary conditions of women’s labour. The nursing industry underwent a boom in Paris in the 1870s, and was regulated in 1874 with a series of financial and sanitary restrictions. The nanny – already the subject of intense scrutiny within the space of the family – was now squarely under the eye of the state and the public. As a depiction of labour, indeed of the conditions of modern life, this is a highly significant example of the Realism for which Degas is famous.