Cradle Song

Berthe Morisot. The Wet Nurse Angèle Feeding Julie Manet, 1880. Private collection.

The next time Madame and I are in the Bois, she wants to paint me nursing Julie. I am surprised. We go to a cool, wooded place off a path and she has me sit on the grass under a chestnut tree and bare my bosom to Julie. She sets up her folding easel and paintbox.

It is my job now to be still and to keep Julie still and quiet. I think about the women Madame hired for the painting at the boat dock. "Does this mean I am working double?" I ask.

She only smiles. She's happy today, and kisses Julie on the top of her head. "Yes, Sylvie, this is going to be a work scene. You are working so that I can work."

She lays down her straw hat on the grass next to me and arranges the ribbons. "There. Now they'll know there was another woman and wonder why she isn't in the painting. Then they'll know it was the mother who painted this, since you have on your bonnet de nourrice. Two working mothers." She chuckles she's so pleased with herself. "I doubt if this situation has ever been painted before."