"Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe Introduced to the Concept of Birth Control"

Peter Paul Rumdens

In order to finance a ten-day drunk, Rumdens took on a commission from Planned Parenthood's Amsterdam chapter, which was sponsoring a crusade to discourage people who lived in footwear from having large families.


Most notorious of these kinderlitterbuggen was the woman who lived in the Nike district of Amsterdam amid the kloghauses, or shoe homes that had been erected for the poor by the patroons of the Wooden Shoe Carver's Charitable Guild. Her name has not come down to us because of Holland's strict privacy laws, but we do know she was related on her mother's side to the notorious Trixie Roomsdoorf, subject of several of Rumdens' paintings, as well as an XXX-rated series of etchings which was purchased by the Vatican in 1712 for an undisclosed sum.


The painting shows the unidentified multipara surrounded by offspring she apparently cannot afford to clothe, receiving instructions on the use of a diaphragm from one of Planned Parenthood's volunteers. Rumdens elegantly captures both the gratefulness of the woman and the benevolence of the volunteer. Note also how the artist has slyly added a touch of fun with several of the children cleverly hidden here and there, a concept which clearly presages the late 20th-century art énigmatique movement exemplified in Where's Waldo? and related works.

 

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