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Passer Payez


circa 1803(1803)




At that time, most of the streets of Paris were not in very great shape, and many of them would become muddy morasses after a good rain, so that some entrepreneurial lower-class Parisians would provide themselves with a long plank that had wheels affixed to one end, and would pick up the unwheeled end and roll the plank along until they found a likely intersection or street-crossing, where they would lay the plank across the mud, and charge a small fee to people (presumably mainly from the middle and upper classes, especially women) who were willing to pay to avoid having to tramp through the mud of the street. The painting shows a family crossing the street over one of these plank bridges; the proprietor of the plank is at left, stretching out his arm for payment, and one of the wheels attached to the end of the plank can be seen in outline near the bottom of the painting towards the left.

(For an illustration of a similar scene, with a clearer view of a wheeled plank, see Image:Passez Payez.jpg .)

Some consider this painting an early source for the wearing of "drawers" (underpants with legs) by women -- the woman who is probably the mother of the family (though she's only holding a dog) has lifted up her skirts far enough so that you can see the bottom of one leg of a pair of drawers (which are a little longer than usual, since they actually cover the knee instead of ending a little above the knee). However, the artist has not provided enough detail to completely support this conclusion. The area shown could simply be the edge of the common shift. Actual evidence for drawers of this type does not occur until much later.

Note the practical shorter skirts worn by the little girl (who doesn't have to lift her outer dress to avoid contact with the mud, the way the adult women do).

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