William McGregor Paxton, along with his Boston School colleagues Edmund Tarbell, Frank Benson, and Joseph DeCamp, achieved institutional recognition and popular acclaim for paintings based on a single theme: a refined interior inhabited by a young woman as decorative as the still-life objects that surround her. The House Maid depicts a uniformed servant engrossed in a book and standing behind a table on which a group of still-life objects is displayed.
With the exception of the open stationery box on the far left, most of the items represented in The House Maid are East Asian: a white Chinese lidded jar, a vessel, a porcelain figure, and a Qing dynasty blue-and-white porcelain pot. All are reminders of New England's long history of trade with Asia.
The juxtaposition of Asian objects and a lovely woman was a typical motif in American turn-of-the-century painting. Reading was likewise a familiar and repeated subject: Paxton was unusual, however, in representing a servant rather than the usual lady of leisure. The items on the table are the housemaid's responsibility but are not her property.
Along with other members of the Boston School, Paxton was known to admire the paintings of Johannes Vermeer. In The House Maid, the stable triangular composition, muted palette, precisely rendered textures, meticulous arrangement, and sense of quiet absorption all have parallels in Vermeer's work.
upper left: PAXTON / 1910
Purchased December 1916 from the artist by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; acquired 2014 by the National Gallery of Art.
- 106th Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, 5 February - 26 March 1911, no. 14.
- Sixth Annual Exhibition of Selected American Paintings. City Art Museum, St. Louis, 17 September - 17 November 1911, no. 93.
- Sixth Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, Albright-Knox Gallery, 12 May - 28 August 1911, no. 104.
- Fifteenth Annual Exhibition of Oil Paintings, Worcester Art Museum, 7 June - 16 September 1912, no. 40.
- Thirty Paintings by Thirty Artists, MacBeth Gallery, New York, 3-18 January 1912, no. 21.
- Paintings by William MacGregor Paxton, St. Botolph Club, Boston, 10-21 February 1913, no. 12.
- First General Exhibition of the Guild of Boston Artists, Boston, 2-14 November 1914, no. 27.
- Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Department of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 20 February - 4 December 1915, no. 3812.
- Panama-Pacific International Post-Exposition Exhibition, Department of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1 January - 1 May 1916, no. 4884.
- Sixth Exhibition: Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artistis, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 December 1916 - 21 January 1917, no. 55.
- Loan Exhibition From the Corcoran Gallery of Art: Selected Group of Twenty American Painters, Mint Museum, Charlotte, 12 March - May 1939, unnumbred checklist.
- William McGregor Paxton, N.A.: Memorial Exhibition of Paintings, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 19 November - 14 December 1941, no. 28.
- De Gustibus: An Exhibition of American Paintings Illustrating a Century of Taste and Criticism, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 9 January - 20 February 1949, no. 40.
- Loan, Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, 15 June - November 1950, no catalogue.
- A Century and a Half of American Painting: A Special Exhibition on Loan from The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Dulin Gallery of Art, Knoxville, 3 April - 13 May 1963, no. 22.
- Turn-of-the-Century America: Paintings, Graphics, Photographs, 1890-1910, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; St. Louis Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Oakland Museum, 1977-1978, unnumbered checklist.
- William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941), Indianapolis Museum of Art; El Paso Museum of Art; Josyln Art Museum, Omaha; Museum of Fine Arts, Springield, Massachusetts, 1978-1979, no. 23.
- Of Time and Place: American Figurative Art from the Corcoran Gallery, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Cincinnati Art Museum; San Diego Museum of Art; University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington; Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Des Moines Art Center; Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1981-1983, no. 34.
- The Forty-Fifth Biennial: The Corcoran Collects, 1907 -1998, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 17 July - 29 September 1998, unnumbered catalogue.
- The Gilded Cage: Views of American Women, 1873-1921, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 13 July - 27 August 2002, unpublished checklist.
- Figuratively Speaking: The Human Form in American Art, 1770-1950, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 20 November 2004 - 7 August 2005, unpublished checklist.
- Encouraging American Genius: Master Paintings from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY; Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, 2005-2007, checklist no. 66.
- The American Evolution: A History through Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 1 March - 27 July 2008, unpublished checklist.
- American Paintings from the Collection, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 6 June-18 October 2009, unpublished checklist.
- American Journeys: Visions of Place, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, 21 September 2013-28 September 2014, unpublished checklist.
- Glazer, Lee. "William McCgregor Paxton, The House Maid." In Corcoran Gallery of Art : American Paintings to 1945. Edited by Sarah Cash. Washington, 2011: 198-199, 277, repro.
- Ganz, James A., ed. Jewel City: Art from San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Exh. cat. M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2015: 143 fig. 89.