A Flemish painter and diplomat, Rubens was the most influential artist in Northern Europe. At the beginning of the 17th century he worked in Italy; when he returned to Antwerp he brought with him the Baroque style. Rubens was held in awe by the next generation, many of whom became his pupils, including Van Dyck.
His prolific studio was organised for maximum efficiency. Therefore, it is unusual to see a study of a figure like this that was not used in a finished painting. No work survives that includes this peasant girl.
This is a task she does every day and she works automatically. Her gaze falls on the churn but her mind is somewhere else. Her arms are strong from agitating the cream with the plunger. The movement causes her apron to swish above her clogs, as drops of buttermilk escape from the wooden churn.
In its simplicity of a single figure without background details, this drawing is typical of Rubens's later work. Head-over-heels in love with his second, young wife, Hèlène Fourment, his contentment is perfectly expressed in this self-assured, intimate study.