From the early 1920s through the mid-1940s, Rockwell produced story illustrations for Ladies' Home Journal. An interesting illustration was essential to capture the readers' attention and lure them to the pages of the accompanying article or story and Rockwell excelled at this in works such as A Man's Wife.
The present work is a study for an unlocated oil painting, which was used as an illustration for Howard Fast's story "A Man's Wife," which appeared in the February 1939 issue of Ladies' Home Journal. The story fictionally chronicled the lives of Martha and George Washington at camp in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. While the principal events are historically based, Fast included exaggerated prose to entice his female readership. The scene that Rockwell chose to illustrate is the moment when Martha Washington enters the kitchen to find that the supper she had planned to serve to Colonel Hamilton had been burned and rendered inedible. Knowing that food is scarce, the kitchenmaid, distraught by her mistake, is found weeping on a bench. When Martha asked why the meal was ruined, a sentry who had been stationed outside the house, rushes in and comes to the young girl's defense. Evidently, the sentry, frustrated by the poor conditions the war had caused, convinced the maid, his love interest, to flee the camp and seek out a better life. The maid, dressed in her overcoat and clutching a bundle containing her belongings, had left the house earlier with the sentry, but shortly thereafter had a change of heart and decided to return. It was upon her return when she found the dinner had burned in her absence. Rockwell masterfully captures the narrative in his illustration as Martha is set to admonish the remorseful maid, while over her shoulder, the chivalrous sentry listens in, ready to join the conversation and take the blame for his love interest.
The present work was a gift from the artist directly to his friend and barber, Steven M. Kovac and has descended in Mr. Kovac's family.