Inscribed on the reverse by the artist 'no 15 en wagon [...]', the present work relates to Daumier's celebrated series dedicated to the crowded wagons de troisième classe, drawn and painted in the early 1860s. In particular, the figure holding the bundle, on the right of the composition, is the archetypal study for the woman nursing the baby - the leitmotiv of the three most ambitious interpretations of this subject (Intérieur d'un wagon de troisième classe, The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Un wagon de troisième classe, Museum of Fine Arts of Canada, Ottawa; and Un wagon de trosième classe, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, fig. 1). In the watercolour and oil versions the woman is positioned close to the train window, in the present work she is on the left of the wagon bench. However, in common with the final oils, she is accompanied by a more mature figure, vividly typified by Daumier's expressive line; a severe facial mask, probably the first bozzetto for the vigilant old woman (the young girl's mother).
The artist's bravura is best admired in the rapid evocation of the wagon's interior: few, synthetic lines suggest the spatial box of the train interior - which rapidly becomes the stage for Daumier's most poignant reflection upon the daily fatigue of the proletariat.