Picasso drew this study during the early months of his Blue period, his first original, signature style, in late 1901, while on his second trip to Paris, or in 1902 following his return to Barcelona. In the late summer or fall of 1901 the artist began to draw and paint the inmates of Saint-Lazare, the women's prison and hospital in Montmartre run by Dominican nuns (for a related painting, Femmes à la fontaine, see Christie's Evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art on 8 November 2006, lot 63). Many of the women were incarcerated for offenses related to prostitution, and some even served their terms in the company of their infants and young children. Picasso could use these unfortunate women as models and paint them free-of-charge. They inspired Picasso to paint a series of pictures on the theme of maternity, in which the women are seen huddled in heavy cloaks and blankets, wearing hoods that recall the head-coverings worn by the inmates of Saint-Lazare. In January 1902 Picasso returned home to Barcelona, where he resumed working on the melancholy blue figures he had been painting in Paris. While he found his new subjects among the poor and dispossessed on the streets of Barcelona, the women of Saint-Lazare, those archetypes of female suffering, continued to cast their spell on him.