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The Nail Makers
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Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune
French, France, about 1763
Pen and black ink and brush with gray wash over traces of black chalk
4 5/8 x 9 1/2 in.
2004.87

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In a light-filled workshop, a nail maker heats an iron rod in a forge. Equipped with hammers and anvils, two coworkers pound nails until sharp. Behind the figure on the left, a dog paces gingerly on a tread-wheel activating the bellows that fuel the forge.

This small drawing is one of several studies Jean-Michel Moreau le jeune produced for prints featured in Diderot's Encyclopédie. Each print catalogues an artisanal occupation-from shoemaker to roofer to floor-tiler-and is accompanied by a brief definition and a legend identifying the specific tools and practices of the trade.

To maximize the view of every aspect of the nail-making process, Moreau carefully spread out the objects and workers across the composition. The sunlit room quite literally illuminates the profession and showcases Moreau's mastery of gray wash to describe the fall of light and shadows.