The painting is based on the true story of Christine and Léa Papin, two sisters who were maids in the employ of the Lancelin family in Le Mans, France in the 1930’s. The two had been abused as children by their mentally unstable parents, although performed good work for the Lancelins, despite the grueling schedule. After some years, Madam Lancelin became depressed and began physically abusing the girls. One night she attacked again, but Christine fought back by gouging out her eyes and instructed her sister to gouge out the daughter’s eyes. Over the next two hours they struck and stabbed their two victims to death, even mutilating their legs and bottoms.
Rego gives us an unnerving scene; it is unclear whether one maid is combing Madam’s hair or if she about to strangle her. Is the other maid engaged in a struggle with the daughter or are they embracing? The ominous shadow of the tree in the window suggests something darker at play.