Could you please tell me a little more about the artist?
Jules Breton (1 May 1827 – 5 July 1906) was a 19th-century French Realist painter. His paintings are largely inspired by the French countryside. Academically trained at the Ecole des Beaux arts in Paris, his paintings combine an idealized view of farm workers and the countryside in an era of industrial growth. He was immensely popular during his time with both the public and artists. Van Gogh walked 87 miles to see his work! While it was unusual at the time to paint peasants as an artistic subject, Breton’s idealized views of fieldworkers hit a popular chord. His work is often compared to that of Jean-Francois Millet, who painted heroic peasants emphasizing the hardship of their labor.
Was workers returning from the fields a common theme?
In Europe, painters began to depict the lives of peasants, including their work in the fields, during the Renaissance (14th-16th centuries), when humanist philosophy encouraged an interest in secular (rather than sacred) subjects. These were usually idealized images made for wealthy patrons. More realistic portrayals, showing the difficult labor and rough qualities of peasants, were common by the mid- to late-19th century. An informal group of artists in France known as the Barbizon School initiated the trend in the 1840s. The author of this picture, Jules Breton, was an academically trained painter who did not embrace the broad, rough, and loose style of the Barbizon School but did take up their typical subjects---the countryside and peasant life. However, this work is an idealized view of peasant labor. The landscape is glowing with the setting sun and the female workers are very clean beautiful rather than dirty or exhausted from their long day of labor in the fields.
Could you provide more explanation about the light in this painting?
Yes, the light in this painting is very striking, and quite dramatic and done very deliberately. The artist idealizes the female laborers in warm sunlight, in front of a glowing background. By casting the figures and the landscape in this light Breton presents an idyllic vision of both the women farm workers and rural life. This is typical of much of Breton's work, who was particularly known for this type of image - poetic rendering of peasant female figures situated within a landscape.
Breton visited the outskirts of Paris to get inspiration for his rural subject matter, which was made popular by avant-garde Realist painters in the mid-to-late 19th century. Breton, however, was trained at the Academy of Fine Arts at Ghent. His works are more refined than the rough painterly style of Realists and his subjects more idealized. Also, unlike the Barbizon School painters who painted landscapes outdoors, Breton painted his rural landscapes indoors in his studio. Like the Barbizon painters, however, he embraced the French landscape as subject matter. Traditionally, landscape painting was considered less important than history or allegorical paintings.
So glad you like it! It is stunning the way that he uses light. I like to compare the way that he uses light with the way that Monet is using light in his paintings that are hanging on the same wall. Have you seen those yet?
The contrast between the light and the women gives it a more profound feel. I am going to go and see the Monet.
I definitely agree about creating a deeper effect around the women and how we interpret them. The way you phrased it made me look more closely - thanks! Enjoy the Monet.