Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925)
Harvesters at Rest, 1888
Oil on canvas, 96 x 75 cm
Presented, Sir Alfred Chester Beatty, 1950
Corot and the Barbizon School were influences on Lhermitte's early work, as was Jules Breton. In around 1880, however, seeking to create an important work that would bring him to the attention of the Salon jury and the public, Lhermitte looked to Courbet's monumental style. In 1882, with his painting Harvesters' Payday, he achieved this success and from this time on he specialised in the representation of rural life.
Unlike Millet, and in the tradition of Breton, Lhermitte was committed to the idealisation of the French peasant. He regarded field labourers as heroic figures, seldom complaining and always dignified even when exhausted by their day's toil. This painting is based on a drawing made at Rue Chailly farm in the artist's native village of Mont-Saint-Père in 1886. Despite the plein air effects in the landscape, there is a strong emphasis on formal composition and academic drawing. From the beginning of the 1880s, with the increasing availability of threshing machines and other devices, rustic life was changing irrevocably, and Lhermitte knew that the activities represented in his paintings were already "retardataire".