- Léon-Augustin Lhermitte
- Repos, effet de grand soleil, moissonneur endormi, mezy
- signed L. Lhermitte (lower right)
- pastel on paper
- 13 3/4 by 17 3/8 in.
- 35 by 44 cm
Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Paris, no. 18611
Galerie Gary Roche, Vichy
Private Collector (acquired from the above in 1935)
Thence by descent
Monique Le Pelley Fonteny, Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1991, no. 391, p. 320, illustrated
The work day of the nineteenth century French peasant began at 4 am, and during the harvest, could extend well into the evening hours, after the last ringing of the Angelus. Respite came during midday, where the shade of a haystack was the only shelter from the blazing sun. It is this moment that has been captured in Lhermitte's exquisite pastel.
Like Jean François Millet, Lhermitte excelled in his handling of the pastel medium, and the virtuosity of his technique is no better expressed than in this 1898 scene of two peasants resting in a golden summer landscape. Under a blue sky streaked with pink clouds, a male harvester naps on a soft pile of straw; he is either soon to be joined by his standing female companion, or shortly awaken to continue his work in the fields. Judging from the heavy stacks of hay, it has been a bountiful harvest. Lhermitte's skill and versatility in his handling of the pastel crayon is perhaps best shown in the rendering of the landscape. Strong, confident sweeps of a yellow chalk convincingly convey the appearance of the long stalks of straw, already bunched, tied and stacked. In contrast, the mounded haystacks are created by swirling, overlapping strokes. Most of the ground has been scythed by the harvesters; the small stalks that remain for the gleaners have been drawn in color, in short, choppy, vertical marks of yellow, green, brown and pink chalks. A more delicate handling of the pastel medium is used to create the golden yellow of the harvested field in the distance. Against this background setting infused with a rich, warm palette, Lhermitte clothes his two harvesters in various cooler shades of blue.
In 1865, Millet executed a pastel of the same subject, which so appealed to Vincent van Gogh, that he made an almost direct copy. Van Gogh's admiration of both Millet and Lhermitte is recounted often in his letters: "For me that man [Lhermitte] is Millet the Second, in the full sense of the term; I adore his work as much as that of Millet himself. I think his genius of the same order as that of Millet the First" (Letter to Anthon van Rappard, August 1885). Several of Van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo in 1885, also mention a series of prints depicting the months of the year (Les Mois Rustiques) that Lhermitte illustrated for the French magazine, Le Monde Illustré. A different peasant theme accompanied each monthly issue, and in anticipation, Van Gogh repeatedly asked Theo to send him the most recent copies. Van Gogh also commented to Theo that "the peasants by Lhermitte...are so splendid just because of the life there is in them."(Letter to Theo, 4 or 5 May, 1885). This heartfelt tribute remains just as true for us today as we consider, with our own eyes, Lhermitte's beautiful pastel of harvesters at rest on a hot summer day.