- Jules Breton
Paysanne au repos (Peasant Girl Resting)
- signed Jules Breton and dated 1873 (lower right)
oil on canvas
Knoedler (in 1911, according to a letter dated January 31, 1911, from Adrien Demont)
Louis Ralston Art Galleries, New York and Paris
B. Kryl, Chicago (acquired from the above in December 1918)
Thurber Art Galleries, Chicago (possibly acquired care of Kryl by January 1919)
Grant's Art Galleries, Chicago
A. B. Modine, Racine, Wisconsin (acquired from the above by March 1935)
R. A. Gomez, Tucson, Arizona
Thence by descent
Many of Jules Breton's works of the 1870s focused on a single figure, allowing him to develop his naturalistic style by recording the daily tasks of a field worker, elevating the humble subject to an icon of rural life. Models were chosen among the people of his native village of Courrières, and specific women repeatedly appear in compositions of the period. Among the most recognizable models is that of Paysanne au repos (Peasant Girl Resting), stoically posed on a roughly-made stool, pausing from her work knotting bands of wheat to be used to hold large stacks of grain together. The same figure reappears in profile, carrying stalks of corn in the Glaneuse of 1875 (Aberdeen Art Gallery) and hoisting a heavy sheaf over her shoulder in the artist's monumental La Glaneuse of 1877 (fig.1) and its smaller replica of 1885 (both held by the Musée des beaux-arts, Arras). While other models of the period have been identified, such as Soisik Jouinou, who sat for Jeune fille gardant des vaches of 1871 and La source of 1872, no oral traditions or archival evidence provided a conclusive identity of Paysanne au repos' model until recently. Her celebrated position within Breton's oeuvre only confused the matter, as a number of Courrières residents have claimed her as a distant relative (Annette Bourrut Lacouture, Jules Breton, Painter of Peasant Life, New Haven, 2002, p. 198, 202).
An intriguing clue that leads to the identification of Breton's frequent model was provided by the artist's daughter, Virginie Demont-Breton (herself an accomplished painter, see lot 5) who, on the occasion of Paysanne au repos' sale in 1918, wrote to Thurber Art Galleries remembering: "as a young girl about thirteen years of age, seeing my father, Jules Breton, paint the picture... the model who posed for this painting (Henriette Nestroy) is the same one who sat for my father for his larger 'Gleaner' in the Luxembourg Museum in Paris" (later moved to Arras). Despite Virginie's helpful memory, corroborating evidence of a "Henriette Nestroy" remained elusive for nearly a century until early in 2012, when Annette Bourrut Lacouture, the Breton expert, discovered a previously unknown and unpublished manuscript by the artist. In this text, Breton writes of painting models in the garden near his studio set on the grounds of his family's brewery in Courrières (a place Virginie often played in her youth): "Plus tard, ce sera Henriette Troy [sic] qui posera là pour la grande 'glaneuse' du Luxembourg. Encore une savage!" ("Later it would be Henriette Troy who would pose there for the 'Gleaner' in Luxembourg. Again an untamed one!"). Although father and daughter vary the spelling of the surname, Bourrut Lacouture believes that the specific physical resemblances between the model of the present work and La Glaneuse (though slightly older and with sharper features) allow them both to be identified for the first time as Henriette. Further, Virginie's letter explains that her father specifically selected Henriette "on account of the energetic character of her head and the flexibility of her actions, movements which had a dignity recalling antique figures. It was a girl of the fields, thoroughly rustic.... He wanted to make the peasant girl look beautiful, robust, in her usual agrestic and simple surrounding." These unique qualities are evident both in the sculptural face and strong posture of Paysanne au repos, and are precisely what appealed to critics of La Glaneuse. Louis Enault exclaimed Breton's interpretation of Henriette as a heroic laborer, which gave her "the importance of historical figures" with the character of "a carayatid taken from a Greek temple" (Louis Enault, "Le Salon de 1877," Le constitutionnel, vol. IV, May 3, 1877, n.p., as quoted in Bourrut Lacouture, p. 204). Other writers took a less romantic approach, surmising that she was "painted with total honesty in her rustic simplicity, without embellishment or idealization" (Judith Gautier, Le Rappel, IV, May 12, 1877, n.p., as quoted in Bourrut Lacoutre, p. 204).
Unifying many of these considerations was an understanding of Breton's close association with the people he painted, a fact made more poignant by his daughter's remembrance and further evidenced by the reemergence of Paysanne au repos after being held privately in an American family collection since the 1930s.