Lot 414
  • 414


400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • After Jules Breton
  • Le Matin
  • signed Jules Breton and dated 1883 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas 
  • 32 5/8 by 60 3/4 in.
  • 82.9 by 154.3 cm


Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris (acquired directly from the artist, April 1883) 
Possibly, Samuel P. Avery, New York (by 1885)
Goldschmidt Collection (by 1889) 
Patrick Valentine, New York
Patrick Valentine II, New York (by descent from the above) 
Mary Valentine, Tampa, Florida (widow of the above)
Guarisco Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Acquired in 1998 


Paris, Salon des Artistes Français, 1883, no. 366
Paris, National Exposition of Living Artists (Triennale), 1883,  no. 104
Paris, Exposition Universelle (Décennale), 1889, no. 190 (lent by Goldschmidt)


Philippe Burty, Le salon de 1883, p. 193, illustrated n.p.
Clément, Journal des Débats, May 19, 1883
Baluffe, L’Artiste, May 20, 1883
H. Havard, Le Siècle, May 22, 1883
Ganillon, L’Univers Illustré, May 26, 1883
Thurot, Le Courrier International, May 31, 1883
A. Michel, Le Parlement, May 31, 1883
H. Houssaye, "Le Salon de 1883," RDM, June 1, 1883
Charles Bigot, Revue politique, June 1, 1883
J. Gauthier, Le Rappel, June 2, 1883
Dubosc de Pesquidoux, L’Union, June 10, 1883
J. Péladan, L’Artiste, July 1883
Charles Bigot, GBA, July 1883
H. Havard, La France Illustrée, July 21, 1883
A. Wolff, Figaro Salon, September 15, 1883
J. de Fourcauld, Le Gaulois, Septembre 15, 1883
Lavedan, Le Correspondant, September 25, 1883
M. Proth, La Gazette de Hongrie, Budapest, September 2, 1883
Pirard, Le Radical, September 28, 1883
Dillaye, "Paysages et Marines, Salon triennal," Le Journal des Artistes, September 28, 1883
X. de Charry, Le Pays, September 29, 1883
R. de Jouval, Le Papillon, September 30, 1883
R. Marx, Le Progrès Artistique, October 5, 1883
Charles Bigot, "L’Exposition triennale," Revue Politique et Littéraire, November 10, 1883
H. Cochin, "Le salon triennal," Le Français, Novembre 19, 1883
Devillers, "Salon Triennal," Journal des Artistes, November 23, 1883
Eugène Montrosier, "Le Matin/painted by Jules Breton," Paris, November 1883 
The Saturday Review, London, November 24, 1883, vol. 56, no. 1465, p. 664 
The Athenaeum, London, April 11, 1885, no. 2998, p. 479
Samuel P. Avery, A Biographical Notice of Jules Breton, 1885
Henri Delerue, "Jules Breton," Revue illustré, March 15, 1892, vol. XIII, p. 220
Marius Vachon, Jules Breton, Paris, 1899, p. 144
Annette Bourrut Lacouture, Jules Breton: Painter of Peasant Life, exh. cat., Musée des beaux-arts, Arras; Musée des beaux-arts, Quimper; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, March 16-December 15, 2002, p. 210, illustrated p. 212, fig. 180
Fae Brauer, Rivals and Conspirators: The Paris Salons and the Modern Art Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2013, p. 79 


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has been restored and could be hung in its current state. The large canvas has been lined using wax as an adhesive, which is not ideal but can easily be reversed. The paint layer is clean, varnished and retouched. Under ultraviolet light, one can see a very few retouches on the upper left edge, and to a few cracks and spots in the upper right. In the landscape, there is a restored loss on the lower right edge, some spots along the bottom edge, and a few in the lower left corner. The varnish is slightly opaque under ultraviolet light, and there may be other retouches beneath this varnish. However, the condition seems to be good in general.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

In the immense radiance of the sun,The meadow, where the brown cows always graze,

Undulates like a lake of grass up to the dunes,

That a marvelous sky bathes at the foot of the rosy atmosphere.


An exquisite dew makes the short grass iridescent.

Grazed incessantly by the numerous herds

And puts a halo in front of the beasts whose skins

Shine in the places that a shaft of flame sets fire to.


Dazzled by light, a stream of gold curves

Amidst the silvery grass in the morning mist.

Winding more and more near vibrant distance

And descending motionless, an invisible slope.


A shepherd is lost there in a deep dream

On the bank of the stream all scented with mint.

Under the confused torment of a worry that ferments

To the fruitful sun whose head bites his brow


Because the shepherdess comes, over there near the other bank

The young man, his eyes tense, his feet listless.

Placed at a right angle like a dejected marsh wader,

Admiring how freely and calmly she arrives.


She comes, her reflection trembles in the stream;

And from the waves and the wind her petite body trembles.

Two images in the midst of a sudden shower

Of thousands of golden rays in a double beam.


And, here it is, under your spell, o morning splendor

That the rosy love mounts at his reddening front.

In his heart, like in the sky, vibrates the dawning fire,

Illuminating the day and the virginal ardor.


They shut their eyes, and the boy

No longer sees the sun with its streaming rays.

All becomes unimportant before this woman’s face,

And the radiance; conqueror of his attentions!

Jules Breton, on the occasion of Le Matin’s exhibition at the Salon of 1883

At once an idyllic landscape and a narrative told with striking emotional depth, the atmospheric tour-de-force of Le Matin displays all of the qualities for which Jules Breton is most celebrated.

In Le Matin, the early sun’s shattered rays cast long shadows across the vast grassy plain, through mist rising from the dew covered fields and smoke from the chimneys on the horizon. Its golden glow reflects off of the calm winding stream to illuminate the two young shepherds standing on opposite shores. As Annette Bourrut Lacouture writes: “The sentiment of the painting is expressed with great modesty, the barrier of water facilitating the discreet expression of burgeoning love. The simplicity of the figures, the broad spread of the landscape and the subtle, penetrating light give this work an echo of Millet” (Bourrut Lacouture, p. 210). Breton’s career coincided with that of Jean-François Millet, thirteen years his senior, and Vincent van Gogh referred to them both as “voices of the wheat.”  Breton greatly admired Millet’s treatment of the landscape and effects of light at various times of day. Indeed, the dramatic backlighting of the rising sun in Le Matin may have been inspired by works like Shepherdess with her Flock (circa 1863, Musée d’Orsay) and Keeper of the Herd (1871, Art Institute of Chicago, fig. 1), which emphasize the sun’s rays at the horizon, placing the figures in silhouette against a bright sky that scatters shadows into the picture’s foreground. According to his wife Élodie's diary, Le Matin was conceived in February 1883. He used a drawing realized during a summer stay in the region of Cucq, near Étaples, to roughly paint a close approximation to the final composition, with large shadows brought by the bright and diffuse morning rays, delicately highlighting the expression of silhouettes against the light.

While Millet was sensitive to the labors that his rural subjects endured, Breton chose to emphasize their harmony with the land. His preoccupation with life in the fields was inspired by his early upbringing when he witnessed the cycles of hay gathering and planting that took place in the fields near his home. As he matured as an artist, Breton’s world of reference was enlarged and he became aware of past painters who captured rustic field scenes, including the idyllic compositions of the Swiss Romantic Léopold Robert – whose compositions inspired some of Breton’s most effective themes. Robert depicted scenes that supported a utopian vision, further emphasized as by his writings, treating his subjects as secular idols at work in an Arcadian land. In the 1870s and 1880s, interest in rural life had spread to many other painters, and members of the Impressionist group, especially Camille Pissarro, took their easels to the fields. Scenes were selected because they suggested not only an awareness of actual field labor, but intense parallels with religious themes of enlightenment and ascension. Peasants were equated with the chosen few – their work helped create a spiritual ambience in the newly sanctified fields.

Breton found success through combining a near mythologizing view of his subject with a devotion to Naturalism.  He filled his paintings with beautiful shepherdesses, harvesters and gleaners, who are defined by an almost perfect harmony of color, composition and light, but the attitudes of his peasants were acutely observed, as evidenced in the faces and posture of each figure in Le Matin. Élodie names Henri Flanquart as one of the models from Courrières, who worked at the brewery. In a letter dated February 20, 1912, Virginie Demont Breton wrote of her father’s subjects: “The country people aged quickly, and my father who had a fondness for certain types which he found, often painted people of various generations from the same family. He chose them at a time when he considered them at the height of their beauty and character.”

As can be seen from the exhaustive list of reviews and accolades from its presentation at the Salon of 1883, Le Matin enjoyed widespread admiration, further popularized through a photogravure published by Goupil. The spare and emotive composition set at daybreak anticipates the exquisite spirit of The Song of the Lark (1884, Art Institute of Chicago, fig. 2), which Breton presented at the Salon the following year. It has enjoyed fame among audiences ever since and was once voted “America’s most popular painting” by a poll conducted by Chicago Daily News. Taken together, these two paintings are a testament to Breton's enduring ability to captivate audiences through his uniquely poetic oeuvre.

We would like to thank Annette Bourrut Lacouture for confirming the authenticity of this lot, which will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist.