Lot 415
  • 415

JULES BRETON | La Glaneuse

150,000 - 200,000 USD
200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • After Jules Breton
  • La Glaneuse
  • signed J. Breton (lower right)
  • oil on canvas


Private Collection, Switzerland


Rouen, Exposition Annuelle du Musée de Rouen, 1860


Fernand Lamy, "Exposition de Rouen," L'Artiste: journal de la littérature et des beaux-arts, Paris, July 15, 1860, vol. 10, p. 32
Raymond Bordeaux, "Correspondances particulières, Rouen," Journal des beaux-arts et  de la littérature, Paris, March 15, 1861, vols. 3-4, no. 5, p. 56

Catalogue Note

Painted between 1853 and 1858, La Glaneuse has only recently been discovered, and compels a renewed appreciation of Jules Breton’s pivotal production of his early career. The artist spent his formative years from 1847 to 1852 in Paris, which inspired his social conscience and the use of peasants as symbols of a proud tradition in a disappearing agrarian society. Jean-François Millet’s Le semeur and Gustave Courbet’s Un enterrement à Ornans, both shown amidst critical resistance at the Paris Salon in 1851, directly affected young Breton’s thinking. Trying his hand at urban social realist painting, Breton eventually turned away from the theme, instead traveling to the outskirts of Paris, where one of his first major compositions, Le retour des moissonneurs (sold in these rooms, October 26, 2004, lot 45) was conceived. When exhibited at the Salon of 1853, it received mixed reviews, prompting a frustrated Breton to leave Paris for his native Courrières, in the north of France, a decision that inspired a personal creative revival and reconnection with the rustic land and its people. Indeed, La Glaneuse soon joined other formative compositions of the mid-to-late 1850s, a period in which the artist developed a visual repertoire that earned his fame. The golden foreground of threshed wheat, with sheaves neatly tied, and the verdant green field under a hazy blue sky of La Glaneuse evocatively illustrate the sensory impact and inspiration of Courrières for Breton.  As he explained, the countryside brought "a delicious intoxication as my senses were refreshed by the clean, healthy air… Balm to the eyes, and balm to the soul.  I breathed in all the life-giving exhalations that nature breathed out" (Jules Breton, La Vie d’un artiste, Art et Nature, Paris, 1891, p. 211, as translated and quoted in Bourrut Lacouture, p. 79).

The artist’s daily walks through the countryside began early in the morning, where he observed "the dewy wheat its ears leaning over oil poppies," followed by a return later in the day to find in the fields women gleaning, "arriving, sometimes running in happy groups, waving their golden sheaves, or bent over the stubble in tight clusters" (Breton, p. 222, as translated and quoted, Bourrut Lacouture, p. 79). The characteristic curved back posture of women picking up, or gleaning, left behind pieces of wheat is unmistakable in the present work and many of the artist’s major compositions of the decade, including Les glaneuses, Courrières, Pas-de-Calais (1854, National Gallery of Ireland, fig. 1) and Le rappel des glaneuses (1859, Musée d’Orsay, Paris). The poorest of the villagers were permitted to glean, but only after the harvest and between sunrise and sunset in unenclosed fields, such as those visible in the present work. Despite the heat of the day and the labor of the fields, Breton’s carefully arranged and graceful gleaners show little exhaustion by their effort, and his characteristically warm and bright palette vivifies the fields and the people working them.  

While idealized, Breton’s naturalistic painting forged an immediate connection between artist, subject and viewer. When exhibited in Rouen in 1860, La Glaneuse and its compositional pendant, La Faneuse (1859, National Gallery of Ireland, fig. 2) entranced the writer Fernand Lamay, who proclaimed them both “lovely… particularly for their poetry” (as translated, Lamay, p. 32). The pensive pose of the figure at break from labor was especially noteworthy; one writer suggesting Breton was inspired by Mignon (1836, fig. 3) Ary Scheffer’s widely reproduced painting of Goethe’s gypsy orphan. Lamay believed La Glaneuse reflected the artist’s affection for his subject, while the central figure’s timeless, classicized grace and beauty elevated the composition to "true art" (as translated, Lemay, p. 32). Breton would continue to organize his compositions around a central female figure in following years, transforming harvesters and fieldworkers to icons.  At the same time, La Glaneuse also likely held personal resonance for the artist, who through the late 1850s worked to become financially independent from his parents, particularly as he married his love Élodie (their only daughter Virginie, born in 1859, became an accomplished artist in her own right see lots 410 and 411). The bright red poppies visible in the foreground of the present work are emblematic of their relationship, and appear in several other compositions of the period.

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.