Field amassed an impressive collection of nineteenth century French Art over decades. In her late husband’s memory, Florence Lathrop Field installed his collection (which included forty one oil paintings) in the Art Institute of Chicago in 1894, and in 1917, she formally presented the collection to the museum. Although the present lot eventually left the museum collection, many masterpieces remain on view today, including Breton’s The Song of the Lark, also painted in 1884 and which has become an icon of the artist’s oeuvre.
Sur la route en hiver; Artois, poetically illustrates how Breton, a self-proclaimed "peasant who paints peasants," drew artistic inspiration from the working people of rural France. In the present work, as with much of his painting in the period, villagers from Courrières serve as models: Bibi (the daughter of a mine worker) and Henri (one of Breton’s favorites). Just as the harvesters returning from late summer’s golden fields, these winter wanderers are elevated to icons of country life. Salon visitors admired the painting for its sensitive lighting and its harmonious composition, and many were mesmerized by the effects of pink light reflected on the snow. One critic commented "’Sur la route, en hiver' strongly raises the question of knowing that snow could be pink, for it is not the way it appears on Paris streets. But there is a state of grace for those who know how to see it, and Mr. Breton is correct when he paints the white lands with a little bit of blue in the shades and a light pink in the areas illuminated by the fading glow of a red moon. The effect is both curious and charming, for the truth sometimes amuses by wearing a coat of improbability (as translated from the French "Le Salon," Le Temps, no. 8435, 1 June 1884, p. 1). Just as the present work inspired critics to wax poetic, it also inspired Breton, a poet himself, to write three stanzas, which he exhibited alongside the painting at the Salon:
Boundless as the sea, a mantle soft and new,
Across the landscape, a snow all virgin lies;
Emerging far beyond, to heavens lone and blue,
A vision tender, soft, golden green in hue
In dazzling beauty, see fair Diana rise!
In western skies, slow sinking to his night’s repose,
Out from the conch which filmy mist enfolds,
The radiant sun his countless gleaming javelins throws;
Beneath his ancient kiss the boy, pale moon now glows,
As, shrinking, she that ruddy face beholds.
The lily white expanse, so sparkling, billowy, vast,
Takes fro th’illumining flood a rosy stain;
White purplish, pallid shade the countless hummocks east;
And seems the bounty of a thousand Aprils past,
To shower the glistening, efflorescent plain.
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