Léon-Augustin Lhermitte.

The artist I am looking at today is the French painter Léon-Augustin Lhermitte. I suppose his work could be categorised by three artistic terms: Naturalism, Realism and Ruralism, as he will probably be remembered for his paintings depicting peasant farmers and their families at work in the fields. However, as you will find out, there were more strings to his bow.

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte was the only son of a local schoolmaster. He was born on July 31, 1844 in Mont-Saint-Père, a commune in the Aisne department in Hauts-de-France in north-eastern France, which lies about eighty kilometres north east of the French capital. The village was close to Chateau Thierry, a farming region close to the Champagne region around Rheims. This rural setting was to provide a wealth of ideas, inspiration, and realist subject matter throughout the artist’s life. As a young boy he enjoyed drawing and liked to copy art works he saw in popular illustrated magazines.  He liked to look at books which had illustrations by earlier French painters, such as the Realists. Lhermitte’s father encouraged his son’s artistic hobby by encouraging him to sketch. Léon’s talent quickly became apparent to others. His father, proud of his son’s talent, presented his drawings to Count Alexandre Colonna-Walewski, who, at the time, was minister at the École des Beaux-Arts. Walewski was so impressed by the young man’s artistic ability that he offered him a scholarship of 600 francs and arranged for him to enrol in the École Impériale de Dessin in the studio of Horace Lecoq de Boisboudran. It was here Lhermitte was able to learn about his tutor’s unusual drawing method, which emphasised memorization.

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran

Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran was born in Paris. In 1819 he was admitted to the École des Beaux-Arts and exhibited at the Salon in 1831 and 1840. Later he became a professor at the academy. He taught drawing at l’École spéciale de dessin et de mathématiques, which was better known simply as the Petite École and now known as the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs. He wrote many books regarding drawing techniques including The Training of the Memory in Art and the Education of the Artist, and The Education of The Scenic Memory and The Training of the Artist. He influenced many great artists such as Rodin, Henri Fantin-Latour and Whistler to mention but a few. Lecoq Boisbaudran developed in his pupils a method of training memory. His students were required to copy progressively complex shapes (starting with straight lines and rectangles) and objects before drawing them from memory. The outcomes were then subjected to rigorous comparison with the model and mistakes corrected, over and over again, if necessary. Eventually, the students graduated to making careful analyses of masterpieces in the Louvre and then drawing them from memory when back in the studio. Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudrand theories had a profound effect on Lhermitte. From what Lhermitte learnt from his tutor, he was able to view a scene, notably a landscape scene, and then more fully execute the painting back in his studio. Whilst working at Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran’s studio Lhermitte became friends with fellow artists, Jean Charles Cazin, Alphonse Legros and Fantin-Latour.

La têtée ou La jeune mère by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1901)

After attending the École Impériale, Lhermitte moved to Paris and shared an apartment with some of his friends. With the financial help Lhermitte had received from Count Walewski he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts and attended the 1863 Salon des Refusés. Although he was receiving tuition in painting at the École des Beaux-Arts his debut at the Salon was not one of his coloured paintings but a charcoal drawing, Les Bords de la Marne près Alfort (The Banks of the Marne near Alfort), which harked back to his days of draughtsmanship at the École de Dessin. In 1864 his painting, Violets in a Glass, Shells, Screen was shown at the Salon.

The Carpenter’s Workshop by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (Charcoal on tinted paper)

In 1869 Lhermitte visited London for the first time and whilst there he met Alphonse Legros, a former pupil at the École Impériale de Dessin and he, like Lhermitte, had studied under Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Lhermitte returned for a second visit in 1871 and it was then that Legros recommended him as an illustrator for Art in the Collections of England Drawn by E. Lie. More importantly, Legros introduced him to the art dealer Durand-Ruel, who following their meeting, agreed to sell several of his drawings. Later, in 1873 Durand-Ruel arranged for some of Lhermitte’s monochrome pictures to be shown at the Dudley Gallery for the first of the annual Black and White exhibitions and following that, Lhermitte became a regular participant.

Procession near Ploumanach by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

In 1874 he received his first medal, third-class, at that year’s for three of his works, Le Benedicite (The Benedictine), Le Bateau (The Boat), Une Rue de Saint-Cyr (A Road in Saint-Cyr). It was in the summer of 1874 that Lhermitte decided to spend time in Brittany and soon he became fascinated with Breton culture, their celebrations, and the way the people, especially women, dressed in their Breton clothes. He enjoyed his time in the region, so much so, he returned there on numerous occasions during the next five years. It was a productive time for Lhermitte and he produced numerous depictions of Breton life.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte, An Elderly Peasant Woman, c. 1878

As well as producing colourful scenes of peasants in the fields he never lost his ability to draw with charcoal and one of his best loved is entitled An Elderly Peasant Woman which he completed around 1878 and now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Lhermitte’s technique is quoted as: charcoal with black chalk, with stumping, scraping erasing and wetting, on wove paper. It is a dignified portrait of a humble person. His sitter has experienced a hard and rugged life as can be seen by her weather-beaten face and her crinkled but she has endured all the hardship. By his depiction of the woman, Lhermitte asks us not to feel sorry for her but admire her fortitude.

Market Day At Villenauxe La Grande by Léon-Augustin  Lhermitte

In a letter, dated February 4th 1883, to his friend the Dutch painter and draughtsman, Anthon van Rappard, , Vincent van Gogh commented on the talent of Lhermitte. He wrote:

“…Something else — the boss of Black and White may be someone neither you nor I know. In reviews of exhibitions I see mention made of the work of Lhermitte, a Frenchman who does scenes from the life of fishermen in Brittany. It’s said of him that ‘he is the Millet and Jules Breton in Black and White’, and his name crops up again and again. I’d like to be able to see something by him, and have recently written about him to my brother, who has given me very good information several times in the past…”

La Vendange à Mont-Saint-Père by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1876)

In 1876, inspired by the wine making traditions of Champagne, Lhermitte completed La Vendange à Mont-Saint-Père which was exhibited at that year’s Paris Salon. It was a large, highly finished works showing amazing detail and observation. Throughout the 1870’s Lhermitte’s reputation continued to blossom as a painter in the realist tradition of Courbet. Such was his reputation that Edgar Degas wrote in his diary that he intended to ask Lhermitte to exhibit at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in 1879 but it never happened.

Other prizes and honours came to Lhermitte throughout his long career, including the Grand Prix at the Exposition Universelle, 1889, the Diplome d’honneur, Dresden, 1890, and the Legion of Honour. He was also a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

La Fenaison (Haymaking) by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1908)

The subject matter of Lhermitte’s paintings rarely strayed from depictions of the peasants and rural life which he remembered from his youth. Without doubt, the most overwhelming influence upon his work was certainly the French Realist painter, Jean François Millet who, like Lhermitte, was equally skilled with pastel as with oil.

The Gleaners by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1887)

During the 1880’s Lhermitte embarked on a series of monumental works of rural life, influenced by two of his contemporaries, Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. In this series of paintings he created beautiful light-filled works which mirrored Millet’s theme and reinforcing the self-esteem of peasant life and the splendour of the French rural landscape in the face of the invasion of modern technology. Lhermitte added realism and careful detail to his rural depictions and this would serve him well, stretching into the 1920’s.

Harvest by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1874) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Carcassonne,

In the 1914 book, Le Livre d’Or des Peintres Exposants (The Golden Book of Exhibiting Painters), there was a passage extoling the virtues of Lhermitte’s work:

“…All of his rustic scenes are full of observation and naturalness, executed in a manner which is less and less rugged, and a technique that gains in suppleness. The artist has now discovered his own easy and definitive way of expressing himself and appears in full possession of a subject, which he treats with ease and without weakness. He is the painter of the field worker and rustic landscapes, the theatre of his work. In this genre, he shows a true vision of personages and of the things that surround them…”

Laveuses au lavoir by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

And again, Van Gogh wrote about Lhermitte:

“…If every month Le Monde Illustré published one of his compositions…it would be a great pleasure for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this scene by Lhermitte…I am too preoccupied by Lhermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things…”

A Rest from the Harvest by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte

Lhermitte exhibited his work at the Salon on a regular basis and his paintings became sought-after items. Despite that, Lhermitte was not satisfied with his success and strived for more recognition. He believed he just had to complete a work which would help him attain the level of success he craved for.

The Tavern Interior by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1881)

As a regular exhibitor at the Salon, Lhermitte’s paintings had become increasingly sought after, though, in his mind, he had not yet attained the level of success that he desired. He wanted to complete a work that would solidify his success and this came in the form of a series of several large-scale paintings portraying the life and people of his native village of Mont-Saint-Pierre. In 1881 he completed The Tavern Interior. This painting was the first piece in Lhermitte’s grand manner series. Before us, we see a long brown table around which gather a few men watching a woman pouring liquor.

Le Père Casimir

The main figure is the man sitting at the right of the long table who is wearing a white shirt and brown pants, holding a spade in his left hand and in his right hand he holds a glass demanding a refill.. This is the peasant hero created by Lhermitte, known as Le Pére Casimir. It is believed that the painting was in fact based on a real figure, an old peasant named Casimir Dehan. Le Pére Casimir is one of the most important themes in Lhermitte’s grand manner series.  Lhermitte depicts the old man with the spade in hand wearing torn and soiled clothing, and thus the artist reveals the status of the working class and the reality of their utter poverty. The weather-beaten face and complexion indicate the long hours spent in the fields with their laborious work, and yet the man’s bulky figure and his upright sitting posture with a spade in hand indicates his heroic temperament.

Paying the Harvesters by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1882)

In 1882, his masterpiece La Paye des Moissonneurs (Paying of the Harvesters) was shown at that year’s Salon and it achieved great acclaim from the critics. Thereafter followed numerous commissions. The painting was bought by the French State and housed in the Luxembourg Museum before being transferred to the Hotel de Ville at Chateau-Thierry. It is a classic example of Naturalism in the way Lhermitte accurately depicted the hard-nosed view of life in rural communities.

La Leçon de Claude Bernard by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1889)

Lhermitte received a commission in 1886 to paint a large group portrait featuring Claude Bernard, a French physician and physiologist, which would then be hung at the Sorbonne. The painting is entitled La Leçon de Claude Bernard and depicts him in his Laboratory at the Colle de France. He completed the painting in 1889 and was exhibited at that year’s Salon.

Paysannes et Vaches Devant le Village de Mont-Saint-Père, by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (c.1887) Charcoal on paper.

In 1888 he was approached by Andre Theuriet, the French poet and novelist, who asked him to provide illustrations for his new book, La Vie Rustique. This was a major commission and Lhermitte was able to use the many drawings of peasant life he had already completed. In the introduction the author wrote:
“…We propose to trace the grand acts of the rustic drama: the soaring, the labour, the hay-making, the harvest, and the vintage; we wanted to describe the solitude of the farm, the business of the village life, the pleasures of Sunday, and the preoccupations of the weekdays …”

Andre Theuriat’s words sum up the art of Léon Lhermitte and his position in French art of the late 19th century.

Lhermitte was a founding member of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1890. In 1894 he was made an officer of the Legion d’honneur.
Lhermitte was elected to fill Jacques Henner’s chair in painting at the Institut in 1905. He kept exhibiting his paintings in the first decades of the 20th century, but many critics looked upon him and his works as a relic of a bygone era. However, his style undoubtedly had an influence on Socialist Realism.in later years.  In the last twenty years of his life he worked much more in pastel, with his skill as a draughtsman ever in evidence. He went on to produce some sensitive portraits and peasant scenes which were reminiscent of his earlier and more powerful depictions, ones that van Gogh had cited as “an ideal”.

Léon Augustin Lhermitte died in Paris, on July 28th 1925, three days before his eighty-first birthday.

Julien and Thérèse Dupré – father and daughter Ruralist painters.

Julien Dupré

What do we want from a depiction in a painting? Do we want absolute truth? For example, should a portrait be of hyper-realsitic quality so it almost look like a photograph or should the portrait artist, through their bold brush marks and splashes of colour, produce a portrait which has not achieved photographic accuracy but is how the artist “sees” the model? What do we prefer in a painting Romanticism or Realism? Is it the same as asking about our taste in films, whether we prefer a *rom-com” or a “blood and guts” movie? Do we really want to be reminded of real life or do we want to be lulled by the happiness of how life should be?

In the Orchard by Edward Stott

Many questions, but it all leads me to the painting genre used by today’s artist. Once again I am looking at an artist who was classified as a painter of Naturalism, not just that, but Rural Naturalism, sometimes termed Ruralism. It was a nineteenth century art genre which was realist in nature and yet allowed artists to pictorially advocate the joys of rural life as an alternative to living amongst the grime of city life. The detractors of Rural Naturalism are quick to condemn the depictions of rural life as unadulterated sentimentality in comparison to the harsher work of the nineteenth century realist painters who depicted the harsh and unforgiving life of peasants as they struggled to work in the fields for their wealthy masters. Rural naturalism was seen in paintings by British artists such as George Clausen, Henry Herbert La Thangue and Edward Stott and in many of the artists of the Newlyn School.

Cows at the Watering Place by Julien Dupré

In France the painters closely associated with Ruralism were Jean-François Millet and Jules-Adolphe Breton. Millet is probably most famous for his works such as The Gleaners, The Sowers and The Angelus which all depict peasant farmworkers in a realistic way and highlight the harshness of peasant life.

The Gleaners by Jules-Adolphe Breton (1854)

The paintings of Jules-Adolphe Breton are also greatly inspired by the French countryside and often depict the traditional farming methods used by peasants but they also imbued the beauty and sublime vision of rural existence. Maybe it was a picture of life which did not really exist but was the preference of many. Think back to my analogy of the rom-com!

The Gossip by Julien Dupré

Today I am looking at the work of a French father and daughter who were noted for their Rural Naturalism paintings. They are Julien Dupré and his daughter Thérèse Marthe Françoise Dupré. Julien Dupré was born in 1851 some thirty-seven years after Millet and twenty-four years after Breton were born but his works of art were often compared to theirs and yet there were subtle differences. Hollister Sturgess, the American writer and former Museum director, in his 1982 book, Jules Breton and the French Rural Tradition, wrote:

“…Salon critics rightly perceived Julien Dupré as Breton’s closest follower. Through idealization of form, he invested his peasant women with a heroic aura, though unlike his predecessor, his figures are usually engaged in vigorous action. His landscapes, with their cloudy skies and varied motifs, are also much more active. Their high key color and spontaneous brushwork have a vivacity and freshness that distinguishes them from the somber calm of Breton’s scenes…”

The Goose Girl by Julien Dupré

Julien Dupré was born in Paris on March 18th, 1851. He was the son of Jean Dupré, a jeweller, and his second wife, Marie-Madeleine Pauline Célinie Bouillé. His parents had a jewellery shop in Paris which they had to abandon during the 1870 siege of the French capital by the Prussian forces. Julien enrolled in evening classes at the École nationale des arts décoratifs which then allowed him entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts, where he trained under Isidore Pils, the French history painter and Henri Lehmann, a German-born French historical painter and portraitist.

In the Fields by Julien Dupré(1877)

In 1875 Dupré went to live in Picardy and became a student of Désiré François Laugée. In his early days as a painter he adhered to the academic tradition he had been taught at the École des Beaux-Arts producing many historical and religious works as well as completing portrait commissions and murals. Later he became interested in plein air painting of landscapes and was fascinated with peasant genre subjects. Laugée and his wife had four children. The eldest was their daughter Marie Eléonore Françoise. Julien Dupré became romantically involved with Marie and eventually on May 17th 1876, in Paris, the couple married. They went on to have three children: Thérèse Dupré, Jacques Dupré and Madeleine Dupré. Thérèse Dupré, like her father, became a painter whilst Jacques became a doctor, draughtsman and illustrator and Madeleine a pianist. The year 1876 was also an auspicious year for Dupré as it was the year that he had his first painting exhibited at the Paris Salon.

Peasant Girl with Sheep by Julien Dupré (1895)

Julien Dupré endeavoured to depict the work of peasants in the fields in their harsh reality and to show the bond between peasant farmers and their farm animals. Julien Dupré’s peasant women seen working in the fields is the most enduring of his characterisation. Often, he depicted strong women positioned theatrically and yet elegantly in the forefront 0f his paintings, carrying out strenuous work as pitching sheaves of hay. His finely modelled figures are testament to his academic training, and the quality of his work is due to the influence of the work of Breton and Bouguereau. Dupré also developed a much freer management of the background areas of his paintings often carried out using a palette knife, which indicates the influence of the Impressionists painters. The characters we see depicted in his paintings are not frozen in artificial and unnatural academic poses but are observed equally well in action, as in rest, and by doing so, showing them as everyday working people. In most of his works, the landscapes depicted are idealised but are nevertheless inspired by the countryside of Picardy especially in the region of Saint-Quentin and Nauroy.

Les Faucheurs De Luzerne (The Reapers of Lucerne) by Julien Dupré (1880)

Dupré returned to Paris and worked in his Parisian workshop at 20 Boulevard Flandrin, which he shared with his brother-in-law Georges Laugée. But he loved outdoor life and painting en plein air. He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon from 1876 to 1910 and won numerous awards. In 1880 he was awarded a third-class medal for his painting, Le Faucheurs de Luzerne and in 1881 he received a second-class medal for his work, La Recolte des Foins. He was honoured with a gold medal at the Paris Fair of 1889 and in 1892 was awarded the Legion of Honour. His works were very popular and many sold internationally especially in America.

An etching based upon The White Cow by Julien Dupré

Marion Spielmann, the prolific Victorian art critic and scholar, in an article  in The Magazine of Art in 1891, entitled The White Cow,  described Julien Dupré as:

… one of the most rising artists of the French School. He is individual in his work, accurate as an observer, earnest as a painter, healthy in his instincts and intensely artistic in his impressions and translations of them… he is always one of the attractions at the Salon………..In The White Cow which was amongst the finest works in last year’s Salon, several of M. Dupré’s merits as a painter are exemplified. The cow – taking a patient and intelligent interest in the operation of milking – is superbly drawn, and her expression admirably rendered. The light and shade, the balance of composition, and the rendering and disposition of the figures combine in this picture to produce a canvas which pleases the spectator the more he examines it…”

Julien Dupré gravestone at Père Lachaise cemetery

Throughout his career Julien Dupré championed the life of the peasant and continued painting scenes in the areas of Normandy and Brittany until his death in Paris on April 15th, 1910. He was buried in Père Lachaise cemetery. His tombstone bears a sculpture of a painter’s palette resting on a wreath of flowers.

Thérèse Marthe Françoise Dupré was the eldest child of Julien Dupré and his wife, Marie Eléonore Françoise Laugée. She was born on March 19, 1877 in Paris, a year after her parents married. From an early age, she came into contact with the many artists who attended her father’s and grandfather’s studio including family members, such as her uncle, the painter Georges Paul Laugée, her aunt Jeanne Eulalie Laugée-Fontaine, and her great-uncle Philibert Léon Couturier.

Le Gardeuse d’oie (The Goose Keeper) by Thérèse Marthe Françoise Cotard-Dupre

There is no doubt that her artistic style was very much influenced by both her father and her uncle, the artist, George Paul Laugée. Just like her father her paintings depicted idealised visions of peasant life in rural France. She started to exhibit her work at the Salon in 1899 and later became a member of the Société des Artistes Français, and in 1907 receiving a third-class medal for one of her works. She married the artist Edmond Cotard on June 2nd 1898, with whom she had two children, Henri Edmond Cotard on October 6th 1899 and François Cotard on January 9th 1905, who both became artists.

La Lessive (The Laundry) by Thérèse-Marthe-Françoise Cotard-Dupré

One of her best-known compositions is her painting entitled La Lessive (The Laundry). Like many of her works, they suggest that she was very familiar with the tasks she depicted in her works. The painting when sold at Bonhams of New Bond Street, London in 2015 achieved a record price for one of her paintings of $66,153.

While her father was a prolific artist, his daughter’s artistic output was much more meagre for one has to remember she was a wife and a mother. She was married at the age of twenty-one and became a mother when she was twenty-two and so the output of her work was severely restricted by her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.

The Milkmaid by Thérèse Marthe Françoise Cotard-Dupre

Her depiction of the peasant farmers, both male and female, as healthy and strong and rarely tired who seem to carry out their tasks with smiles on their faces is obviously an idealised view of peasant life. Such happy depictions of peasant life helped to ease the conscience of wealthy landowners whereas gritty Realist depictions of the down beaten peasant may have gnawed at their consciences.

Fermiere et Enfant by Thérèse Marthe Françoise Cotard-Dupre

She lived for a long time in Saint Quentin in Northern France where she copied and studied the pastels of the great Quentin De la Tour. She created many commissioned works, such as portraits, landscapes, peasant scenes. Unfortunately, many were lost during the First World War.

Thérèse-Marthe-Françoise Cotard-Dupré died, aged 43 on April 13th, 1920 in Orly near Paris in the clinic of Dr. Piouffle specializing in the care of alcoholics.  She was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in the vault with her mother and father.