Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925)
Glaneuses en avant de Vieilles Meules
Oil on Canvas
30¾ x 40 inches – 78.1 x 101.6 cms
The nobility of labour, peasants working on the land and the sanctity of the land itself were recurrent themes in the work of Léon Lhermitte. Brought up in the village of Mont-Saint-Père near Rheims the significance of terroir in a nation where so many worked the land was self evident. The nobility of labour was explored by Lhermitte’s near contemporaries the social realists Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Jules Breton (1827-1906) and Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848-1884), Lhermitte’s interpretation was rather more idealized. In this composition the classically posed gleaners gather the wheat left by the harvesters, though the labour may be backbreaking, the harvest has been bountiful. Beyond, labourers build the haystacks from a laden wagon before the old mill of the title. The composition is suffused with a golden early evening light creating a deeply romantic idealized setting.
Joseph A. Skinner, South Hadley, Massachusetts;
Private Collection, USA
Monique Le Pelley Fonteny, "Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925),
Catalogue Raisonné", Paris, 1991, p.143, No.200, illustrated
Léon-Augustin Lhermitte was born in the village of Mont-Saint-Père near 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.
Lhermitte’s father, a teacher, encouraged his son’s love of drawing and he was granted a state stipend to study in Paris where he enrolled at the Ecole Imperial de Dessin in the studio of Horace Lecoq de Boisboudran (1802-1897). Lhermitte’s early exhibits at the Salon were charcoal drawings, his first in 1864 being “Les Bords de la Marne pres Alfort” and he continued to exhibit drawings each year, full compositions rather than studies, until 1889. In 1869, inspired by the wine making traditions of Champagne, Lhermitte exhibited “La Vendange” and “La fabrication d’eau de vie de marc” at the Paris Salon, large, highly finished works showing extraordinary detail, observation, and a dramatic quality of chiaroscuro. The 1860’s saw Lhermitte exhibiting his first painting at the Salon in 1866 and visiting London to explore outlets for his work. He returned during the Franco Prussian War of 1871, visiting his friend Alphonse Legros (1837-1911) and met the dealer Durand Ruel through whom he exhibited at the Dudley Gallery in 1873 at the first ‘Black and White’ exhibition, and subsequently in 1874 and 1875. Throughout the 1870’s Lhermitte’s reputation continued to grow as a painter in the realist tradition of Courbet. In 1874 the State purchased his “La Moisson” at the Salon and gave it to the museum in Carcassonne, while, an indication of the regard in which he was held by avant garde painters of his generation, Degas intended to ask Lhermitte to exhibit at the 4th Impressionist Exhibition in 1879, and to van Gogh, Lhermitte was ‘… the Millet & Jules Breton of black and white’.
During the 1880’s Lhermitte embarked on a series of monumental works of rural life, showing his familiarity with the works of J. F. Millet and also Jules Breton. Lhermitte’s series reflect the formers’ themes of the nobility of labour and sanctity of the land, but with a realism and detail of his own and on a huge scale, expanding on themes which had occurred in his earliest work and would continue to do so into the 1920’s.
In 1890 Lhermitte assisted in the foundation of the Societé National des Beaux-Arts as an alternative to the Salon, although he continued to exhibit there into the 1920’s. Lhermitte exhibited widely in Germany and Britain, and in France was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1884 and created Commander in 1911.
His works can be found in museums in: Amiens; Carcassonne; Château-Thierry; Florence; Paris, Museum of Modern Art and Palais des Beaux-Arts; Reims; Saint-Quentin; Albany; Boston; Buffalo, Fine Arts Academy; Chicago, Art Institute; Montreal; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; St. Louis, City Art Museum; Washington, Corcoran Foundation and Moscow, Tretyakov Museum.