This scene depicts the church of Mézy-Moulins in Northern France. Lhermitte created many of his artworks in this area and chose to focus his realistic style on the every-day scenes there. This scene is full of observation and naturalness and we can see that the rustic landscapes of rural France really were his theatre.
Many artists during the latter half of the nineteenth century relied on imagery introduced by earlier generations of painters to depict these subjects. At the same time Léon-Augustin Lhermitte rejuvenated these older themes by executing them with progressive techniques. Indeed, Lhermitte took the recognized imagery of the peasant and rural life and reintroduced it by using more contemporary media, such as pastels.
For these innovations, Lhermitte was praised and admired by his contemporaries, such as Vincent Van Gogh who wrote once that; “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.” Admired by his contemporaries and modern audiences alike, Lhermitte brought the image of rural life and landscape to the twentieth-century.
Leon Augustin Lhermitte
Lhermitte was born in Mont-Saint-Pere in 1844 and died in Paris in 1925. He was a highly regarded social realist painter whose work primarily focused upon the rural scenery and daily lives of the peasant worker.
Lhermitte showed immense artistic talent at a young age, and his upbringing in Mont Saint-Pere in Picardie provided him with the subject matter and landscapes that would later become the foundation in his portfolio. Lhermitte was a student of Lecocq de Boisbourdran at the Petite Ecole school in Paris and formed life-long friendships with Cezanne, Rodin, Legros and Fantin-Latour.
After his first show at the Paris Salon in 1864 Lhermitte was beginning to be recognized with great acclaim. He was awarded the French Legion of Honour in 1884 and won the Grand Prize at the Exposition Universelle in 1889 and has etchings and paintings housed in museums around the world. Lhermitte gained a laudable reputation for his artistic mastery using oils, pastels and charcoal. With influences stemming from the work of Jean Francois Millet, Lhermitte adopted the method of peinture clair, a style similar to impressionism but able to be used in a more commercially successful way. He was the leading member of the school of Social Realism and almost always painted scenes taken from rural life.
Up until his death in 1925, Leon Augustin Lhermitte continued to create works in the French rural tradition, leaving behind his social realist paintings and works on paper as a reminder of the simple lives revolving around the rural French countryside. In 1923 Lhermitte went to Avignon to rest and enjoy the mild climate of the south. This pastel is among the picturesque scenes that he brought back from his sojourn.
His many awards include the French Legion of Honour in 1844 and the Grand Prize at the World Exhibition in 1889. Lhermitte’s innovative use of pastels won him the admiration of his contemporaries. Van Gogh wrote that “If every month Le Monde Illustre 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.”
Lhermitte is represented in the collections of museums around the world.