The scene depicts three woman working in a field in the afternoon.
Pastel had fallen out of fashion by the mid-nineteenth century, until Jean-François Millet turned the powdery medium to scenes of contemporary peasant life.
Pastel is immediate and, potentially, ephemeral. During the late 19th century, avant-garde artists in France and beyond took up pastels to capture the here and now, fleeting facial expressions, passing effects of light or weather, delicate blossoms that might soon wither.
Pastels were perfectly suited to this aim: an evanescent medium for an evanescent subject. “That’s the triumph of this technique,” noted a French critic at the time, “it must capture what is most elusive.”
The medium of pastel is deceptive; the colorful sticks seem so simple to use, but the powdery surface can be difficult to layer and fix.