There are paintings by Lhermitte in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Fine Art in Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musee d’Orsay in Paris amongst many others.
Leon Lhermitte was born in 1844, and was still executing works in the French rural tradition at his death in 1925, making him the last in an illustrious group of artists. Lhermitte’s views of peasant life are at once monumental, dignified and unsentimental. Born at Mont-Saint-Père in rural northern France, his early familiarity with the rural working class informed his many images of laundresses on the banks of the Marne, wheat cutters, gleaners and rural interiors.
He showed artistic talent at a young age and in 1863 left his home at Mont-Saint-Pêre, Aisne for the Petite Ecole in Paris where he studied with Horace Lecoq de Boisbaudran. Lecoq was known for his program of training the visual memory of his students, and his theories had a profound effect on Lhermitte. It was in his studio that Lhermitte formed a life-long friendship with Cazin and also became acquainted with Legros, Fantin-Latour and Rodin.
Lhermitte sent his initial entry to the Salon in 1864 when he was nineteen, and continued to exhibit charcoal drawings and paintings regularly, and pastels after 1885. He won his first medal in 1874 with La Moisson (Musée de Carcassone). Other prizes and honors 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 Honor. He was a founding member of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.
Lhermitte’s subject matter rarely deviated from the peasants and rural life of his youth. The most profound influence upon his work was certainly Jean François Millet who, like Lhermitte, was equally adept with pastel as with oil. He studied closely the works of Jules Bastien-Lapage, Alfred Philippe Roll, Jena Charles Cazin and Jean-François Raffaelli. Like all of these artists, he was later to adopt a Naturalist style, which combined the Academic principle of strong drawing with new and modern approaches to light and color of the Impressionists.
His unique vision inspired later artists including Van Gogh, who, after seeing his work in the early 1880s, wrote, “He’s a master of the figure. He’s able to do what he likes with it - conceiving the whole neither from the color nor the local tone, but rather proceeding from the light, as Rembrandt did - there’s something astonishingly masterly in everything he does - in modeling, above all things, he utterly satisfies the demands of honesty.” The admiration heaped upon Lhermitte by the Van Gogh brothers may have also contributed to the artist’s association with Boussod, Valadon & Cie, the prominent international gallery which signed an exclusive contract of representation with Lhermitte in 1887. Vincent Van Gogh (the painter’s uncle) was a partner at the firm, and both of the brothers were at one point or another employed by the gallery.
Detroit Institute of Arts: The Harvest
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco: The Reaper (Le Faucheur)
Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg: Landscape with a Peasant Woman Milking a Cow
Musée d’Orsay, Paris: Paying the Harvesters
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Wheatfield
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.: An Elderly Peasant Woman
Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, New York: The Washerwomen
Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania: The Gleaners
Bowes Musuem, County Durham, England: The Reaper’s Rest (Le Repos du Faucheur)
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Wheatfield
Chi-Mei Museum, Taiwan: The Interior of a Farm House
Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio: River Marne at Chartre
Dahesh Museum, New York City: Harvester Drinking from a Flask
Frye Art Museum, Seattle: The Harvesters (Dans La Vallée)
Hood Museum of Art, New Hampshire: Bathers at Mont-Saint-Pere
Manchester City Art Gallery, England: A Flood
Mildred Land Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis, Missouri: The Harvest (La Moisson)
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Apple Market, and The Gleaners
Reading Public Museum, Pennsylvania: The Baby’s Hour
Saint Louis Art Museum: Shepherd in a Landscape and Woman with Two Children
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid: Le marché de Château-Thierry
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: The Haymakers
Victoria and Albert Museum Catalogue, London, UK
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