Pearce’s works from the late 1870’s were mainly portraits, religious subjects and oriental genre scenes. However, as exemplified by Water Carrier, he soon turned to interpretations of rural life in Northern France, allied in style and subject matter to the French academic painters, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Jules Breton and J.F. Millet. This work, Pearce’s first-known peasant painting of his career and one of his two 1883 Salon entries, is highly representative of the introspective depictions of the peasant that his French colleagues were popularizing in the 1880’s. In Water Carrier, a young peasant girl in tattered brown dress and greenish-gray apron performs the daily task of transporting water. As Mary Lublin has observed: “....Pearce’s model is indeed bound to the soil not only by her existence but also by artistic device. She is composed of the same green and brown earth tones as the verdant landscape she travels, and is compared to the spiky weeds and thistles growing alongside the path.” The high horizon, uniform lighting and detailed rural landscape point specifically to the influence of Bastien-Lepage; the monochromatic gray palette is akin to that of Bonnat and Bastien-Lepage. The latter’s 1881 work Poor Fauvette (Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove, Scotland) has been cited as the inspiration for Pearce’s pathos-filled peasant. Water Carrier met with much acclaim upon its Salon appearance. Its image was reproduced in Le Monde Illustre; Pearce was praised in L’Opinion as “destined to make a great impression on those who seek the beautiful in conscientious naturalism” and in Le Siecle as “a colorist of the first order.” The Magazine of Art wrote “....the motive of the entire picture is extremely agreeable and dignified....and Mr. Pearce probably owes his medal to it rather than Prelude,” his other 1883 entry in the Salon. Additionally a woodcut of Water Carrier was published in various contemporary magazines.
William Schaus, Paris, 1883
George R. Blanchard, 1883
Purnell Gallery, Baltimore, 1980
Jordan-Volpe Gallery, New York, 1980-1983
Private Collection, California, 1983-1999
A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC, Seattle, Washington
Private Collection, Houston, Texas
Paris Salon, 1883, no. 1848, as Porteuse d’eau (awarded third class medal).
Phoenix Art Museum, Americans in Brittany and Normandy. March 18-May 1983, no. 78.
Jordan-Volpe Gallery, A Rare Elegance: The Paintings of Charles Sprague Pearce. New York, 1993, no. 11.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas. January 1 – December 31, 2003.
“American Pictures at the Salon.” The Magazine of Art, New York: Cassell & Co., 1883, vol. VI, p. 499-500, illus. p. 500.
Antiques. V, 199 (Feb. 1981), repro. p. 319.
Catalogue illustre du Salon, Paris: Librairie d’art L. Baschet, 1 Mai 1883, p.xli
Cook, Clarence. Art and Artists of Our Time, vol. VI. New York: Selmar Hess, 1888, p. 274, illus., p. 273.
Fink, Lois. American Art at the Nineteenth-Century Paris Salons, Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, 1990, p.200.