JOHN POTOTSCHNIK FINE ART

Ennobling the Peasantry

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In the early 1800’s, paintings depicting themes from classical history and mythology had pretty much run their course. Artists were looking for new subjects, something different through which to distinguish themselves; for many the humble peasant became their new muse. (Click images to enlarge)

Louis Leopold Robert – “The Arrival of the Reapers in Pontine Marshes” – 55″ x 83″ – Oil (1831)

 

Amidst all the history paintings, historical landscapes, portraits, and still life’s, this new genre stood apart from the others and satisfied the changing tastes of the European culture at the turn of the century.

Jean-Francois Millet - "Harvesters Resting" - 27" x 47" - Oil (1853)

Jean-Francois Millet – “Harvesters Resting” – 27″ x 47″ – Oil   (1853)

 

One might ask, “What is a peasant?” People of that time seem to have had a variety of opinions…1) They were subjects/servants of the aristocracy. 2) They were a primitive people. 3) They were country folk, producing their own food and making what they lived in and wore…basically self-sufficient. Some writers of the day portrayed them as “oxen without horns”…treated as an animal, a human beast.

Less specifically, the term “peasant” used loosely came to mean rural laborers…those that lived in the country and worked the land for their livelihood.

Jules Breton (1827-1906) - "Calling in the Gleaners" - 35" x 46" - Oil (1859)

Jules Breton (1827-1906) – “Calling in the Gleaners” – 35″ x 46″ – Oil  (1859)

Julien Dupre (1851-1910) - "The Harvesters" - 15" x 18" - Oil (1889)

Julien Dupre (1851-1910) – “The Harvesters” – 15″ x 18″ – Oil   (1889)

Charles Sprague :Pearce (1851-1914) - "Gleaner's Rest" - 30" x 24" - Oil (1885-90)

Charles Sprague Pearce (1851-1914) – “Gleaner’s Rest” – 30″ x 24″ – Oil   (1885-90)

 

The earliest peasantry paintings, however, were strongly influenced by the Classical and Renaissance styles, resulting in idealized beauty of form and lifestyle. The reality, however, was much different as peasants were generally a weathered, diseased, beaten down, impoverished lot. Despite this, many city dwellers were fascinated by them and preferred to think of them as free from many of life’s stresses, a jovial bunch working together in the fields as a family and enjoying their time together as they rested from their labors. They were viewed as manly, strong, industrious, and diligent…people of faith, devotion to family, with a strong work ethic…carriers of strong values worthy of being emulated.

Leon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925) - "The Harvester's Wages" - 83" x 109" - Oil (1882)

Leon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925) – “The Harvester’s Wages” – 83″ x 109″ – Oil   (1882)

 

Artists being the perceptive bunch that they are, created paintings that satisfied the public’s romanticized perception. It’s nothing new, we see it throughout art history. The idealized is often preferred over the real; contemporary western art is a prime example.

I thoroughly appreciate the works of so many artists of this period. The paintings are not only beautiful and well-crafted but they lift up, they celebrate humanity and its relationship to nature…and the peasant many considered to be ignoble, these artists saw in them value and nobility.

Here’s a good book for you to add to your library; it was the source used for this blog, authored by Richard and Caroline Brettell. Click on picture to order.

peasants-1

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John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Living Master. To view his art and bio, please click HERE

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