The peasants seen by the Third Republic

The peasants seen by the Third Republic

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Title: The pay of the harvesters.

Author : LHERMITTE Léon-Augustin (1844 - 1925)

Creation date : 1882

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 214 - Width 272

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 02-015080 / RF 333

The pay of the harvesters.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: July 2012


The peasants seen by the Third Republic


Historical context

Each French agricultural region has its favorite crops, its own agrarian structures and its farming methods.

In the XIXe century as today, Picardy, land of open fields, was largely devoted to cereal crops. It was modernized relatively quickly: the farms are quite large and the farms, often with closed courtyards (overlooking the dwellings, the barn and the intermediate buildings such as the stable), vary from 10 by 15 meters to 20 by 30 meters. . The scythe eliminated the sickle in the 1830s.

The harvester's pay has precisely this type of farm as a framework: the model is the so-called Ru-Chailly farm, near Château-Thierry (Aisne), a large property leased to the Jary family whose attic overflowing with hay symbolizes ease in the painting by Lhermitte. The scrupulous realism and themes of this painting explain its extraordinary success with the general public and the State, which acquired it on the very day of the Salon's opening, in 1882.

We can only be surprised at the contempt with which this type of painting is treated today, since Jacques Thuillier is right to assert, in his Advocacy for “naturalist” painting, that the contemporary public "has become blind to the art of Lhermitte" (J. THUILLIER, in Mr. LE PELLEY FONTENY, Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), Catalog raisonné, Cercle d'Art Publishing, p. 9).

Image Analysis

In this rustic scene, where the master in a blue blouse pays his "day-men" after having gathered them in the courtyard of his farm, everything points to grandeur and dignity. The mother feeding her child, the young man who receives his pay, his hand resting on his scythe, in a manly face-to-face with the farmer, and above all the old haired and thin reaper, hieratic on his bench, his eyes empty. through fatigue, all in their own way personify work "with an ideal and true nobility at the same time", as a critic noted in 1882.

This impression is accentuated by the rigorous construction of the whole, structured in horizontal lines (the stone bench, the edge of the roofs, the windowsill), vertical (the handle of the young man's scythe, the walls, the standing characters) and oblique (the handle of the old man's scythe, the blade of his scythe, extended by the young mother's sloping back).


One cannot help being struck by the monumentality of the painting, a true hymn to peasant work, and by the meticulous, almost photographic realism of a "literal painting", as Sâr Peladan said in 1888: the apron of the woman, the child's bonnet at the breast, the sickle stuck in the sheaf, the gourd hanging from the sides of the old man in hooves, all testify to a pronounced taste for true detail.

For this reason, Lhermitte becomes, especially after the death of Bastien-Lepage, the representative of peasant painting under the Third Republic. It will give, with unchallenged success, the reassuring image of a hard-working rural France, ignorant of the social upheavals and the unrest that the proletariat is fomenting in the city: this is how a supported Third Republic likes to present itself, as the Second Empire, moreover, through campaigns attached to a stable regime, family morality and work.

  • closed
  • naturalism
  • openfield
  • peasants
  • agricultural work
  • Third Republic
  • rural life


Albert DEMANGEON, The Picardy plain, thesis of letters, Paris, 1905.

Georges DUBY, Armand WALLON, (dir.), History of rural France, t. 3, Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization, 1789-1914, Paris, Le Seuil, 1976.

J.-F. LEBLOND, Y. BROHARD, Popular life and traditions in the Picardy region (Oise, Somme, Aisne), Horvath, 1989.

Monique LE PELLEY FONTENY, Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925), Catalog raisonné, Paris, Éditions Cercle d'Art.

COLLECTIVE, Léon Lhermitte and the Harvesters' Pay, The files of the Musée d´Orsay, Paris, RMN, 1991.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The peasants seen by the Third Republic"

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