1887 Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (1844 - 1925)
oil on canvas,
215.9 cm x 265.8 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (purchased with support from the Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
This enormous painting by the French artist Léon Lhermitte shows a family of peasants resting during haymaking. The work probably has a symbolic element too, evoking youth, maturity and old age. The old man at the front holds a scythe, a traditional symbol of approaching death. This kind of symbolism and the emphasis on the romantic, idyllic side of peasant life made works of this type extremely popular in the late nineteenth century. The Haymakers won the Grand Prix at the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris.
Lhermitte became a famous painter of rural life. According to Vincent van Gogh, the French artist’s secret was ‘that he knows the figure in general – namely the sturdy, severe workman’s figure – through and through, and takes his subjects from the heart of the people.’
Van Gogh too hoped to establish himself as a painter of peasant life, and so Lhermitte’s work was an important source of inspiration to him. He regularly asked his brother Theo to send him reproductions of Lhermitte’s paintings.