The Haymakers, 1887

Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1924)

  • Oil on Canvas, 216 x 264 cm
  • Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
    (Vincent van Gogh Stichting)

At first glance, this painting appears to be a spontaneous and relaxed depiction of a peasant family in the field, resting during or after haymaking. However, the artist has not simply recorded what he saw. He probably did a number of outdoor studies of the scene, later transferring them to canvas in his studio. The composition is carefully constructed; the figures’ heads form a half circle, leading the viewer’s eye along each one individually and then into the distance.

More information about "The Haymakers"

Classical or modern?

The circular composition and the pose of the recumbent woman are both derived from long-standing ‘classical’ traditions. The subject, however – a peasant family at work – aligns the painting with more modern movements. The Realists, for example, often took subjects from everyday life and painted them on a large-scale.
Lhermitte probably also intended to illustrate the three stages of life: youth, adulthood and old age. The old man in the foreground 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; many were even admitted to the Salon, the annual exhibition of art in the established taste. This style is therefore sometimes referred to as ‘Salon Realism.’

Van Gogh's Inspiration

Lhermitte was a well-known painter of peasant life, and Van Gogh – who also wanted to pursue this genre – was one of his greatest admirers. He wrote of him as a painter who ‘knows the sturdy, stern figure of the working man through and through, and [who] draws his subjects from the very heart of the people.’ Reproductions of Lhermitte’s paintings helped Van Gogh during the creation of  The Potato Eaters, a work also prepared in numerous studies. Vincent praised Lhermitte in a letter to Theo, comparing his treatment of light to that of Rembrandt. The Haymakers was awarded the grand prix at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. It was bought by the Van Gogh Museum in 1991.

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