The French countryside was a common theme in nineteenth-century printmaking.
Farmers at work, fields and meadows, or a picnic at a rural beauty spot were all used as emblems of simple country life.
Printmakers contrasted these themes with an industrial Paris that was close to bursting at the seams.
Artists represented the countryside in their prints as an idyllic world, unspoiled by modernity.
The country women depicted by Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin are invariably dressed in traditional costume and use simple hand-tools to perform their rural tasks.
Such images of a ‘primitive’ peasantry, still living according to the old traditions and the rhythm of the seasons, could be far removed from a reality in which draught-horses were making way for steam engines.
Printmakers frequently opted for a naive style to stress the authenticity of the rural life they depicted.
In his print series Bretonneries, for instance, Bernard made no attempt to hide the flaws and irregularities of his craft, and he gave his Breton peasant women a lumpish appearance.
The city people who spent their leisure time in idyllic rural settings were another favourite subject of printmakers.
Works like this are elegant and decorative in style, such as Félix Vallotton’s prints of bathing women and Édouard Vuillard’s groups of friends, presented in harmony with the patterns of water, trees, and grass.
Gabriel P. Weisburg, ‘Vestiges of the Past. The Brittany “Pardons” of Late-Nineteenth-Century French Painters’, Arts Magazine 55 (1980), nr. 3, p. 134-138
Gabriel P. Weisburg, Jennifer Shaw, Paris and the Countryside. Modern Life in Late-19th-Century France, Seattle 2006
Daniel Morane, Emile Bernard 1868–1941. Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre gravé, Pont-Aven 2000