Monday, 4 July 2016

Potato Harvest in France

This post is about one of the paintings I saw at the National Gallery the other day and also my contribution to the July Country Fair Blog Party.

Image from here
The painting I saw was Saison d’Octobre, painted in 1878 by Jules Bastien-Lepage.  It depicts the potato harvest at Damvillers (northeast of Paris).  It doesn’t spare its subject, which I think is a good thing.  At first glance it’s a landscape.  A few glances later, anyone who’s worked in the country will see and feel much more.  You start feeling the cold, wet ground of the valley under your feet.  The clouds say it’s been raining.  The ground is probably sodden and threatening to change from soil to mud.  The clouds also say that it’s either going to rain again, or it’s going to clear (and bring on a frigid, frosty night), and the peasants have a long walk back to anywhere warm.

The peasant woman in the foreground is emptying potatoes from a basket into a sack.  If the picture is (as I think) of the end of the day, it’ll be her umpteenth basket.  Her back probably ached like hell from stooping, lifting and bending all day.  She and her companion would have had hands that were numb with cold and chapped and rough from manual work.  The only false note in the painting is that her face is not only beautiful but unmarked by sweat or dirt.

This painting, more than most, tells us about the power of art.  Nations may rage and governments rise and fall.  Priests will preach and intellectuals pontificate.  But for the people who work, work will remain hard and life will mostly be experienced through the surface of their skin.  They’re the strongest of all.

Country Fair Blog Party

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