Odes to the peasantry

03-23-05_image-1_thumb.jpgFor centuries the French had considered rustic life part of their national identity. As the Industrial Revolution forced peasants to flee the countryside for market-friendlier cities, artists and folklorists feared—correctly—that a central piece of the country’s character was fading. They invaded the rural lands to document the dying way of life, whether accurately or pastorally romanticized; several artists, for example, omitted the machines that eased workloads, and the fact that so many peasants had deserted the country for more lucrative urban centers.

The Smart Museum exhibition Shepherds and Plowhands: Work and Leisure in the Nineteenth Century, on display through April 24, assembles etchings, lithographs, and an Impressionist oil painting in an account of the era. Ironically, the exhibit notes observe, the works often were collected into expensive books cherished in middle-class and aristocratic homes.

By A.M.B.


Leon Augustin LHermitte (1844-1925), Boy and Girl in Spring Landscape, date unknown, Oil on canvas. Smart Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. Myron E. Rubnitz. 2002.49.

March 23, 2005