I encountered today's painting, The Colva (Harvesting Rapeseed) by Jules Breton, while viewing the European galleries at the Corcoran. Despite the many works on display, I found myself returning to this particular piece several times, as I admired both its narrative style and overall composition. I also felt the rendering of light and shadow to be highly evocative. This is a very striking painting to see in person and I wish I could've found a better reproduction of it online, but this one here will have to suffice.
In his time, realist painter Jules Breton was renowned for his sensitive, idyllic depictions of rustic life in the French countryside. Many of these works feature subjects engaged in labour, festivals, and various leisurely pursuits. He's perhaps most well-known for his scenes representing a solitary peasant working the land, such as his famous Song of the Lark, but he also produced many images of harvestings and other group activities in the fields. Personally , I find myself attracted to his works in which the sun has just set under the horizon, leaving both the landscape and human figures in shadow, incorporating them as one.
But back to today's piece. I love how Breton positioned his figures, which almost resembles that of a religious ceremony. For me, this work signifies one's devotion to the task at hand and the spiritual fulfilment it provides. I'm sure this depiction of French peasantry is a bit much on the romantic side, and the way of life shown here is far removed from what I've ever experienced, but I can appreciate this work for the values it represents.