Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The Wildenstein Institute will include this work in their forthcoming catalogue critique of Pissarro's pastels and gouaches.
One of the largest and most significant groups of paintings that Pissarro made during the 1880s portrays rural women engaged in everyday chores--watering the garden, digging a plot of land, picking cabbages, pushing a wheelbarrow, gathering grass, tending animals--or, more often, at rest during the day. Richard Brettell has written, "These works are a major contribution to Impressionist figure painting and are, in effect, a critical part of the collective Impressionist portrait of contemporary French society" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2011, p. 171).
In Gardeuse de vaches, Eragny, Pissarro depicts a young woman seated against a tree trunk in a lush field while her cows graze behind her. Although he had treated the theme of the peasant tending cattle at Pontoise and Montfoucault during the previous decade, the majority of these earlier images show the figure actively engaged with her task, herding the animals along a path, bringing them to water, or holding them on a lead as they graze. By contrast, the woman in the present gouache is absorbed in reverie, her lead or walking stick resting idle in her lap. There is nothing in the woman's pose, gestures, or expression that suggests sentimental narration, which Pissarro assiduously avoided, and no indication either of the precise content of her daydreams. Joachim Pissarro has written, "What is relevant is that they are engaged in their reveries irrespective of the content... since dream is a notion to which Pissarro gave repeated voice: 'I believe that there will be another generation who will be more sincere, more studious, and less malign, who will achieve the dream'" (Camille Pissarro, New York, 1993, p. 163).
The emphasis on figures at rest in Pissarro's work from Eragny forms a marked contrast with the image of the countryside put forth by Millet, where peasants break only rarely from strenuous toil. An admirer of Peter Kropotkin's theories of modern agriculture, Pissarro seems to counter the Realist notion that rural labor was ceaseless and demeaning, instead introducing his peasants into a modern, anarchist world in which work is confined to certain periods of the day and balanced by plentiful leisure time. Brettell has written, "Pissarro's idle women were making a political statement about work, sharing, and leisure that, in a certain sense, was so subtle that it easily infiltrated the minds of his early viewers. Indeed, these works were-- and are--so successful in their evocation of rural leisure that they have routinely been misinterpreted as apolitical" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2011, p. 172). The quiet reverie of Pissarro's peasants, moreover, is contrasted with the intensity of the artist's own labor, which is recorded in his paintings' dense facture of thousands of individual touches of paint.
Rejecting the irregular brushwork of Impressionist tradition, Pissarro has laid down the paint precisely and methodically--not in the tiny dots of his fellow Neo-Impressionists Seurat and Signac, however, but in a tapestry of alternately parallel and interlocking strokes, which produce an effect of heightened luminosity. Joachim Pissarro has concluded, "Even at the height of his Neo-Impressionist period, Pissarro took definite liberties with the 'scientific' rigor of the theories in which he, Seurat, and Signac shared a passionate interest... balancing, in a constant tension, rigor and improvisation, system and individual freedom, science and poetry" (ibid., p. 221).