Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts has confirmed that in her opinion this work is authentic.
This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue critique of pastels and gouaches by Camille Pissarro being prepared by the Wildenstein Institute.
Carrying small sickles, the women in this agrarian landscape are local fieldworkers who, taking advantage of a traditional measure of public assistance, are gleaning recently harvested fields for whatever grains they can still find and collect. This was an annual event in the environs of Éragny, the town in which Pissarro and his family had been residing since April 1884. The artist likely painted this work during the mid- to late summer of 1886, following the gathering of winter wheat that had been planted the previous October. The present gouache is related to Pissarro’s oil painting Paysannes ramassant des herbes, 1886 (Pissarro & Durand-Ruel Snollaerts no. 830), and prefigures his definitive statement of this theme, Les glaneuses, 1889 (Pissarro & Durand-Ruel Snollaerts no. 869; Kunstmuseum Basel).
Pissarro painted this gouache at a crucial juncture in his career, and, indeed, at a landmark moment in the evolution of modern European art. During the course of 1886 he completely retooled his approach to classic Impressionism, the movement in which he had been a charter member since the first group show in 1874. Pissarro’s friends Armand Guillaumin and Paul Signac introduced him in October 1885 to Georges Seurat, who had just completed his immense, innovative canvas, Un dimanche à la Grande Jatte (Art Institute of Chicago). Pissarro, the doyen Impressionist, was nearly thirty years Seurat’s senior. Seeing this pioneering work, the older painter became a convert to Seurat’s novel method, which entailed the application of scientific colour theories that Ogden Rood and Eugène Chevreul had formulated, while using divisionist – pointilliste – facture to create the effect of optically mixed colour on the canvas.
Seurat’s masterwork was shown for the first time at the eighth and final Impressionist group exhibition in May-June 1886; Pissarro had firmly advocated the young man’s inclusion. Seurat and his partisans overnight became the avant-garde, which the gallerist-writer Félix Fénéon dubbed néo-impressionniste. Pissarro actually beat Seurat to the first public display of a divisionist canvas - Seurat recalled in a letter dated 20 June 1890 to Fénéon, ‘1886 January or February, a small canvas by Pissarro, divided and pure colour. At Clozet’s the dealer’ (quoted in Georges Seurat, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1991, p. 383).
Pissarro was flexible in his use of divisionism, especially during this early phase of Neo-Impressionism and in his gouaches, by nature a thinner, more fluid medium than oil paint. Here he painted on silk, enabling the pigments to retain greater body and texture as they dry. He had been employing since 1880 a variety of increasingly small, punctuation-like brushstrokes in his painting. He improvised in this picture his own synthetic technique to convincingly evoke the atmospheric diffusion throughout the landscape, on and around the figures, of brilliant summer light - and even mid-day heat - laying tint upon tint, both warm and cool, to heighten this effect, while suggesting the vast, golden expanse of a sea of cut grain stalks. Such works are among Pissarro’s most abstract, in which the sensation of landscape space emerges from zones of scintillant colour, a backdrop on which he projected his deeply felt respect for the dignity and worth of human labour.