Born in Paris in 1851, Julien Dupré received his artistic training in the academic studios of Isidore Pils, Desiré-François Laugée and Henri Lehman. He exhibited his first painting, La moisson, en Picardie, in the Paris Salon of 1876 and exhibited there regularly until his death in 1910. Dupré was critically acclaimed during his lifetime, and was awarded a gold medal at the Paris World’s Fair of 1889. His fame spread throughout Europe, and he eventually developed a strong market among the newly rich Americans. In 1891, Marion H. Speilmann described Dupré as ‘one of the most rising artists of the French School. He is individual in his work, accurate as an observer, earnest as a painter, healthy in his instincts and intensely artistic in his impressions and translations of them. He is always one of the attractions at the Salon’ (M. H. Speilmann, ‘The White Cow’, The Magazine of Art, 1891, vol. 14, p. 415).
Dupré is now regarded as the leading proponent of the second-generation Realist painters, whose depictions of the toils of the French peasants were true to the ideals of Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton. The Social Realists were academically trained artists who nostalgically turned to the lives of French rural field laborers and farm workers for subjects untainted by the progress of the Industrial Revolution. For the Social Realist painters, the peasant was the embodiment of the most fundamental and consistent element in human society. Julien Dupré’s career was spent depicting the essence of rural life.
The Reapers is a classic example of Dupré’s unique artistic vision. Unlike Millet and Breton, Dupré paints his figures in action enhanced by varied landscapes and dynamic skies. The main figures in the painting are brought up close to the picture plane, a technique used by both Millet and Breton in order to emphasize their monumental quality. In the present work, three figures toil at midday, bringing in litters of hay from the fields. The two main figures are brought close to the picture plane, emphasizing their monumentality and integrating them to the landscape. The third figure echoes their toils slightly in the background. Dynamic forces of nature, shown in the much looser handling of the clouds rolling across the afternoon sky, the sheaves of hay tossed on the litters and the free handling of the field beneath the peasants’ feet are further enhanced by the more precise brushwork in the three main figures, who are solidly anchored to the earth.
We are grateful to Howard Rehs for confirming the authenticity of this work.