Pissarro had been living with his family in Pontoise since 1872 (see lot 125). Perhaps because of this settled existence, he became more involved in the lives of local peasants and neighbors. Although the artist frequently included figures in his landscapes of the 1870s, they are generally bystanders in the scene, viewed from a distance as small units in the larger composition. In the early 1880s Pissarro began to feature figures in his paintings more frequently. They are seen close-up, and are often the focus of the picture. At the same time, Pissarro placed less emphasis on the landscape background, which assumes a more generalized appearance. Pissarro contributed more than thirty paintings to the Seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882, most of which display his new interest in painting the figure.
With this new outlook, Pissarro was moving away from Monet and Sisley, who were chiefly landscapists, and increasingly in the direction of Renoir and Degas, the great figure painters in the Impressionist group. Because of the complexities involved in successfully depicting the figure, Pissarro began to make many drawings, pastel studies and gouaches as he painted. In fact, his output of gouaches proliferated in the early 1880s. Because of the freer and more spontaneous manner of painting in watercolor, these works are sometimes more freshly composed and executed than his oil paintings.
What is most remarkable about these works, however, is the way in which they reveal the artist's greatly renowned humility and compassion for humanity. No other artist since Millet had chronicled the lives of peasants at work and rest with first-hand knowledge and understanding. While Millet was often criticized for sentimentalizing this subjects, Pissarro's approach recalls the objectivity of Degas as the artist depicted his Parisian subjects drawn from various walks of life. If Pissarro lacks Degas's cool, detached and occasionally misanthropic edge, this is certainly a positive quality in his work, which at all times proclaims his respect, admiration and sympathy for the people among whom he lived.