Montfoucault was a large farm near the village of Foucault between Brittany and Normandy that was owned by the painter Ludovic Piette (1826-1878). Pissarro and Piette met at the Academie Suisse in the early 1860s and became great friends. Following the disastrous reception of his paintings in the first Impressionist exhibition and the death of his daughter Minette in March, Pissarro accepted an invitation from Piette to stay at his estate. Pissarro wrote to the critic Théodore Duret, "I am letting you know that I am departing for my friend Piette's locality; I won't be back before January. I am going there to study the figures and animals of the true countryside" (quoted in R. Thomson, Camille Pissarro, Impressionism, Landscape and Rural Labour, London, 1990, p. 40).
"(Pissarro) returned to Montfoucault three successive autumn seasons until his friend's death in 1878. "These three separate sessions witnessed a phenomenal turning point in Pissarro's career. His subjects now incorporated a much more diverse range of interests than his concurrent Pointoise productions, and included genre subjects, harvest scenes, and female peasant studies in large scale" (J. Pissarro, Camille Pissarro, New York, 1993, p. 143). Pissarro was appreciably encouraged by the work he produced at Montfoucault and on 11 December 1874 he wrote to Duret again, "I am not working badly here, and I've set myself figures and animals." To which Duret replied, "Are you painting two and four legged beasts? Pure landscape is invaded from so many sides, but here is a gap to fill and continue in the line of Paul Potter, Cuyp, Troyon, (and) Millet, while of course being modern and different" (ibid., p. 41).
Pissarro's paintings from these sojourns show ample evidence of a change in both style and iconography. "Pissarro's facture became more dense and his brushstrokes broader. His attention turned from distantly viewed landscapes to the concentrated space of the barnyard . . . the sheer physicality of form--its weight, mass and proximity--became Pissarro's overriding concern in the Montfoucault period and that reality was expressed by the material presence of paint itself. Pissarro layered paint on the surface to suggest mass and weight in a manner matched in the period only by Cézanne" (R. Bretell, Pissarro and Pontoise, The Painter in a Landscape, London, 1990, p. 165).
Because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Montfoucault was lush and the sky clear. Pissarro adapted his palette to this environment. His paintings became brighter and he juxtaposed warm and cool colors with very vivid shades of green set against much darker browns. Pissarro always managed to create, through his composition as well as through its treatment, the particular mood he wished to evoke, a mood intimately linked to the seasons and the time of day" (J. Rewald, Pissarro, London, 1963, p. 82). While many of his paintings from this time portrayed the daily activity of the farm, he was also able to find ponds in which to continue exploring the reflective quality of water that had been a motif in his earlier work. Pissarro painted three other compositions of ducks in a pond at Montfoucault during this year (Venturi nos. 317, 320, and 329).