Le repos des moissonneurs, Montfoucault, depicts resting harvesters on the farm belonging to Pissarro's friend Ludovic Piette, located near to the village of Foucault, a few miles from Mayenne in eastern Brittany. 'Montfoucault played a pivotal role in Pissarro's development as a lyrical painter of rural France. Not until 1874, on a visit to the Piette farm, does Pissarro's painting depict peasants at prosaic tasks in the fields or in the kitchen garden or farmhouse yard. A few tentative approaches were made in 1873 and early 1874, notably his Terrains Labourés près d'Osny (P&V 220), but the figures are so small as to play little role in the composition' (R.E. Shikes & P.Harper, Pissarro: his life and work, New York, 1980, p. 121).
Painted in 1875, Le repos des moissonneurs, Montfoucault, dates from the apogee of the Montfoucault period. The technique is loose and fluid, in line with the plein-airism of Monet and Sisley. A related painting of the same date and extremely similar composition, La moisson à Montfoucault (P&V 364), now in the Musée du Louvre, is considered one of Pissarro's greatest Montfoucault landscapes (Ibid p. 135). In the Louvre painting, bales of hay have been stacked to create haystacks which have been juxtaposed against the immense green tree. In the present work, the haystacks have been replaced as central components of the composition with a figurative group of resting labourers. The attention to detail of this group, suggests Pissarro's growing interest in the figure in the rural landscape. Characteristic of both works is the superb broad oily brushstrokes, in the rich yellow of the hay, the fresh greens of the trees, the blue of the sky and the white of the clouds.
In common with the Louvre picture, the present work was executed with large brushes, the result being that the paint generously sculpts the forms of the landscape. The influence of Pissarro's friend Cézanne, is evident. Cézanne visited Pissarro in Pontoise in 1875 and together they experimented with palette knives, described as 'very long, flat and flexible, as wide as two fingers', which encouraged Pissarro to give geometric shapes to the trees and to the cut hay in the foreground.
The two most important early auction sales of Impressionist pictures from the 1870s were those organised by the painters themselves. The first sale held on 25 March 1875 was organised by Monet, Morisot, Renoir and Sisley and the second was held on 28 May 1877 by Caillebotte, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. Ludovic-Rodo Pissarro identified Le repos des moissonneurs, Montfoucault, as lot 11 in the 28 May 1877 sale, held at Hôtel Drouot. Although information about this sale is scarce and the catalogue extremely rare (Lugt mentions only two copies, one in the Bibliothèque Nationale and one in the library of the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris), Merete Bodelsen published the text in her article 'Early Impressionist Sales 1874-94 in the light of some unpublished procès-verbaux', in Burlington Magazine, vol. 110, no. 783 June 1968, p. 336. The sale which included forty-five paintings, was held shortly after the Third Impressionist Exhibition at 6 rue Le Peletier. Durand-Ruel's former associate, A. Legrand, acted as expert and Maître Léon Tual was the commissaire-priseur. Geffroy writes that the Pissarros went for from 50 to 260 Frs., the Renoirs for between 47 and 285 and the Sisleys for between 105 and 165...the forty-five paintings brought in a total of 7610 Frs., an average of 169 Frs. per picture (Ibid).
Unfortunately, Merete Bodelsen, found no information about the purchasers at the 1877 sale, however, we know that the painting was purchased by M. Félix Doisteau, an industrialist from Pantin, near Paris. From the 1870s, when Doisteau founded his company for the purification of alcohol, he assembled a significant collection of furniture, objets d'art, paintings, and drawings, which he purchased from the most renowned art dealers and from the most important auction sales of the period. It is quite likely he was the purchaser in 1877. Doisteau, organised a number of important auction sales of his own betweeen 1909 and 1937, including the 1928 sale in which the present work was included.