To be included in the forthcoming Camille Pissarro catalogue raisonné being prepared by Joachim Pissarro and Claire Durand-Ruel Snollaerts under the sponsorship of the Wildenstein Institute.
Pissarro based this gouache on his painting Paysage à Melleraye (Mayenne), 1876 (L.R. Pissarro and L. Venturi no. 361), to which he added the figure of a woman carrying a bucket of water, as well as two horses, as seen here. Each autumn between 1874 and 1877 Pissarro and his family left their home in Pontoise to stay with the artist's friend Ludovic Piette, whose family owned and worked on a farm in the tiny hamlet of Montfoucault, near the village of Melleray, on the border between Brittany and Normandy. They would remain there into the winter. These extended sojourns enabled the artist to save money in very lean times, and gave him the opportunity to work in a genuinely isolated and primitive rural environment. Joachim Pissarro has written, "Montfoucault provided him with a totally new source of visual topics: there, his work reflected a tentative interest in genre subjects. His treatment of space was conspicuously different also: the Montfoucault fields were enclosed, the horizon line often blocked. He painted the inside of farmyards and, equally, farm interiors. While Pontoise provided the pretext to depict the manifold ambiguities of suburban life in the second half of the 19th century, Montfoucault, in contrast, presented an opportunity to study peasant life on its own, in direct terms" (in Camille Pissarro, New York, 1993, p. 136).
Piette died in April 1878, and Pissarro did not return to Montfoucault thereafter. However, the artist held enduring memories of his profound encounter there with the daily lives of farm people and their attachment to the land. He may have executed the present gouache as a means of recollecting a favorite scene, as he did in 1882 when he painted Effet de neige à Montfoucault (P. and V. 554), a second version of a picture that he had done in 1874 (P. and V. 286). Indeed, he returned to his latter scene yet again in a painting and gouache done in 1891 (P. and V. 761 and 1461, respectively; the painting sold at Christie's, New York, 7 November 1995, lot 20).
Pissarro employed a thin brush to apply finely hatched lines in the present gouache, a technique that reflected the smaller, directional brushstroke that both he and Cézanne (who also worked in Pointoise for several months in 1881) used in their oil paintings during this period. In many areas the hatchings cross one another; the varied factures, coupled to the lighter tonalities of the gouache medium, create an especially airy and luminous effect.